“We need an insurgency of the rational: a generation of Americans who are fed up with the current political system, who believe we can do better, and most important, who are ready to do something about it.”. — Charles Wheelan - Founder of The Centrist Project and author of “The Centrist Manifesto”
Millions of people intuitively understand the four simple words Mr. Wheelan opened with in The Centrist Manifesto, a book he wrote in 2013 calling for fundamental change to end the U.S.’s dysfunctional political system and break through the two-party gridlock.
“Something has to change.”
In the hyper-partisan political world, modern government simply can’t work, as it’s all about political jockeying between the party’s leadership to promote (or even stall) legislation.
Political parties are the root cause of this problem, and ordinary people are going to have to be the answer. Across the country, voters are leaving the two traditional parties by the thousands, with 42% of voters now self-identifying as independent rather than by a party identification.In almost all modern American elections, the major party candidates have to pander to the base during the primary -- to prove their worth to the party faithful -- then it becomes a major “fake” to the center to try to pick up critical independent, center, and swing voters.
But what if we had serious candidates who could claim the center ground from the beginning of the election?
Independents are hungry for a way for their voices to be heard. But many of the potential independent candidates who could mount credible, competitive campaigns against major party candidates often struggle from lack of organization, lack of understanding of how campaigns are built, or lack of seed funding.
That is where The Centrist Project comes in -- to recruit and support viable independent candidates in the right races to change the political system for the better.
“This is about fighting back against the extremists in both parties,” said Wheelan. “Instead of throwing up our hands at the dysfunction and partisanship, we’ve found a way for Americans who are fed up with the extreme right and the extreme left to do something constructive about it.”
The novelty of The Centrist Project is that it is capable of turning a dysfunctional political system into a functional one by capitalizing on the disarray the parties created for positive change. This can be accomplished by electing reform-minded independent candidates to the United States Senate.
Let’s be Realistic: Meaningful Change Won’t Come from Crazy Ideas
The encouraging prospect of The Centrist Project’s ambitious objective is that it is not a crazy idea–the brilliance of it is that it leverages the disdain the parties created for themselves against the system to get it back on track.
Too often, the really big political reform ideas start with the mantra: “we need to have a constitutional amendment to get this done.” Most of those ideas should be written off as idealistic “pie-in-the-sky” nonstarters. There hasn’t been an amendment from start to finish completed in the last 44 years, and with the current gridlock in Washington, the partisanship is such that lawmakers are unlikely to agree on whether the zebra has white or black stripes.
Change Has to Come from Within the Dysfunctional System–But Harnessing the Dysfunction for Change
Right now, the single most dysfunctional branch of our government is the Senate, often because of the cloture rules associated with ending debates.
But even with its dysfunction, the United States Senate offers the most realistic opportunity for independents to gather sufficient strength to achieve legislative leverage. Winning enough seats to forge a fulcrum in the House requires winning too many seats. But just a handful of U.S. senators can essentially control the terms of legislative debate and its calendar.
So what happens if over the next three election cycles (six years), five truly independent candidates could be elected to the United States Senate? The current Senate has 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two Independents (who caucus with the Democrats).According to The Centrist Project, its candidates -- leaders from across the country in a variety of states -- would be unified in their political philosophy of fiscal and environmental responsibility and social tolerance and unified in the guiding principle that our government leaders should act like grownups to get things done for the American people.
This is a viewpoint that many millions of independents -- as well as millions more moderate Democrats and Republicans -- can rally around.
Just five independent senators would provide an incredibly powerful “fulcrum” within the Senate that could control agenda setting and force the extremes of both parties to the table to find common ground and compromise on the biggest issues facing the country. Those independent senators would be beholden to no one except the citizens of their states -- not the party bosses.
So how would this fulcrum give the centrists so much power? It forces the major parties to build a coalition form of government. When looking at coalition governments worldwide, the major parties do not select the leadership – that is the prize of the all important last votes that the coalition brings in.
Simply put, the centrists would have almost complete say in majority leadership -- and setting the legislative agenda to be discussed.
By having this control over the leadership, bills that have popular support, real value, and could pass both houses can be presented and not “sat on” by fringe extremists, as is the case in modern American politics. These independent senators can switch allegiances to the other side if the majority party refuses to advance responsible reform and legislation.
“Five will get you ten.”
Once five independent senators are elected and aligned in their common sense coalition, it is not hard to imagine that many other moderate senators, otherwise trapped in a bad system, will join the middle fulcrum -- making an even more powerful coalition.
“From our discussions with legislators, we believe there is a cohort frustrated by partisan brinkmanship who would welcome the chance to work with a common sense coalition. Five U.S. centrist Independent Senators will attract at least five others immediately: as we say, five will get you ten,” said Colston Young, co-chair of The Centrist Project.
What the Centrist Project Needs to Succeed
In 2014, Wheelan said The Centrist Project woke America up to the possibility that there is a way to fix Washington. In his U.S. News & World Report blog after the 2014 election, Wheelan noted that the elections demonstrated that the two parties are in trouble.“When will the elections look more like the electorate?” He asked.
Greg Orman’s race in ruby-red Kansas and Larry Pressler’s race in South Dakota showcased that credible independent candidates can gain significant traction in statewide races and resonate vibrantly with voters. In the final weeks of the campaign, both were polling ahead in their respective races – until the parties sprung to action with millions in outside spending.
“We predict, based on the 2014 strong Senate campaigns of independents Greg Orman and Larry Pressler, that we will see more great centrist independent candidates for Senate in the next three cycles,” said Pamela Peak, executive director of The Centrist Project. “We’ll provide the infrastructure – advisers, donors, voters – to help them win against the parties.”
The Centrist Project is actively seeking potential candidates, with a methodical plan to shake the trees across the country and convince qualified independent leaders to step forward and run.
Who Are These Candidates?
First and foremost, The Centrist Project is looking for women and men willing to put country before party, with impeccable credentials to run for the U.S. Senate in their respective states. Who would make a likely candidate for the The Centrist Project to recruit and help elect?
- Business Leaders
- Former Elected Officials
- Civic Leaders
- Military Veterans
Finding and supporting great candidates can lead to a viable campaign in all 50 states, regardless of who the party contenders are. For example, in 2014, Greg Orman, an independent candidate supported by the Centrist Project, almost defeated a well-funded career politician in the solid red state of Kansas. This demonstrates that with the right candidate, and the right amount of support, the potentials are limitless.
To date, independent centrists have not had the access to the campaign infrastructure and volunteer base that major party candidates have. However, The Centrist Project is working toward laying the groundwork for independent campaigns in 2016 and beyond by providing the high-level data and field operations needed for success.
Independent centrist candidates have an opportunity to capture and hold the center of the political spectrum during elections, allowing the major party candidates to damage themselves during their own primaries before trying to appeal to the center.
Finally, candidates need financial support – no election is won without money, especially when the establishment is threatened and brings in the party war chests. The Centrist Project is actively building networks of support - financial, political, legal - to assist endorsed independent candidates in the 2016 election.
Call to Action
The Centrist Project is looking for leaders from across America who care about the political process and have the life experiences to make them capable, credible candidates for the U.S. Senate. The country needs leaders to stand up for making America better, but we also need citizens around the United States to draft these people to the cause.
America’s government only works when the people and the politicians work hand in hand – that’s where the Centrist Project wants to start, by putting up candidates that are regionally well known, accessible to the people, and willing to look for real answers. This can be the beginning of the insurgency of the rational.
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by The Centrist Project.