Here’s a bold proposition to combat our dysfunctional political division. If Joe Biden decides to run for reelection, Moderates and Independents should reregister as Republicans en masse. You think that’s crazy? Hear me out. It could play a significant role in drawing both parties back toward the center and making Washington a whole lot less dysfunctional.
According to the most recent Gallup poll, 43% of the country now consider themselves independents, far exceeding the number who identify as either Democrat (24%) or Republican (30%). As it stands now, most of those independents will have little or no say in who emerges from either major party’s presidential primary in 2024. The two parties, which have grown more and more extreme with each passing year, nominate the candidates who most pander to the base. Independents are left with no options but to choose from among the two extremes that emerge in this flawed process. Each of the candidates nominated by the two parties in the last two elections has had negative approval numbers far exceeding their positives. That had never happened before the 2016 presidential election, and unless independents can mobilize in some manner, it appears that every future election is doomed to repeat that same dynamic.
If Joe Biden decides to run again, he’ll likely face little or no opposition on the Democratic side, which means for all practical purposes the Democratic presidential primaries will be perfunctory. On the Republican side, if Donald Trump wants the nomination, he’ll likely get it. His base will ensure he’ll get at least 35% of the vote in every primary. The rest of the field will likely split the anti-Trump vote, enabling Trump to rack up all the delegates he’ll need to seal the nomination. Absent something unforeseeable, we are looking at a repeat of 2020 – Biden versus Trump. Both again will be disapproved by more than 50% of the country like last time, and they’ll now be four years older (Trump will be 77 on election day and Biden 81.)
But what if independents mobilized to avoid this troublesome predicament? Their sheer numbers would enable them to potentially make a difference. If a sizable number of independents registered as Republicans, their mere presence could embolden candidates who have dared to speak out against Trump or admit the legitimacy of the last election to enter the race. Other candidates who heretofore felt the need to tiptoe around issues relating to Trump and the 2020 election might be willing to freely speak their minds. And if that independent block of voters organized around a reasonable alternative to Trump, it could potentially play a role in galvanizing the anti-Trump vote behind one candidate who might garner 35% or more per primary to compete with Trump.
Moreover, if independents could play a meaningful role in getting the Republican party to move away from some of its recent dysfunction, the Democratic party and its candidates would inevitably find that to compete for that sizable independent vote in the general election they may need to tack more moderate as well. If one party moves ever so slightly towards the middle, the other almost has to compete.
We very nearly had a matchup of Trump versus Bernie Sanders in the last election. Democrats managed somehow miraculously to coalesce around Biden at the 11th hour to prevent that from happening. I’m convinced that if Sanders had been the candidate that would have led to another four years of Trump, but, in my mind, either would have been disastrous for the country and would have even further exacerbated our divide.
I believe this reregistration plan works much better if Biden does indeed choose to run again. If he doesn’t, many of those independents may prefer to try to play a role in the selection of the Democratic nominee, either in open primaries, of which there are many or by temporarily registering as a Democrat. In a general election like the one in 2016 where both parties have a genuine primary race, this would not be as effective. But in the case where one of the two parties has a predetermined candidate, it could play a pivotal role not only in the selection of the other candidate but in the framing of the issues.
I would point out that this strategy is vastly different from the recent practice of Democrats meddling in Republican primaries by throwing support or advertising behind the craziest and most unelectable Republican candidate, with the mindset that thereby they’ll more easily defeat that candidate in the general election – a risky strategy that can easily backfire. In my plan, the actions of the independents are genuine and not mere gamesmanship.
Mobilizing independents to embark on such an ambitious course won’t be easy, but no meaningful political victories ever come easily. What’s the alternative? For independents – a clear plurality of the electorate – to just sit back and allow these two increasingly extreme parties to serve up flawed candidates unpalatable to a majority of Americans and incapable of uniting the country? I’ll happily take my chances, particularly since it seems to be the only realistic opportunity we have of reversing the course of debilitating division and dysfunction in this country.
Democracies by their very nature bestow vast powers upon voters, but only if they can effectively organize and coalesce around a common goal. What a missed opportunity, given the sheer number of independents in this country and others fed up with our present state of politics, if we can’t take advantage of our numbers and collectively galvanize to bring about real change.
Dan Coonan is the author of Presidential Spirits, a political Field of Dreams, and its sequel, Another Round of Presidential Spirits – two novels rich in American history that address our present state of political polarization and dysfunction. He has penned four previous essays for Smercomish.com.