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Third Party Myths Or, Why You'd Be Nuts to Leave the GOP

  • Rod D. Martin,
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Every so often, someone decides that the world is too corrupt to reform. And they start a political party.

Sometimes this makes sense. More often, though, it's just foolishness, and bad stewardship to boot. And for Christians today, that's exactly where things stand.

Third party advocates will sputter and fume at this. They'll talk about conscience, as though there are no issues of conscience concerning the second-order consequences of their actions when they help a leftist win. They'll pontificate about how God could sovereignly raise up an army of believers for their new party, as if He cannot do the same thing in the Republican Party, or even the Democrat Party. They'll claim we are advocating power politics, while they advocate electing a President (just a President) and using his veto pen and executive orders to thwart all other freely elected branches of the American government.

The particular third party which advocates that last bit, by the way, only passed the resolution declaring itself officially "Christian" by one vote. But no one ever mentions that, of course, any more than they notice that their preferred method of "reform" would involve making their standard bearer a dictator.

Like most things which ought not be done, this is all very well-intentioned. The advocates of this are fed up with the compromises of many leaders in the Republican Party, can't stand the outright wickedness they see in their government, and want to do something now. This is all admirable, and correct.

What is not correct is the set of myths which swirl about third parties, myths without which those parties could not attract even the handful of followers they have. Here are a few of them.

1. The Republican Party is a monolithic entity, controlled by Washington "insiders". The exact opposite is true. In fact, the Republican Party (like the Democrat Party), is made up of literally thousands of legally independent entities, none of which have any power to tell each other what to do, expel each other from the party, or meddle (much) in each other's affairs. That's all the county parties, all the state parties, all the regional groupings, even the various national entities (yes, the National Republican Congressional Committee is completely separate from its Senatorial counterpart and even from the Republican National Committee). That's not even counting the support groups, like the Republican Women and the College Republicans; and the support groups are as independent of each other as they are of the party, and the national, state, and local levels of each of these are independent as well.

In fact, there are only two ways in which any of these bodies are joined together: (1) in most (but not all) states, campaign finance laws lump them together for the purpose of limiting total contributions; and (2) in most cases, the lower bodies elect the levels immediately above them. That's it; that's all. And for the most part, this isn't a choice: it's the law. If a third party ever grew large enough to be subject to those laws, it would have to be "organized" the very same way.

2. Okay, but none of that matters, because the "big boys" keep control by disbursing the money. Pardon me while every activist in America laughs. Each party organ just mentioned has the joy of raising its own money. That's why, once you get on their phone lists, you get constant telemarketing calls from the NRCC and the NRSC and the RNC and your state Republican Party, plus any number of other groups. And since they have to raise their own money, they're loath to share it: they each have their own kingdoms to build. This is why the majority of county Republican parties in America have an annual budget of less than $1,000. That's not being "bought"; it's not even getting taken to dinner.

3. Well maybe, but the party bosses in Washington certainly control the elected officials. Nope. Once again, follow the money: the candidates have to raise their own too. And whoever this might or might not come from, precious little of it comes from the party. Quite the contrary: the various party organs depend on the officeholders to raise money for them.

It gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective): the parties don't pick the candidates either. They recruit very few of them, they recruit opponents for a lot of the ones they have, and they have no say in who gets nominated. The law, once again, has usurped this traditional party role, once guaranteed by the First Amendment freedom of association: even though a political party is a private organization, its candidates must be chosen (for the most part) by a vote of the people. And in many states, "the people" don't even have to identify with the party in whose primary they vote! In states like Michigan and Arkansas, Democrats frequently flood the Republican primary to elect the "Republican" of their choice. In Louisiana, no party nominee is selected at all: everyone has to run in one big primary together, with the result that the two general election opponents are usually both Democrats.

This means that parties have no say in the most important thing parties do. Likewise, candidates, having been turned into lone wolves, have exactly as much loyalty to their party as happens to suit their own personal agenda. And once again, this is the law: the Constitution and Reform Parties would, if they ever got big enough, have to play by the same rules.

