4 Reasons Why Moderates Can't Win Elections

Created: 17 December, 2014
Updated: 15 October, 2022
7 min read
There’s a sizable population of this country that’s been disenfranchised by our current two-party system and its sharp ideological divisions. That population isn’t minorities, it isn’t the poor, and it isn’t the youth, though these groups have been disenfranchised in their own way.

No, the population of the United States most cruelly disenfranchised by the sharp progressive/libertarian division between the Republican and Democratic parties are America’s moderates and centrists.

Polls every year show that sizable contingents of the population, upwards of 40 percent, identify as moderate, center-right, or center-left. A recent Gallup poll demonstrated that a full 70 percent of American moderates wish there was a third party to counterbalance the two major parties.

And every few years, something DOES rise up to seemingly fill this gap -- the Reform Party, Americans Elect, No Labels. But thus far, none have been successful.

What makes this all the more shocking is the fact that, historically, moderates have been a dominant majority in American politics. They have not always been called ‘moderates,’ as that is a relative term based on the current polarized ideological configuration of the major parties.

Rather, this segment of the electorate has carried a number of different titles, but generally fallen under the populist lite, nationalist persuasion: the Federalists, the Whigs, the early Republican Party, the Progressives, and the New Deal consensus, which included among its ranks many Progressive Republicans.

This group, historically, has been generally conservative in temperament, yet progressive in outlook and values, seeking to preserve that which is best with America, yet always seeking to improve it to that which it is most capable of becoming. Of all the great towering figures of this tradition, perhaps the most outstanding in character, intellect, and policy have been Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Clearly, the historical precedent is there. And clearly, as popular opinion continuously demonstrates, the moderate consensus is not disenfranchised due to any lack of public support or dearth of willing voters.

No, the problem is strictly institutional and financial, and it is a problem which the Wall Street wings of the Republican and Democratic parties, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party do not suffer from. It is a question of what these organized political movements have, and what the moderates lack.

First, the moderates lack an intellectual base. Now, this does not mean there are no talented moderate thinkers out there. In fact, there are probably more thoughtful moderate thinkers than there are thoughtful thinkers in the other four camps combined.

But despite having this much intellectual capital, the moderates have not invested it in any major institutions. The other movements have their think tanks, their journals, and their popular magazines. Think of the Center for American Progress, the National Review, the New York Times, the Cato Journal, the Heritage Foundation, and so many other institutions of partisan political thought.

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Where is their moderate counterpart, publishing reports and hosting panels on the need for a renewed American system, on the necessity of a youth-based and solvent social contract, on the criticality of unitary nationalism as the source of American identity?

Where is the coherent philosophical and policy approach that moderates can use to create a powerful message to offer voters? Why do moderate thinkers have to search for outlets for their ideas, while liberal and conservative voters get their media thrown at them from every possible direction?

Ideas drive history, and until the moderate center can establish its own ideas factory and start churning out positive approaches rather than mere compromises, its voice will forever be suppressed by the howls of partisanship.

Second, the moderates lack a generous donor base. Most people who follow American politics are well-aware that the Wall Street wings of the Democratic and Republican parties are financed by, unsurprisingly, Wall Street banks and firms, while the more radical populist libertarian and progressive wings of those parties are financed by such filthy rich billionaires as Sheldon Adelson, Steve Schmidt, George Soros, Donald Trump, Ted Turner, and the Koch brothers.

The Daily Beast’s Joel Kotkin does an

excellent job depicting how the plutocrats of the left and right do fantastic work at corrupting politics and dividing America down ideological and class lines, as well as effectively marginalizing and silencing all movements that lack the billion-dollar funds that bankers and billionaires can expend at leisure.

While campaign finance and the lobbying industry absolutely require reform, and the American republic will not live long without it, it is nonetheless apparent that money will always be a crucial resource in politics. And if there’s one thing that moderates don’t have, it’s an organized financial base.

Therefore, it’s time to fight fire with fire -- moderates should seek billionaire donors of their own, willing to fund the above-stated think tanks and journals, and willing to fund the campaigns of moderate candidates who, in turn, will serve the interests of the American people.

Modern American politics requires money for essentially every function -- conventions, campaigns, television advertising, Internet advertising, lobbying, political advisory, travel expenses, outreach, education programs, etc. -- that it is absolutely naïve to believe either that any group of people can ‘get money out of politics,’ or that any political movement can succeed without generous donations.

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If they want their voices to be heard, moderates will have to pay for it just like everybody else. Time to start searching.

Third, the moderates lack an organized political infrastructure. Geoffrey Kabaservice has written the best book on the subject of the decline of the moderate Republicans, and he blames it chiefly on the moderates’ failure to craft political organizations that could stand up to the Marxist-inspired party infrastructure of the radical conservatives led by Barry Goldwater.

He is certainly right in that regard, as the libertarian wing of the Republican Party -- as well as the other factions of both parties -- are all intensely organized, with their own youth organizations, political action committees, county and state level parties, national committees, professional political advisors and strategists, and more. The moderates have none of this.

There are a few moderate and centrist parties out there, and a few moderate and centrist groups like Americans Elect, the Centrist Project, and No Labels. But there is no broad collaboration between them, and no such group on its own, with limited resources, is able to marshal the kind of mass activism that the Republican and Democratic machines can.

Only an intense and focused effort to unite the various moderate and centrist groups, pool their resources, and consolidate a strong political infrastructure capable of outlasting the careers of the leaders who craft it, can give the moderate majority of Americans any kind of hope for political representation.

Nothing at the moment appears to be pushing this direction. However, It is high time something happened.

Finally, the moderates lack leadership. While movements can indeed survive without leaders, they cannot be energized without them -- think about what Ron Paul and Sarah Palin did for the tea party, and think about how Occupy Wall Street fizzled out a few months after no prominent statesman stood up to lead it.

What moderates need is the perfect statesman -- someone with the charisma of Reagan, the cunning of Nixon, and the sagacity of Eisenhower -- who can stand for and articulate moderate ideals for the American people, place them in the context of the present crisis, outline a plan for the great future of this country, and do everything necessary to build a political coalition and policy platform that can stand the test of time.

Until we can find such a leader or leaders, the moderates of America will have no face to show the world, and the annals of history will record no William Jennings Bryan or Andrew Jackson or Ronald Reagan who led this epoch-changing populist movement.

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Therefore, it is imperative that young moderate leaders step up to the plate and assume the mantle of leadership, entering the tradition of the great leaders of the past, dedicating their lives in service to their country, and seeking the best possible future for this, our city on a hill.

The moderate movement, the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, has no formal representation in the halls of power. Both major parties turned their backs on moderation long ago, and what remains is scattered across the country in a plethora of poorly-organized political groups.

Can a moderate consensus come together and craft a moderate intellectual infrastructure, financial infrastructure, and political infrastructure? And, can a charismatic, cunning, and sagacious individual rise to lead it? Nothing points to such a trend in this country at the moment.

Meanwhile, crisis approaches on the domestic front and in the world abroad, the Millennials anxiously approach their destiny, and the ruling class of our nation grows decadent with every passing minute. Will a congress of moderates convene anytime soon to rise to the challenge? I don’t know, but I sure hope so.

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