We already know the two presumptive nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties are the most unpopular in recent history and the problem is much greater than that as an increasing number of Americans leave the two major parties, knowing their views are not represented by either. The trend was noted as early as 2011 and since then, the number of independents has reached record highs.
While Bernie Sanders grudgingly endorsed Hillary Clinton (much to the dismay of most of his supporters), former Republican candidates Jeb Bush and John Kasich as well as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney have refused to endorse Donald Trump. Things got even more interesting when Ted Cruz gave highly anticipated primetime speech Wednesday night at the GOP Convention and also didn't endorse Trump.
Reaction was predictably mixed: a fair number of pundits on the left and right applauded his decision that was presumably based on principle. The crowd on the floor at the GOP convention, however, started to chant "Trump! Trump! Trump!" while he instead asked the audience to “vote your conscience, for candidates you believe will be faithful to the Constitution” and summarily booed.
The RNC crowd appeared agitated enough that Cruz’ wife, Heidi, was escorted off the stage as a precautionary measure and later, people backstage reportedly called Cruz a "disgrace" to his face and one state chairman had to be restrained.
Thoughts as to why Cruz didn't endorse Trump range from principle (Cruz has always said Trump is not a conservative) to personal ambition (separating himself from Trump could be the unofficial announcement of his 2020 candidacy), and don't even generally give much credence to the insults Trump threw at Cruz and his wife during the primary.
Regardless, the non-endorsement from Cruz, along with what will presumably be an uncomfortable alliance between Sanders and Clinton going forward, reveal the very problems most independents have come to understand about our two-party duopoly.
Cruz worked to make a mark for himself in the Senate as a firebrand constitutional "true conservative" fighting the Washington cartel. Going against the grain of the powers-that-be in his own party, he made as many enemies as friends: when they sought compromise, he accused them of giving in to the liberal agenda. He was willing to go against popular opinion, even in his own party, to further his agenda and regardless of what national polls said about his strategy, his supporters felt he was doing what he promised them.
But when it came to Trump, Cruz was in a more awkward position than fellow candidates who had declined to endorse him. Aside from matters of principle or pragmatism, he already had to process repeatedly being called, "nasty," "Lyin' Ted," not to mention Trump insulting his wife and accusing his father of being involved with JFK's assassination.
Cruz even stated the morning after his RNC speech:
"[T]hat pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I'm going to nonetheless come like a puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father." - Ted Cruz
Fox News, also covering the fallout the morning after, characterized Cruz as stating the party needs to stand for shared values or it's not worth anything.
And therein lies the rub: how much can a large political party represent "shared values" while trying to have a big tent? While young conservatives are increasingly OK with gay marriage, the Log Cabin Republicans blasted the party for passing what appears to be the most anti-LGBT platform in history.
The dominance of the two-party system has led too many people to choose between the overly-used but accurate adage "the lesser of two evils" and at no time has this been more evident than during this election. The primary impetus for supporting Trump (and in many cases, reluctantly so), appears to be keeping Hillary Clinton out of office. The Democrats face the same problem, with fear of electing Trump to be the primary motivator for Bernie Sanders supporters to reluctantly vote for Hillary Clinton.
But when more choices are offered, the choice is much less clear, even given the overlying concern that other options have no chance. The Atlantic reported multiple indicators in June about the lack of support for Clinton:
"A CNN poll released Tuesday shows that 74 percent of Sanders supporters would vote for Clinton in a choice between her and Trump in the general election. Yet support for Clinton dropped when other options besides Trump were included in the poll. When asked to choose between Clinton, Trump, the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, and the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, only 57 percent of Sanders supporters said they would back Clinton. Eight percent said they would vote for Trump; 13 percent picked Johnson; and 18 percent went for Stein. The poll also found that 49 percent of Sanders supporters had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton. [S]ome will grudgingly support her anyway, especially if it comes down to a choice between Clinton and Trump."
Issues with the Democratic primaries were widely publicized by IVN during this last year but much less so by the mainstream media and the GOP was not far behind. Voters have become increasingly aware that elections are not easily accessible by candidates outside of the two major parties, but the primary situation is vast and complicated, varying from state-to-state.
The short-term goal has been to include other candidates in the tightly-controlled presidential debates, where an arbitrary polling requirement of 15% prevents independent and third party candidates from participating. While Johnson is now polling at 12-13% and may make it in on his own, the Libertarian and Green parties, who filed suit in September, are pushing the Commission of Presidential Debates to include all candidates who are legally qualified to serve and whose names appear on enough state ballots to potentially secure a majority in the Electoral College.
This is the kind of political revolution needed to get things started, if not someone demanding an answer to the simple question of why the CPD has been granted this monopoly on debates to begin with.
Bernie Sanders has achieved some degree of victory by influencing what some call the most progressive platform in DNC history but that isn't going to assuage the concerns of many liberals who believe that Hillary Clinton's homage to those causes is more political than authentic. Given the chance, nearly half of them would prefer other options. Meanwhile, it's very clear that the Republican party platform and nominee are unpalatable to a substantial number of its members.
The movement toward ideas and issues rather than political parties is gathering steam and hopefully, there will be a long, hard look at election reform on several fronts: overall funding, taxpayer funding of private parties, primaries and of course the debates. Americans favor additional candidates on the debate stage by a 2-to-1 margin and it's time the powers that be started listening.
Who knows, maybe even Senator Cruz can find a new home in the Constitution Party. Regardless, if we're forced to eat a restaurant that serves only two dishes only half of us really like, it's time for someone to expand the menu or open up another restaurant.