WHY THE CONSTITUTION PARTY IS GOING NOWHERE
By Bill Sizemore
June 8, 2004
Every election cycle, from one end of this country to the other, by the thousands, well-meaning conservatives with a burning zeal and the best of intentions, enter the political process for the first time. VThe idea seems to hit them one day like a lightning bolt from heaven. Almost out of nowhere, they say to themselves, “I have all the right views and I have the courage of my convictions. I know I won’t sell out and compromise for personal political gain like all of those other politicians have. My country (or my state, county, or city) needs me, and there is no time to waste. Compelled by my sense of duty and patriotism, I am going to run for public office.”
It happens all the time. Mostly though, these fine folks arrive out of nowhere and then disappear into political oblivion just as quickly; right after some opponent has handed them their head on a silver platter.
Over the years, I have observed that most of these folks seem to have one thing in common. They are entirely unaware of the basic laws of political science, but think they are going to win, because they are right on the issues, or because God is on their side.
Of course, these same folks would never step off a cliff and challenge the law of gravity. They are too smart for that. Amazingly, however, they do the exact same thing in politics. They challenge or ignore the basic laws of political science and then seem befuddled and disillusioned by the unfortunate, but predictable consequence.
The laws of political science are like the laws of physics. They may be less obvious, but they work just as faithfully. Failing to recognize and account for the laws of political science almost invariably leaves well-meaning candidates, with all the right views, shattered heaps at the bottom of some political cliff.
The laws of political science are more or less universal. Whether it’s a candidate or a political party, there are certain things that simply must occur for either to be viable. If those things do not occur, the energy that initiated the effort almost invariably dissipates and those involved exit the stage, discouraged and cynical about the entire process.
Sure, the Constitution Party could change the nation some day. It could even nominate a winning presidential candidate. That is conceivable, but not the way things are going presently. The road the Constitution Party is on today goes nowhere.
You see, all of those bright-eyed, first time candidates we spoke of earlier, those who exited the process with nothing to show for their efforts but a bruised ego and a campaign debt, have two things in common: First, when they started, no one had ever heard of them, and second, from beginning to end, they lacked the money necessary to get their message out and become visible enough to appear on the voters’ radar screen.
To win, a candidate usually needs lots of money and plenty of positive name familiarity. Having a lot of either is sometimes sufficient to pull off a victory, because money can buy name familiarity and already having name familiarity means you need less money to create it. However, if in the beginning you lack both, and have no workable plan for obtaining these basic political necessities, yours is an exercise in futility.
This is a law of political science, which applies to all but the smallest of political races. Simply put, people don’t tend to vote for someone they have never heard of or know nothing about. Sure, if they know nothing about your opponents either, they might vote for you simply because they like the sound of your name or saw it on a lot of signs in a lot of people’s yards. However, if they know who your opponent is and what he or she is about, (and they will if your opponent is running a serious campaign), they also will have to know something about you and like what they know, or they will vote for the other guy. It’s that simple.
The problem is, in a major race, it takes an awful lot of money to tell people who you are and what you believe. It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for Congress. It takes millions to run a serious campaign for the U.S. Senate. It takes hundreds of millions to run for the presidency with any chance of winning.
If you start the race as a popular candidate with household name familiarity, as Arnold Swartzennegger did in California, you may need less money to win. You will be considered a serious contender from the get go, because in politics, name familiarity is like money. Having lots of it scares off would be challengers.
This is why the Constitution Party is not and will not soon become a major political player. Its leaders so far have failed to behave as if they understand and respect the basic laws of political science.
Could this failure be remedied? Sure, but not easily. Here is what would have to happen for the Constitution Party, or the Libertarian Party, for that matter, to become major players. They would first have to recruit a candidate that voters have actually heard of; someone with a household name. Then they would need to raise the millions and millions of dollars it would take to get their message in front of enough voters to sway the outcome of a national election.
I don’t doubt for a moment the quality or the sincerity of the sacrificial lambs the Constitution Party has chosen to be their nominees for the presidency and vice presidency. Their problem is, 99 percent of Americans have never heard of either of them, and when the race is over at 8:00 p.m. on November 2nd, 98 percent of Americans still will not have heard of them, nor have the foggiest idea what they or their party stands for.
