The discussion about moving American politics beyond the two-party system needs to become much more serious.
This thought is spurred by two factors, at least here in Arizona: The decision by Grant Woods not to run for U.S. Senate. And the unappetizing choice the two parties are likely to offer for president in 2020.
He is an appealing political persona, as evidenced by having been elected attorney general while in his 30s. Woods is a gifted orator, as the country learned from his eulogy for John McCain. And his comic skills are worthy of a professional.
His policy positions are best described as eclectic. He doesn’t have an ideological lens through which he views issues. He sort of picks and chooses as he goes along.
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There are moments, and this may be one of them, when that fits the mood of the electorate. Woods would have a realistic chance of winning a general election for U.S. Senate.
But he does not have a realistic chance of winning either a Republican or Democratic primary for such.
Independent candidates aren’t the solution
He could run as an independent. That’s a steep hill. And a serious independent challenger in any race means that whoever wins will undoubtedly receive less than a majority of the votes.
Being governed by a plurality rather than a majority erodes legitimacy. More independent candidates isn’t a solution to the structural problem of a nominating system that precludes candidates voters might prefer.
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who also finds himself in no-man’s land in the two-party system, has championed the idea of a top-two primary. All candidates of all parties, and of no party, would run against each other in the primary. The top two vote-getters would run against each other in the general election. Someone like Woods would have a chance to make it to the finals in such a system.
Unfortunately, Johnson, so far, hasn’t been willing to go whole-hog and make the system entirely non-partisan, without party labels on the ballot. If there are party labels on the ballot, parties should have a say in who gets to run under their banner.
It’s more difficult to envision a way out of the two-party trap at the national level.
National choices are even more unappetizing
Unless special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation turns up more than expected, President Donald Trump will undoubtedly be the Republican nominee.
It seems inevitable that the Democrats will nominate someone who proposes adopting European-style social democracy in this country. That means a gigantic expansion of the welfare state and massively greater government intervention in the economy.
The nominee will probably be cagey about how to pay for it. But the only revenue source capable of producing the needed sum is a value-added tax, the workhorse of public finance in Europe.
A continuation of Trump or European-style social democracy probably isn’t the choice a majority of voters would like to see.
Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz is mulling an independent run. He professes to be economically conservative but socially liberal. That’s the largest voting bloc that doesn’t fit comfortably in either party.
Schultz could throw the election to the House
I think that Schultz has the potential to be more than just a spoiler, siphoning off anti-Trump votes from the Democratic nominee. In this crazy political environment, and with what the Democrats are likely to offer, an independent candidate has a chance to be a contender.
But if Schultz could actually win some states, that would mean, realistically, that no candidate would obtain an electoral college majority. That would throw the election into the House of Representatives. Which in turn means that the presidential race would actually be decided by the outcome in swing congressional districts.
Wouldn’t that be lovely.
I’ve ruminated about a multiparty national system with a French-style runoff election. But it’s difficult to envision how to get from what we have to that or any other alternative.
Such visioning needs to start occurring, with some urgency. What we have isn’t working.
Robert Robb is a columnist at The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @RJRobb.