[guest post by Dana]
In the past few years, an increasing number of commenters here at Patterico’s have expressed their disenchantment and frustration with the Republican party. Some have already reached their tipping point and made the decision to leave the party. After all, how long does one keep waiting…and waiting… and waiting to see promises be kept and conservative principles represented?
With that, last week Glenn Beck announced he was leaving the Republican party to become an Independent. Beck’s reasoning was not surprising:
They surrendered on the abortion bill, surrendered on executive orders on illegal immigration, common core. They helped push through $3.5 trillion in deficits this last year. They won’t fight Obamacare. They voted to confirm Katz Unstein (ph). They thwarted the bill on the NSA data collection. They’re still not doing anything on Benghazi. They haven’t done anything on the targeting of conservatives with the IRS. They haven’t done anything on the VA. They also threw an election against Chris McDaniels to Thad Cochran. They actually went to the Democrats and played the race card. I mean, I can get that from Hillary Clinton’s people….
We had to have the house. Then we had to the House. Then we had to have the House and the Senate. Now we have to have the White House. And then when they get the White House, the House, and the Senate then it becomes the Bush administration where it’s just as bad on deficits and everything else. They don’t have any intention of doing anything.
He also noted the establishment GOP’s disrespectful treatment of Tea Partiers like Sens. Mike Lee and Sen Ted Cruz.
His final word on the matter was one of futility:
“Four years ago I was with them. Four years ago I said ‘work from the inside: Let’s change it. Let’s get new guys in there.’ I think it’s too late.”
Days later, Jay Cost offered two reasons why Beck should reconsider his decision: the lack of a viable third party and the belief that party reform can happen.
[T]he Republican party is not going to let conservatives go anywhere else. There has never been a viable third party in the country, at least not one that has persisted over the long run. This has to do with the nature of our elections. Political theorist Maurice Duverger demonstrated fifty years ago that winner-take-all contests centered around discrete geographical areas typically produce a two-party system. There are exceptions, but they’re rare.
Moreover, third parties that do thrive temporarily are co-opted by one of the two major parties — usually to the detriment of the ideological movement that spawned the third party in the first place.
As if all that isn’t enough, even the seemingly easy task of forming a third party is a challenge. The two parties can be thought of as opponents in most respects, but they can also be understood to operate a cartel that restricts entry by competitors. A third party will thus have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get itself listed on the ballot, and even more to be included in presidential debates. None of this is coincidental. The two parties want us to have a choice … between the two parties!
Regarding a GOP reformation, Cost remains optimistic about the future in light of positive changes that have already taken place:
[T]he Republican party can be reformed. It may be very hard to do so, but the GOP is not a political machine. It is not a closed system, impervious to change. It’s open, and grassroots reformers have recourse — in the form of party primaries. They may be seriously out-financed in those contests. Still, it is one thing to be an underdog, and another to have no hope of change at all. And there is hope.
In fact, I’d argue that there has been an extraordinary amount of change within the GOP over the last generation. Reformers have made some real gains.
…The group of solid conservatives, meanwhile, has grown. The Senate already had many such members, like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Tim Scott. But now they are set to be joined by Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse, and Joni Ernst. My back of the envelope calculations suggest that the number of solid conservative senators has risen from about a dozen in 1995 to 20 or so today.
Cost also notes changes in the House as well, observing that the “insurgent” class of House reformers is now large enough to make real noise.”
And yet, he makes an important distinction: while conservative reformers have won elections, there have been little to no actual breakthroughs. He believes this is by design:
That is one of Madison’s big points in Federalist #10 and #51; he wants our system to be responsive to changes in public mood, but — fearful of fractious majorities — he also promotes a system of checks and balances to slow change down. Moreover, the powers that be in the Republican party have been doing things a certain way for a century and a half. They are not going to give up just because conservatives have won a handful of elections.
Regardless, Cost believes conservative reformers should remain in the party, be inspired by recent conservative wins and continue to push the big rock uphill toward reform.
NOTE: I’m adding Nate Silver’s “graphic conception of the GOP field” as I think it’s helpful to have a visual of the various divisions and overlaps of the current GOP field. Thanks to Kevin M. for the link.