Saturday, November 06, 2010

Three Party Politics

Watching the election returns this week, it occurred to me that they were producing a potentially interesting situation—a three party House of Representatives. On paper, the Republicans have a majority. But that majority depends on the support of a substantial number of representatives who got nominated despite opposition from the Republican establishment, mostly with Tea Party support. They, like everybody else who reads the poll results, are aware that, unpopular as the Democratic party is with voters at the moment, the Republican party is only a little less unpopular.

Suppose the Tea Party representatives respond to that situation by forming their own caucus, as they well may, and functioning as an independent body, a virtual third party. In organizing the House, they will presumably sell their support to the orthodox Republicans in exchange for a positions for some of their members. But in future legislative struggles, matters may not be that simple.

Considered as a three party game, and ignoring divisions with the Democratic party, the logic is simple. Obama and the Democrats cannot pass legislation. Neither can the Republicans. Neither can the (hypothetical) Tea Party caucus. Neither can the Republicans allied with the Tea Party. But an alliance of Obama with either of the other two provides majorities in both houses; that plus the President's signature is, short of a successful filibuster, sufficient. And it is not entirely clear that the Republicans, absent the support of Tea Party senators, could mount a filibuster.

It is tempting, but boring, to assume that since the Tea Party is in some sense on the opposite side from the Democrats, no alliances are possible. Reason to reject that assumption is provided by recent British political history. The Liberal Democrats, by most views, were positioned to the left of a Labor party that had become increasingly centrist in the years since Maggie Thatcher's successful Tory rule. But when an election produced a majority for neither of the major parties, it was the Conservatives, not Labor, that they ended up in coalition with. So far, that coalition seems to working.

I admit, however, that I have had a hard time thinking up plausible issues on which the Tea Party and the Democrats might align against the Republicans. It would be easier if the Tea party were more consistently libertarian—one could imagine, for instance, an alliance to pass a federal medical marijuana law, supposing that it occurs to Obama that scaling back the War on Drugs is at this point a more popular policy than strengthening it. But that one strikes me as implausible and nothing else at the moment occurs to me.



mjh said...

*IF* the TEA partiers were more libertarian, then maybe:

* Don't ask. Don't tell.
* Iraq
* Gay marriage
* Immigration reform

Anonymous said...

Don't think that you are right. The difference between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment is not one of policy, it is one of integrity.

The difference is that the Tea Party people tend to be republicans who haven't sold out yet. Aside from that they have basically the same policies.

(BTW I don't say that as a blind followers of the Tea Party. To me hearing a crowd shout "Save Medicare and Social Security" at the same time they shout "Taxed Enough Already!" shows a cognitive dissonance that should give any serious thinker a headache.)

Anonymous said...


I can't think of anything either. The Tea Party is not going to pursue libertarian policies in the near future -- if California can't pass a legal pot can't be more royalist than the king or something.

But it goes beyond policy -- there's probably a fundamental (and justified) distrust between Obama and the TPers which would make any sort of cooperation a non-starter. That bridge was burned before they were elected.
They are explicitly and ardently opposed to any "reaching across the aisle."

Anonymous said...

Let me just add - given Obama's likely use of the regulatory apparatus to pursue outcomes TPers would unconditionally oppose (such as EPA's carbon regulations) any sort of cooperation would be a non-starter. As a precondition Obama would have to repudiate such tactics.


Unknown said...

I believe the purpose of the TEA Party movement was created out of a lack of fiscal restraint. The democrat party might choose to align with the TEA Party and work together to bring the national debt under control. They may also pass legislation that encourages companies to not outsource jobs or to reduce the trade deficit.

As for the social issues I do not think the TEA Party is focused on any debate that involves those issues. The party itself is not united in one position on any of those issues and it was formed that way on purpose. The idea that they may take up a liberal social agenda doesn't seem likely because of the lack of concern the TEA Party has shown about social issues. True, they hated Obamacare but it was because of the cost, not the health care itself.

As for the formation of a true third party, I do believe the TEA Party could possibly walk away from the republicans. It all depends on how willing the GOP establishment is willing to accept the TEA Party members and listen to their cause.

I do find it funny how two years ago Obama claimed he was willing to reach across the aisle and work with republicans and pledged to be bipartisan. It never happened. This election he has no choice.

Anonymous said...


If the Tea Party were not the rebranding of social conservative Republicans, they might be a different party.


If a horse had wings...

Put another way, if you can demonstrate an instrumental difference between one of the Tea-Party-branded Republicans and a Republican, that would be a start in being able to distinguish between the two.

I have yet to see much of a difference other than a bit of exuberance that led the Tea Party brand to ignore the party machine a bit where it mattered, for instance, with everyone's favorite not-a-witch. That's ignoring one's elders, so to speak, not launching a third party.

Again, show me a tea party congress critter that differs materially from, say, Issa or Bachmann. I don't know exactly how to formulate a bet on the topic, but would make one on the side that you will not see a difference.

Doc Merlin said...

"I can't think of anything either. The Tea Party is not going to pursue libertarian policies in the near future -- if California can't pass a legal pot can't be more royalist than the king or something."

Interesting note: Alaska, one of the most GOP heavy states in the US has legalized marijuana.