Opinion

Does America's newest political party stand a chance?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Dozens of former Republicans and Democrats have joined forces to launch Forward, a new centrist political party. Its founders include Andrew Yang, the onetime Democratic presidential candidate; Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey; and David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Florida.

"Political extremism is ripping our nation apart, and the two major parties have failed to remedy the crisis," Yang, Whitman, and Jolly wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. In the last two years, there has been a "spike in political intimidation," they said, and "if nothing is done, the United States will not reach its 300th birthday this century in recognizable form." The op-ed cited a 2021 Gallup poll that found half of U.S. adults identify as independent and 62 percent believe the Democratic and Republican parties "do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed."

"That's why we are coming together — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — to build a new, unifying political party for the majority of Americans who want to move past divisiveness and reject extremism," Yang, Whitman, and Jolly wrote. They didn't share any of Forward's policies. On the party's website, it lists its core principles as "free people," "thriving communities," and "vibrant democracy," and says it supports ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primaries, and independent redistricting commissions.

Now is the time

One early fan is political scientist Ian Bremmer, who praised his "buddy Andrew Yang" for being part of Forward. "If there was ever a time to reach out to dismayed Americans ... 2022 seems like a pretty good time," he tweeted. The party's official Twitter account responded, "We'd love to have you on board," adding, "You'd make a great #Forwardist," but Bremmer turned them down, replying, "Thanks. But have never joined a political party, my friendship with Andrew notwithstanding!"

Not so fast

Forward says it has thousands of volunteers in all 50 states and plans to support candidates in the midterms that will defend democracy. Their goal is to have Forward candidates running in 2024 in local, state, and national elections, with the exception of president. That's going to be hard to do in such a short period of time, Stuart Stevens told MSNBC.

Stevens served as Mitt Romney's chief strategist during his 2012 presidential campaign, and he said it is "extraordinarily difficult to get on the ballot. It is extraordinarily difficult to create a party structure from nowhere. My greatest fear about this is that it is going to detract and distract people from what is really the greatest crisis we have, which is stopping an autocratic movement. I hate to say, it sounds harsh, [but] it's sort of a vanity project."

Is history about to repeat itself?

Forward is touting itself as the third party that will actually be able to break through the two-party system, but skepticism abounds. Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! tweeted that "whenever a third party movement has 'succeeded,' all it's done is doomed whichever party most of its members came from in the next election (one big party beats two small ones) and is almost instantly absorbed back into the main party."

He referenced the Senate's two independents — Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine — and asked, "Do they use their 'third party' leverage to push their own agenda? No, they vote with the Democrats, because that's the only way they can get anything done." Sagal respects the Forward Party's "devotion to the sensible middle," but suggested that the best way to "try to get what they want" would be to "become a Democrat or Republican, and change that party's positions. It's almost impossible, except for when it isn't."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss had his own warning, tweeting that historically, "third parties sometimes have the effect of tipping a close election to an existing party's nominee who is the opposite of what the third party stands for." He also said it is "crucial" to "discover whether any new American third party is taking money from any hidden or mysterious sources, as so many of them have done in American history." Yang told Reuters that Forward will start with a budget of about $5 million, and already has several donors waiting in the wings.

More details, please

Yang is the face of the Forward Party's former Democrats, sitting down for interviews with everyone from Reuters to the right-wing network Newsmax, and that hasn't gone unnoticed by civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill. While the party has shared the names of several Republican members, including Miles Taylor, who worked in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, Ifill noted that "Yang is the only former Democrat identified. Lots of Republicans. Hope there's a more balanced roster."

As for The Nation's justice correspondent Elie Mystal, he just wants to know exactly what the Forward Party stands for. "Do these people have an actual *platform* with, like, POLICIES and stuff … or is it just an amalgam of people too conservative to win a Dem primary but not racist enough to win a GOP one?" he tweeted.

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