The dawn of the era (or is it, error?) of Donald Trump has prompted lots of serious talk, from serious people, about a conservative, national third party.
I have seen quite a few planners and dreamers during my years doing ballot access for various candidates and groups. I’ve grown very discerning. I now profile these groups.
Those pointers construct a list of the do’s and don’ts, things to avoid, and others to emulate:
1. Remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
Some third parties try to be “ideologically pure.” The problem here is that one person’s purity is another person’s apostasy. Compromises and general positions allow for breathing room to accommodate nuanced differences as long as bedrock principles are stated and adhered to. Failure to abide by this point will doom any enterprise.
2. Select the right people.
Character counts, and often in a new organization of any type the character of the founders and organizers is the only thing the group has. Character is even rarer than ability. The core group must be carefully selected and vetted. Its members must be accomplished, able, and upstanding citizens who can be held up as examples for others to emulate in their personal lives, if not necessarily as candidates for elected office.
Admittedly, this is a high bar. But political success for conservatives requires eschewing the appeal to the lowest common denominator. There are plenty of places for that appeal in politics. The existing major parties are full of them. A successful third party has to be different. This leads to the next few points.
3. Embrace elitism.
The problem in much of the Western world is an acceptance of mediocrity – and often the exaltation of the lowest common denominator.
Now stop the presses! I am going to quote Donald Trump from one television sound bite of dimestore-novel advice: “Don’t hang around with losers” (yes, he actually said this on the first season of The Apprentice).
A successful third party must seek to recruit and retain top talent. Part of that strategy is to make it clear that yesterday’s rejects and cold leftovers are not welcome. Organizers of a successful third party must be emotionally strong enough to say “no” and hold the line. Past history is often indicative of future results, and none of us owe any of these dreaming losers any more of our time, energy, or money.
Reject the losers.
A new and successful third party must be inhospitable to losers and other credibility-challenged users, fakes, and frauds. Which brings me to the next point.
4. Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing.
Electoral success matters. Now, there is a twist. How do you define success? Is it always about electing your nominee? What about defeating a targeted candidate? What about forcing discourse and subsequent legislative policy to the right?
All of the above can be acceptable answers. The shared point of each tactic is: Choose a goal and work towards it, relentlessly. This brings me to the last point.
5. Pick achievable goals.
This may sound like a concession to some. It is a concession, but to pragmatism.
Nothing will demoralize an organization more than a kamikaze mission that achieves nothing but the death of its performers. Accordingly, running candidates with no chance of influencing the debate, much less of winning, is far worse than running no one. Because an unsuccessful, pointless, and embarrassing result serves to destroy the credibility of anyone associated with it.
Successful and winning armies engage in battle on only terms or terrain favorable to them. The same is true for negotiators and investors. A third party must be the same way. Therefore, issues must be selected, specific races identified, and resources carefully allocated only to the most promising candidates and situations. Whiners and malcontents are free to go elsewhere.
To paraphrase the late actor George C. Scott: “No election was won by dying for his party. An election is won, by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his.”
Remember, the mission for a third party is reform – not proving how hard one can work or how valiant one is in defeat. Reform requires either wining or having enough tangible impact to force change. Leave misguided martyrdom to the Muslims hoping for 72 virgins.
There’s working hard and then there’s working smart. Choose the latter.