Is now the time for a competitive third party to emerge? Joel Searby thinks so.
Searby is working with the Forward Party, a newly formed centrist party created by the merger of three independent efforts: the center-right Renew America Movement, the center-left Forward Party led by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and the centrist Serve America Movement led by former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
Searby, who was Renew America’s national political director, said the three groups began discussing collaborating about nine months ago and eventually decided to merge.
He said the Forward Party will not have a party platform but instead will have a solutions-oriented approach that seeks common ground. The party will look different in Arkansas than it will in Vermont.
“We think that Americans want and need a party that speaks to the needs of their local communities and gives elected officials the flexibility to meet those needs, instead of a rigid, top-down platform that prescribes exactly what you have to believe about any given issue,” he said.
The challenge for any third party is that the American political system favors having only two. The winner-take-all system turns everything into a two-candidate race because voters believe they must vote for the one they dislike the least. The campaign finance system funnels money to Democrats and Republicans as a form of legalized bribery. The culture war turns everything into an us-versus-them contest.
“This system is so locked in to the major parties and their power, and you can go state by state and see examples of how the two parties don’t agree on anything other than making sure nobody else has power,” Searby said.
In response, the Forward Party is more specific in one area: democratic reforms. It supports open primaries where nonparty members can vote, which Arkansas already has but which the state’s Republican Party recently said should go away in its platform. The Forward Party also supports ranked choice voting, where voters rank candidates on the ballot rather than just picking one. Arkansas already has that for military and overseas voters, but not the rest of us.
“One of the closest ties that bind us together across this group are those who believe that you have to stand up for democracy, for the Constitution and for the way that this country was built and is intended to be governed,” Searby said. “And unfortunately, many, many from the far left and far right are bent on either tearing it down or fundamentally changing it in ways that aren’t concurrent with the vision that we have.”
Importantly, he said the party is funded through this year and next. When the three movements merged, they had more staff and a larger budget than the current largest third party, the anti-government Libertarian Party, he said.
Searby said the party has no plans to run a presidential candidate in 2024 and will be seeking to elect local officials. He said it has a 50-state plan and is “in very serious conversations in Arkansas with folks that are helping to build it there.”
Searby was a Republican operative who became an independent in 2016. He jokes that he has set a record for working on losing independent campaigns. Those campaigns include the 2016 presidential campaign of Evan McMullin, the former Republican staff member and CIA operative who received 13,176 votes in Arkansas, or 1.17% of the state’s total. McMullin is mounting a serious independent campaign for the U.S. Senate in Utah. Though he was a founder of the Renew America Movement, he is not affiliated with the Forward Party.
Can the Forward Party succeed where every other effort to form a third party has failed since the Civil War? The odds are against it, for the reasons mentioned earlier. The two major parties are so entrenched.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party had been entrenched in Arkansas for 150 years until the 2010 elections, and now the state is dominated by Republicans. Nationally, the Republican Party didn’t exist until 1854, and by 1860 it had elected Abraham Lincoln president.
Change does happen in politics. It requires a first step, which is hard, and then building momentum, which is harder. The only way to do that is to keep moving forward, which is what the Forward Party will have to do.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Steve Brawner: Can the Forward Party move forward?