Why? Because the Constitution Party is aiming its message at the easy to reach conservative political activists, not those tens of millions of couch potatoes, who will vote for president on November 2nd without first bothering to read a single campaign statement or watch a single political debate. The only way those apathetic, middle of the road voters will be reached is through obscenely expensive, primetime 30-second television ads that catch them during one of those few commercial breaks that isn’t spent in the bathroom or raiding the refrigerator.
You have to catch them during Monday Night Football or Everybody Loves Raymond, or pay $2 million to air a 30 second commercial during the final episode of Friends. Otherwise, they won’t hear you or know you exist. Then, of course, they have to see your commercial about seven times before they will remember it, so add that into your budget, as well.
Why do you think major party candidates spend so much money on 30-second television ads? They do, because they know that’s how you win major elections. You can’t win a major race just by being a star on talk radio, which is listened to by less than 25 percent of Americans. You can’t win a high political office just by going to all of those candidate debates and attending all of those Rotary Club meetings. Those things might help in small, local races, but to win a major race, you have to buy tons of primetime television ads and spend a fortune on drive-time radio ads.
For the Constitution Party to be a serious contender in a national campaign, its candidate for president would have to raise $100 to $200 million over the next two or three months, and that seems rather unlikely.
There are, however, things that could make the Constitution Party’s candidates instant contenders, absent the hundred million dollars. For example, if some or most of the national leaders of the conservative movement in America got behind them, the Constitution Party candidates could become major players in short order.
I’m talking about religious leaders with national audiences; people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and D. James Kennedy. If those folks were joined by major policy groups like The Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union, National Right to Life, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, and the National Rifle Association, then the Constitution Party candidates could become major players overnight.
It wouldn’t hurt, of course, for leading conservative columnists like George Will and Robert Novak, to chime in; and for national talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage to start beating the Conservative Party’s drum.
If conservative leaders and organizations of this stature got behind a third party candidate and started touting his virtues, the impact would be substantial and immediate. The entire country would take notice. Every major newspaper in the country would be writing front page articles about the Constitution Party, its platform, and candidates.
However, you don’t see any of that that happening, do you? As upset as some of these national leaders are with some of Bush’s policies, you don’t see them or their organizations drifting towards a third party. You don’t see them deserting Bush and looking for an alternative. Why is this?
There are probably several reasons why the national heavy hitters are sticking with Bush and ignoring the Constitution Party. If they could get past the Constitution Party’s dangerously naïve position on Iraq and the war against terrorism, they probably would still stick with Bush, because they are political realists. It is not because they are part of the “conspiracy” or because they like being Washington insiders. They are simply too experienced and have too much respect for the laws of political science to support the Conservative Party, which so far is not sufficiently developed or financed to earn their consideration, let alone their support.
The more sophisticated players at the national level have pretty good instincts for what is politically possible and what isn’t, and they are practical enough to acknowledge that most of the Republican sheep will stay “safely” within the Republican fold this November, no matter who else is on the ballot.
They also know that getting behind someone with no name familiarity and no access to stockpiles of campaign cash is a waste of their credibility.
If, on the other hand, the Constitution Party had a well-known candidate at the top of it’s ticket or had a hundred million bucks in the bank, it might be a different story. The major players, who are upset with Bush, might consider them a viable alternative. That is, if they could get past the Constitution Party’s position on the war in Iraq, which is out of touch with the vast majority of conservatives.
The concept of a strong third party is not in and of itself far-fetched, if the endeavor is undertaken with some sophistication. Let’s look at two real world examples of third party contenders; one who almost made it and one who has never had a chance.
First, let’s consider the case of Ross Perot. When Perot ran for president in 1992, for better or for worse, he made a difference. In fact, if he had not stumbled and dropped out of the race, (and then later tried to crawl back in), some early polls indicate that he might have actually won.
Even though Perot lost, he ended up with 19 percent of the national vote, the highest percentage of any third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.
What did Reform Party candidate Ross Perot have going for him that made him a major player? It wasn’t looks, charisma, or a powerful speaking voice. What he had was lots of money. Perot had the money to get his face, his charts, and his little pointy stick on the television screen enough times to make voters take him seriously and feel that voting for him would not be throwing their vote away.
