August 10, 2022

Reviews | Could a new political party strip radical politicians?

Placeholder while loading article actions

Pundits and political scientists have said for years that there is no hope for a third party. The structural advantages of a two-party system and voters’ aversion to “casting their votes” are a major obstacle for alternative candidates.

Yet in a few states, alternative parties are thriving. In New York, the Conservative Party and the Working Families Party both endorse candidates. In the case of the Conservative Party, these candidates can also run on the Republican Party line. These sorts of “merger parties” were common throughout the 19th century, but entrenched parties began to ban them to protect their political turf.

Now, as Republicans leap into the abyss of the MAGA movement, such parties could once again serve a useful purpose. The test case is the fiercely competitive race in New Jersey’s 7th congressional district, where moderate Democrat Tom Malinowski will likely face Tom Kean Jr., son of the former New Jersey governor and co-chairman of the 9/11 commission who used personify moderate Republican politics.

Kean Jr., unlike his father, made a Faustian bargain with the far-right GOP. Like so many cynical careerists, he preferred to jump on the MAGA bandwagon rather than the moderate politics that once made his father a revered figure in the state. Local coverage ridiculed his indulgences to the MAGA crowd, including his refusal to condemn the Republican National Committee’s portrayal of the January 6 insurrection as “legitimate political speech”. The Star-Ledger editorial board lambasted him for “wasting” his family’s legacy.

Follow jennifer rubinthe opinions ofFollow

Malinowski tells me, “I think there’s a desperate need in this country for Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans to form an alliance” against the increasingly hardline, “election-denying” GOP. He adds, “I think a substantial portion of Republican voters in districts like mine would be willing to vote for a moderate Democrat if they could do so under the flag of a party that reflected their values.” These are people who say “I don’t want to vote for AOC’s party”, but who would gladly vote for a candidate who looked like, well, the old Tom Kean.

In this case, it’s Malinowski. And that’s where the new Moderate Party comes in.

A press release from the fledgling party explains that it backed Malinowski as part of his efforts to “combat growing political extremism and polarization.” He also noted that he is “prepared to push for major reforms to New Jersey’s unconstitutional election laws to allow him to appear on the ballot under Democratic and Moderate Party lines.”

The Moderate Party was recently formed by a group of Republicans, Independents and Democrats from New Jersey repelled by the drift of the two main parties to ideological extremes, and creates a home for pragmatic and intermediate voters who commit to protect our democratic institutions. Unlike most third parties, the Moderate Party will offer its support, and the validation that comes with it, to those big party candidates who best reflect its values, giving centrist voters back the voice and influence they lost. .

The leaders of the Moderate Party are ready to go to court if their requests to qualify for a position on the ballot are rejected. If successful, both the Moderate Party and the Democratic Party will appear on the ballot with Malinowski as the candidate. (It’s also possible that Malinowski will appear on the ballot with both parties listed under his name.) If the court battle fails or drags out, the state legislature can step in to change the ban on merged parties.

Malinowski tells me that entering the Moderate Party makes sense precisely “because Tom Kean shredded the family legacy and engaged in a race to the bottom with the MAGA wing” of the GOP. That leaves plenty of Republicans and independents stranded that the Moderate Party could appeal to.

New Jersey’s 7th Precinct was redesigned this year as an ideal place to test the viability of the Moderate Party. The district, while still tightly divided, now has more Republicans than Democrats. As The New York Times reported, it’s “largely affluent and suburban… [and] filled with the type of well-educated swing voters who helped Democrats across the country overthrow control of the House in 2018 and who are considered crucial for November’s midterm elections.

Malinowski is optimistic about the Moderate Party’s plan, citing violence and electoral subversion that threaten to tear the country apart unless the core electorate can attract the independents and moderate Republicans the GOP has abandoned. He says that if he wins with a few thousand votes provided by voters who choose him to the Moderate Party line, those voters can be assured that he “will take them very seriously.”

Similar efforts could influence both parties’ primaries elsewhere, giving a boost to more centrist candidates. In the Utah Senate race, Evan McMullin is running as an independent conservative. In Wyoming, allies of Rep. Liz Cheney (R) urged Democrats to cross over in support of her. Other states are implementing ranked voting, which aims to stifle the extremes and strengthen the center-left over the center-right voters the two major parties previously represented.

There is no guarantee that the Moderate Party will prevail or that its endorsement will help re-elect Malinowski. But for those looking for a way to protect moderate Republicans and independents from MAGA radicals and encourage less extreme candidates from both parties, any success of the Moderate Party could pave the way for healthier, more functional politics.