When Democrats gripe that American government is no longer small-d democratic, they have a point. Not only has extreme gerrymandering given more power to rural voters than to those who reside in cities, but the allocation of two Senate seats to each state, regardless of population, has grossly distorted the ideal of “one person, one vote.” The last time the GOP won the Senate, it was with twenty million fewer votes than had been cast for the Democratic “minority.”
Democratic Senators currently represent some forty million more voters than Republican Senators, despite an almost-even split in the upper house. Thanks to predicted demographic shifts, it’s poised to get even worse: one scholar estimates that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in the fifteen largest states, and will be represented by thirty Senators, while the remaining 30% will have 70 Senators voting on their behalf.
If these structural advantages weren’t enough, the deep pocket donors who support the GOP continue to fund political dirty tricks. I’ve been reading a number of reports about the latest effort to re-elect Donald Trump: a phony “third party” called No Labels.
As Robert Hubbell recently wrote,
The “No Labels” organization is a GOP dark-money PAC designed to elect Donald Trump by running a doomed third-party candidate to draw votes away from Joe Biden in 2024.
Hubbell quotes the Intercept for a story suggesting that No Labels intends to run Manchin; whether that is accurate or not, what we do know is that No Labels is not a real political party. It is funded by the Koch brothers, Harlan Crow, and Peter Theil (among others).
Worse, “No Labels” is operating as a 501(c)(4) charitable organization so that it does not have to disclose its donors like every other political party—even though No Labels is registering as a political party across the nation for the 2024 election.
Arizona Democrats, among others, are challenging the organization’s misrepresentation of itself as a third party, alleging that, as a 501(c)(4) organization — which legally cannot primarily be engaged in political activity — it cannot comply with federal election regulations governing political parties, including disclosure of contributors.
“No Labels is not following the rules for political party recognition, while attempting to be placed on the ballot alongside actual, functioning political parties who do,” a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party said in March.
Hubbell quite properly characterizes articles suggesting that No Labels is a new, “centrist” political party as “journalistic malpractice.”
As anyone who has followed election politics even casually knows, thanks to America’s political structures, third party candidates are always spoilers. That’s true even when the third party is a legitimate party and the candidate honorable and sincere. The presence of such ballot options simply takes votes from one of the major party candidates. (Most consequential example: No Ralph Nader on the ticket, no George W. Bush in the White House.)
In this case, there is ample evidence that the effort to mount a bogus “third-party” option is anything but honest and sincere. There is also absolutely no doubt who they hope that bogus entrant will benefit–any doubt about the motives should be dispelled by the identity of the funders.
Harlan Crow already owns a Supreme Court Justice; now he and the surviving Koch brother and Peter Theil and their ilk want to ensure the election of Trump, an intellectually vacuous and mentally-ill narcissist they can easily manipulate.
I worry that this particular “dirty trick” may not receive the publicity it deserves–the media and the voters who pay attention are constantly distracted by the equally dangerous antics of the MAGA nutcases and Neo-Nazis currently impeding rational governance and fiscal meltdown in Congress–and relatively few voters pay attention.
It is absolutely true that both parties have engaged in political trickery–mostly at the local level–just as both parties have gerrymandered when in a position to do so. In the last couple of decades, however, it is the GOP that has benefitted–thanks in large part to the huge amounts of money these millionaires and billionaires have been willing to spend in order to foreclose the twin threats of increased regulation and increased taxation.
If the Democrats ever secure a real, working majority in Congress, they need to address the structures that are most anti-democratic–at least, the ones that are amenable to changes in rules (the filibuster) and statutory repair (gerrymandering, vote suppression). They can also address the corruption at the Supreme Court. There is nothing lawmakers can realistically do about distorted Senate representation, and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would have to be passed by several Red States, which makes that effort to neuter the Electoral College unlikely.
But nothing good will happen without massive turnout that ignores third party candidates–real or fictitious.