It has often been said that third parties appeal to niche audiences, segments of the electorate that are too small to provide a majority at the polls. In many instances that may be true; however, by aligning themselves with certain key issues, alternative parties are able to carve loyal followings while simultaneously pushing the Democrats and Republicans to address policies they would otherwise ignore. This tactic has proven relatively successful; Ross Perot’s presidential bid, for example, arguably resulted in the formation of the Contract with America. That said, the pool of voters willing to cast their ballots for these parties is often-times small and one must wonder what happens if there are multiple, competing organizations dedicated to nearly identical causes?
Such is the case with the paleo-conservative movement, characterized by support for Judeo-Christian values and a strict, literal interpretation of the Constitution. For decades, numerous organizations and candidates have battled for the support of this base, fiscally conservative pro-lifers who are also anti-war, that is already limited in terms of size and influence. As a result of electoral dilution, paleo-conservatives are scattered and disorganized throughout the country, frequently dismissed as the Rightwing’s irrelevant fringe, outnumbered by their prominent neo-conservative counterparts.
Cody Quirk, founder of the Clarion Call to Unite Committee (CCTUC), the most recent attempt at unifying the dozens of small paleo-conservative third parties, hopes to change that. As a member of the Constitution Party, he has witnessed the divisiveness of the Right firsthand and recognized that the competing factionalism of organizations dedicated to the same goals has proven detrimental to the marketability and success of their movement. Though previous efforts to join these parties under a single umbrella were futile, Quirk believes that in the wake of the Republican Party’s recent identity crisis, public demand for a unified alternative is at an all time high.
“After the 2012 elections and the disarray that the GOP is currently struggling with, of course there is a vital demand for a better alternative to the GOP, and for another political party to arise upon the scene in American politics,” said Quirk.
The Constitution Party, founded by Conservative Caucus Chairman Howard Phillips, is one of the country’s largest third parties. It has remained ideologically consistent throughout the years, though it isn’t without competition; several smaller entities, some of which exist only in a single state, share its vision for America. Though these groups have yet to enjoy national success or widespread influence, to borrow a phrase from the duopoly, many feel they “split the vote” between ideologically compatible candidates, making an amiable relationship vital to success.
The America First Party, currently only active in Mississippi, is arguably the most similar to the Constitution Party. United in opposition to abortion, free trade, and foreign war, and joined by a historical connection to Patrick Buchanan’s populist presidential campaigns, a merger between the two seems reasonable, if not inevitable. Despite this, it will almost certainly never happen. The party, which once included multiple state organizations and numerous candidates across the country, passed a resolution specifically barring any attempt to join with other Rightwing third parties.
“Our group contacted them and tried to reason with them on the issue of merger, only to find the current [America First] leaders quite opposed and hostile to the idea of uniting the parties and insisted on maintaining themselves as a separate entity,” said Quirk. “So as much as we tried, the [America First Party] refuses to budge from their position of standing alone in third party politics.”
Though the “America Firsters,” as they are called, seem content to fight for paleo-conservatism by themselves, other single-state parties recognize expansion beyond their own boarders would bring increased influence. Many are open to a dialogue and the potential merger, including the American Independent Party, which enjoyed an explosion of success when Governor George Wallace, their 1968 presidential candidate, received almost fourteen percent of the vote. A lot has changed in the forty-odd years since Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door, and while the party has since dropped the segregationist views that brought it such great success, it now only exists in California.
“They are cooperating with us,” said Quirk. “Their participation at our meeting last Saturday was quite productive and I feel that their party will play a influential part in achieving our goal of uniting the parties.”
With automatic ballot access and over 400,000 registered members, the American Independent Party is likely the largest and most well-known alternative to the Republicans in that state; it traditionally backed the Constitution Party’s presidential nominee, though that practice ended after a 2008 feud resulted in competing candidacies, intense hostilities, and the formation of the American Party. The spark that ignited this powder keg: the Constitutionalists shunned Alan Keyes, the presidential candidate embraced by the California activists and ballot-qualified by the Secretary of State, because of his support for the Iraq War. The division hurts both organizations. Congressman Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, appeared on twenty-six ballots and received 122,334 votes nationwide; he didn’t qualify in California, where American Independent candidate Thomas Hoefling received 38,372 votes.
According to Quirk, other contacted parties included the Independent Green Party of Virginia, the Oregon Constitution Party (which disaffiliated from the national level), the Sovereignty Party, the Alaskan Independence Party, the American Party, America’s Party, the Reform Party of Kansas, and the National Independent American Party, though not all responded or expressed support for the committee.
“The ‘differences of opinion’ are very minor among these parties,” said Quirk. “And the only time that such minor differences might come into play is perhaps at a future organizational convention, when a national platform is being drafted and debated. I know that not all Constitutionalists and these parties see exactly eye-to-eye on the Pro-Life issue, yet as long as we focus on what we agree on…then it will not be a issue at all for us.”