In a comment to my post from yesterday about Rick Santorum’s antipathy to individualism, Eric from Eric’s Grumbles Before The Grave asks this question:
But, with a Democratic Party in meltdown, what is the alternative? Will we finally see a viable third party come into existence?
I’ve written before about the possibility of libertarians finding a home in the Democratic Party. As a realistic proposition, though, I don’t see this happening any time soon. The Democratic Party is too far gone down the road to socialism for anyone who truly believes in free-market capitalism to be comfortable there. Can you really see Milton Friedman and Charles Schumer in the same political party ? I didn’t think so.
What about the third party option then ? Well, for one thing, its a strategy that libertarians have been trying since 1972 with no real success. The Libertarian Party, such as it is, has not had any significant electoral success. Its high water mark in Presidential elections was in 1980, when its candidate received nearly a million votes. In 2000 and 2004, it was barely competitive with the Green Party.
The relative failure of the Libertarian Party to make electoral breakthroughs is not surprising. Successful third parties are a rarity in American history and rarely last for long, unless they go on to replace one of the incumbent parties. The most successful third-party in American history was the Republican Party, formed in 1856 and able to claim the White House in 1860. The GOP, though, was born in unique circumstances; the issues of slavery and secession were tearing the country apart. Those circumstances are rare.
Outside a time of crisis like the pre-Civil War era, most other third-party movements have been built around personalities. The Bull Moose Party had Theodore Roosevelt. The Reform Party had Ross Perot. When these men faded away, the party went with them and the two party balance was, more or less, restored.
So, as a practical matter, I do not believe that the third-party strategy is viable if your measure of success is how many candidates are elected. The Democratic and Republican Parties are, for better or worse, firmly entrenched in our political system and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The best thing advocates of individual liberty can do is try to influence the political system so that the debate moves in the right direction. Splitting off into a third party will only guarantee that the socialists and collectivists dominate the debate even more.