4. Whatever. I'm sticking with my teeny-tiny party because no one could possibly take over that whole, gigantic Republican Party. Newsflash, friend: Goliath lost.

The fact is, all the things I just described mean that the Republican Party is completely open to any movement which can produce the numbers and organizational skill to get the job done. If you show up with enough people, you win all the offices at the county committee. Win enough county committees, and you have a majority of the state committee. Win enough of those, and you have the whole party.

The party is porous at the bottom: you just have to know what to do, and have the patience to stick with it. Sure, unorganized grassroots will rubberstamp lots of stuff the higher-ups want, but the power is still below; and if a leader — or leaders — organized them, they could easily and quickly permeate the whole party with their agenda. If.

The problem remains that the party is very big: there are 3066 counties in America, and it would require organizing, taking over, and controlling the Republican committee in a majority of the counties in a majority of the states to be able to elect most of the state committees and the national committee. This, to many third party folk, seems impossible.

It isn't. And if it is, they should abandon their third party as well: building a third party that was vaguely competitive would require organizing even more counties still. And its one thing to get people involved in reforming something they've heard of and (probably) already belong to; it's quite another matter to get them to go off with Don Quixote.

5. Well if it's all so easy, why haven't we already done it, big man? Hey, lay off my weight! And anyway, the answer's pretty simple, and you'll have to deal with it no matter which party you pick.

Our problem isn't mean old bad Republicans preventing us from holding office. In fact, nearly all the vocal Christian officeholders in America are Republicans, and studies show that the Christian Right has steadily gained power (although not yet control) over the past eight years in all but seven of the nation's state Republican parties, and outright control in seven more. The problem — and this is especially true the more particular you get about what you want believed and done — is that Christians don't have enough cultural influence to consistently field candidates and win primaries, much less fill party positions. There are huge chunks of the country where we never run anyone at all.

Now whose fault is that? The left's? Billy Graham's? The New World Order's? I don't think so.

If Christians are thin on the ground — and if the Christians we have are less sound than some might prefer — we have no one to blame but ourselves. It's our job to disciple, our job to preach, our job to fill the Earth with the things we believe. And it seems to me that if we can't even get our own local churches and denominations running decently, we shouldn't expect any better success in an endeavor (politics) where people normally have some idea of what they're doing. Hint: ranting at them won't work any better than it did in the last three Reformed denominations you left.

Winning takes more than ranting. Winning takes a lot of prayer, and a lot of time. It takes preparation (ask Moses). It takes set-backs (ask David). It takes enough postmillennial vision to stick with something which may not be fulfilled in your lifetime (ask Abraham). And it takes a plan; preferably a plan which doesn't require multiple miracles to have any hope of success.

6. Okay, you've convinced me. But after all that stuff about how impotent the party structure is, why would we want it? Why not just run candidates?

Simple: the organization and the brand name.

You can't elect candidates without a tremendous labor pool. The party has it. Likewise, you can't do it without raising money; and people don't like giving money to things they've never heard of, much less things they're convinced can't win.

Why reinvent the wheel? If all you have is enough activists to organize a county anyway, organize yours. Go to your Republican county committee meeting, get involved, and when it comes time for officer elections, elect some good ones. If you don't like what the rest of the party's doing, pass your own platform. Send out press releases. Do whatever you want to do. And like the Apostle Paul, go teach other Christians in other counties to do the same thing.

Somewhere along the way, in your area/state/whatever, the word "Republican" is going to come to mean what you say it means. And at the same time, you're going to have a real say in the real world, from the election commission seats which are legally guaranteed to the Republican Party to the press coverage which comes when a Democrat does something and your local newspaper needs to cover "the other side." Oh, and the donor base: don't forget the donor base. Because lots of people will vote for and give money to Republicans just because they're Republicans, and they couldn't care less what those Republicans believe.

That could mean you, kemo sabe. If you want it bad enough.