With two of the most polarizing and unpopular presidential candidates in modern history set to formally accept their party’s nominations, many Americans are restive for an independent, third option this November –– someone to vote for, not against.
Such a candidate has yet to emerge, as many national leaders including Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Senator Tom Coburn have declined. With key ballot deadlines looming, time is running out.
Our country desperately needs an independent candidate who is not only prepared to run a winning campaign, but –– perhaps as importantly –– one who is also prepared to lead a transformative movement to reshape politics over election cycles to come. Because a president alone can’t fix Congress, and Congress remains at the root of Washington’s dysfunction.
The failure of the United States Senate this week, for example, to pass legislation that would block suspected terrorists from purchasing guns is the just latest demonstration that both parties would rather fight each other to score political points than work together to solve problems.
As the New York Times reported, “Democrats structured their bills in a way that was almost certain to repel Republicans, while Republicans responded with bills equally distasteful to Democrats.” One can argue who shares more of the blame, but that's like picking between two fast food joints when you’re looking for a healthy meal.
Why does this madness continue, issue after issue? It’s simple: neither party has to win your vote on their own merits; they just have to convince you the other side is the problem. So the political duopoly keeps us divided in order keep themselves in power and colludes to rig the electoral system to their own advantage in the process. And it works: Congress has a 15% approval rating, but 95% of members of Congress win re-election.
“If we don’t start facing our country’s difficult challenges head-on, our standard of living, our status in the world, and the very existence of the middle class in America are at risk,” writes Greg Orman in his new book, A Declaration of Independents. “We cannot stand idly by and allow the ruling elite in Washington to walk us down that path.”
The answer, Orman suggests, is a new movement of political independents to take on both parties and offer a better alternative. Orman himself ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014 and sent a shockwave across the country when he came close to defeating the incumbent. Independents now comprise the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate, and while they don’t agree on all the issues, that’s sort of the point.
“True independence comes not through adherence to a rigid ideology but through putting our country ahead of a political party and the special interests that support it.” - Greg Orman
Nevertheless, today’s “independent movement” remains largely unorganized and has proven incapable of electing more than a small handful of candidates to state or federal office. Independents lack the brand, infrastructure, and network that both major parties have developed over decades to gain and maintain their stranglehold on our government. That can change, but this latent movement needs a champion and a catalyst.
In 1992, Ross Perot demonstrated in an early and albeit imperfect way how a presidential candidate can serve that vital role, by garnering 19% of the vote and paving the way for the Reform Party. More than twenty years later, as our problems have grown larger and both parties’ favorability has shrank, a credible independent can certainly advance further, if not win outright.
In either case, he or she will have the largest platform and loudest megaphone available to rally millions of independent Americans to a larger cause. And a campaign that fully leverages today’s technology to fuel its grassroots organizing and small-dollar fundraising can become a sustainable organization that channels those same supporters, volunteers, and donors to support candidates down the ballot in future elections.
As a self-made businessman from America’s heartland who has once already withstood the gauntlet of a high-profile U.S. Senate campaign and has literally written the book on how independents can help fix American politics, Greg Oman may be just the presidential candidate for whom our country, and the independent movement, has been waiting.
One thing is certain: there has not been a better opportunity, nor has there been a greater need.
Nick Troiano is from Milford, PA and is a former independent candidate for U.S. Congress (PA-10) and a founding board member of the Centrist Project.