The lack of competition for the Republican presidential nomination and the increasing likelihood that Howard Dean will be the Democratic nominee seem to be feeding renewed talk about third party candidates. It is being fueled by a belief that the Internet has helped make the major parties obsolete.
On both the Republican and Democratic sides of the fence, there is talk about third parties. Libertarians and many conservatives within the Republican Party are deeply frustrated with President Bush's budgetary profligacy and a number of other issues. The libertarians feel the war in Iraq has been a mistake and are gravely worried about the erosion of civil liberties under the Patriot Act. Conservatives support the war and are not too concerned about lost civil liberties, but they are deeply concerned about homosexual marriage, the failure to get conservative judges confirmed and other social issues.
Democrats are once again worried about Ralph Nader. Many believe that his Green Party campaign in 2000 kept Al Gore out of the White House. Assuming that all Nader's votes would have gone to Gore, the latter would have carried Florida easily. Yet Nader is once again making noises about running in 2004. At the same time, some of Dean's people are making not-so-subtle noises about Dean running as a third party candidate should he lose the Democratic nomination. In effect, they are warning the party establishment not to gang up on Dean, or he will guarantee that the Democratic candidate loses.
Of course, those in opposite parties are not disinterested observers in what is going on within the competition. It certainly won't break any Republican hearts if Nader or Dean runs in a third party. Their chance of winning that way is zero. They will simply split the liberal vote, ensuring a Republican victory. At the same time, liberals have been doing what they can to stoke dissent within Republican ranks. An October article by Noah Shachtman on the liberal American Prospect Magazine website (www.prospect.org) detailed libertarian complaints about the Bush administration, encouraging those in the Republican Party to move over to the Libertarian Party.
Some conservatives are making the same argument. Writing in Pat Buchanan's American Conservative Magazine (www.amconmag.com), James Antle predicted that small government conservatives would desert the Republican Party over its increasing embrace of the state under the guise of "compassionate conservatism." While there is no evidence of this as yet, it is true that Libertarian Party candidates at the state level have sometimes gotten enough votes to elect a losing Republican had he gotten their votes.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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