It was because of his money that the Ross Perot team grew from a small band of malcontents to a full-fledged national movement. With a better standard bearer and Perot’s money, they could have actually won in ’92 and the Reform Party might still be a major player to this day.
On the other hand, consider perennial Libertarian candidate Harry Brown. Harry’s a smart, articulate guy, and not only speaks well, but has some good things to say. Nevertheless, after decades of trying, Libertarian Harry Brown still gets very few votes on Election Day.
Simply put, the Libertarians don’t have the money or the star power necessary to be anything but spoilers, a role they have learned to relish.
Why should the Constitution Party fare any better? The Constitution Party’s presidential nominee, Michael Peroutka, has even less name familiarity than Libertarian Harry Brown, and the party has no appreciable caches of campaign cash.
It is interesting that the Constitution Party, like the Libertarian Party and Green Party before them, is already settling for a kind of “spoiler” status, which is evidenced by the fact that their candidate’s official website features an article about how the Constitution Party should “Naderize” the Republican Party.
Here is a political fact you can take to the bank: Lacking both money and star power, all third parties will remain minor parties forever, and struggle to get a mere two percent of the vote on Election Day. That is a political reality.
In the past, I have published columns about the fact that Americans are stuck with only two choices, Bush or Kerry, which a growing number of Americans consider a “lesser of two evils” choice. After each such column, I have received emails from scores of angry conservatives, saying that based on principle they simply will not vote for Bush or Kerry this November. Period.
Sure, many of us would like to see the Republican Party purified of its political heretics and squishes. We would like to see most if not all of its so-called moderates banished to the Isle of Patmos until they receive some kind of career changing, conservative revelation.
Granted, building a viable third party is one way of disciplining the Republican Party, something its own leaders apparently will not do. And sure, it can take time to build a new party. I am not one to despise the day of small beginnings. But to build a political party from scratch, you need more than time. The Libertarians have amply proven that. You also must recruit better-known candidates and raise lots of money.
I recently read an article on the “spirit of fear,” written by the Constitution Party’s presumed vice presidential nominee, Baptist pastor Chuck Baldwin. Pastor Baldwin wrote, “Instead of trusting God to multiply their votes into a great miracle, they (Christian voters) timidly regurgitate the redundant themes of pragmatism and fear.”
I gather from those words that the Constitution Party’s vice presidential candidate believes that Christian conservatives should ignore the laws of political science, ignore the fact that the Constitution Party’s candidates are political unknowns with very little money, and trust God to multiply (miraculously) the votes of Christians, like Jesus multiplied the few loaves and fishes and fed the five thousand.
Of course, that could happen, but then they would have to hope that after the election no one demanded a recount of the actual ballots.
In the same article, Pastor Baldwin also says, “Instead of standing courageously upon God’s principles and promises, Christians are cowering in fear before political pollsters and parties.”
I take that to mean, that in Pastor Baldwin’s opinion, Christian voters should ignore the polls that tell us that no one has even heard of Mike Peroutka or Chuck Baldwin and vote for them anyway, even though supporting those two well-meaning men might put John Kerry in office and lose for a generation the possibility of repairing the seriously broken U.S. Supreme Court.
Even those of us who believe in a God of miracles should recognize that in politics, if you want to win, it would be more prudent to raise money and recruit better-known candidates.
Before anyone expects God to intervene and work a miracle for a small, unknown political party on election day, maybe they should consider Luke 14:28-32, where Jesus is recorded as saying, and I paraphrase: Which of you would start to build a tower without stopping first to count the cost and make sure that you have enough money to finish it, lest you run out of money before you finish and everyone mock you; or what king would go to war without first considering whether his army of 10,000 can win against his enemy’s army of 20,000?
I dare say that Jesus left room for us to make some rather practical considerations in such matters; such as doing some polling and raising lots of money before you run some unknown, well meaning guy for president under the banner of a party that is unknown to 99 percent of Americans.
If you ignore the law of gravity, you invariably find yourself going in a rather downward direction. Same thing happens in politics.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
"Sure, the Constitution Party could change the nation some day. It could even nominate a winning presidential candidate. That is conceivable, but not the way things are going presently. The road the Constitution Party is on today goes nowhere."