As many of you know, when I moved to Delaware and registered to vote I decided to register with the party I felt was closest to my beliefs. Given the choices, I opted to register with the Constitution Party (CP) – so the upcoming primary that’s mainly for the duopoly wouldn’t be all that interesting to me. You may remember I selected the CP’s Darrell Castle as my Presidential choice in 2016, eschewing the Republican for the first time since 1992.
I was a little bit put off when I learned that the CP nominated Don Blankenship to be their Presidential standard-bearer this time around. You may not know the name, but he’s a former coal company executive who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia in 2018 then, after losing in the primary, tried (but failed) to get on the general election ballot as a member of the Constitution Party. So it appears more like a vanity campaign than a real run for office.
But I wasn’t alone. In a scathing critique of the national CP, its Indiana state branch voted to disassociate with the national group, and I think they have some valid criticism. This will be a call-and-response post, beginning with what they had to say about the party’s history:
Lot of news to report. In May, the national committee of the national Constitution Party voted to elect new officers for the next four years. As the party has been on a downward trajectory for several years, this election was a watershed moment in the history of the party. The election for chairman was an opportunity for the party to vote for someone who wished to enact the necessary changes to its marketing and communications. Shockingly, the national committee voted decisively to maintain the current trajectory. After 28 years, many people thought that the party was ready to change course based on past results. Sadly those people were mistaken.Indiana Constitution Party letter, June 17, 2020
Let’s talk about that “current trajectory.” The two current primary “third” parties in this nation are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Respectively they came into being in 1971 and 1991, although the Green Party began laying their groundwork seven years earlier. In either case, projecting their party’s fortunes ahead 28 years or so found that the Libertarians had ballot access in all but one state for the 2000 election and gathered 384,431 votes (or 0.36%); meanwhile that 2000 election was a high-water mark for the Greens, who nominated Ralph Nader for president and picked up 2.74% of the vote, mainly based on Nader’s name recognition. In the 2016 election, which was closest to the 28 year mark for the Greens, they picked up 1,457,218 votes and were on the ballot in 45 states.
So compare that to the CP’s high water mark set in 2016 with just over 200,000 votes and ballot placement in less than half the states and it’s obvious trajectory is an issue. In looking up the 2016 election I also noticed the CP spent a whopping $50,000 on that race. You can’t even win a contested Delegate seat with that.
Current leadership was responsible for vetting the presidential candidates, but they failed to properly vet the candidates. Seeing how the national party’s main goal is to run a standard bearer for the party as a Presidential candidate, the national executive committee failed in its main task. In addition, we see that one of the main reasons why the party has failed for 28 years is because it does not have the right vision for success. It concerns itself with running a viable presidential candidate and getting ballot access instead of building a sustainable party.Indiana Constitution Party letter, June 17, 2020
This is one of those chicken-and-egg questions. Ballot access is important because it’s exceptionally rare for a write-in to win a major race. (The most recent example I can think of is Lisa Murkowski in Alaska in 2010; however, she had the advantages of name recognition and incumbency, something a CP nominee would almost certainly not have.)
It’s perhaps best to try and build up the party in states where ballot access is easiest and begin with populating the ballot with local and state candidates. To use Delaware as an example, here in Sussex County – which is plurality Republican, the only county in Delaware where the GOP has an advantage – the CP has just 43 registered voters out of its 282 statewide. Honestly, this county should be a hotbed for the CP but apparently no one has really tried to solicit people from the other conservative parties and independents. Getting ballot access is a start, although finding motivated and articulate spokespeople for the CP is also a challenge. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
In this election cycle, the Constitution Party has nominated a presidential candidate for whom there are serious questions about his fidelity to the party platform and his personal conduct. Many of us came to the Constitution Party to get away from the two major parties who refuse to hold their candidates accountable to ethical standards as well as adhering to the principles of the party. We are now disappointed to see the Constitution Party at the national level do the same thing.Indiana Constitution Party letter, June 17, 2020
As I said, I think Don Blankenship is running a vanity campaign, even after spending time in a federal prison on a misdemeanor charge (admittedly, that is highly unusual) about which he dubs himself a “political prisoner.” We’re not talking about wearing a boot on his head like Vermin Supreme (not to mention why would you want that to be your name?) but I have to wonder whether this opportunist was really the best the CP could get? Maybe the Indiana folks have a point here.
Furthermore, it was brought to our attention that for the second time in three years the national executive committee was planning on interfering with the affairs of a state affiliate. This interfering is strictly forbidden by the party constitution and the party bylaws. Seeing how the three pillars of the national party are “Integrity, Liberty, and Prosperity”, we cannot ignore that the national executive committee is not holding one another accountable. If the national party officers cannot hold themselves accountable, and if they cannot uphold their own party constitution, how can they hold legislators accountable and how can they uphold the U.S Constitution?Indiana Constitution Party letter, June 17, 2020
As a result of these events and others, the officers of the Constitution Party of Indiana have decided that they have no confidence in the present and incoming leadership at the national level and therefore have voted to disaffiliate and disassociate from the national party. With the current chaos occurring in our nation, it appears that we are in our darkest days in quite a long time. However, there are too many patriots among us who will not sit quietly as our nation reels back and forth. It is dark now, but a new day will soon be dawning. Updates will be posted as warranted.Indiana Constitution Party letter, June 17, 2020
I appreciate the hopeful tone, but this also begs some serious questioning of my own.
In studying the TEA Party as much as I have, I learned early on there was a debate among its many leaders, who were in reality scattered among very localized groups. While there were some who tried to nationalize the TEA Party (often in order to bolster or create their own political fortunes) oftentimes these local people wanted to stay neutral and avoid entangling alliances with political parties.
After the high-profile Doug Hoffman race in the fall of 2009, where a Democrat won a long-standing GOP seat because Republicans selected a moderate who withdrew last-minute and endorsed the Democrat over the conservative TEA Party favorite Hoffman, and as a result of the beginnings of a consolidation of power by nascent national groups and long-established backers who had political experience, the TEA Party began to adopt the philosophy of eschewing a third party for their needs and instead tried to take over the Republican Party from within. (I was one who was already there.) Given that the Constitution Party has much in common with the goals of the TEA Party, would the TEA Party have been better off trying to build up a third party using the CP’s resources? (A similar argument could be made about the Libertarian Party, but they don’t appeal nearly as much to the social conservatives in the TEA Party.)
Maybe the better question is, particularly with the populist direction Donald Trump has taken the GOP, are we seeing the dawn of a new split in the GOP? Perhaps the new party is going to be founded in the center between moderate #NeverTrump Republicans who are willing to cross the aisle and centrist Democrats who aren’t down with the AOC/Bernie Sanders/Antifa wing of the Democrat Party. I know they have tried and failed multiple times to create a moderate, centrist third party, and it’s because the electoral rules are stacked against them in most cases.
If the Constitution Party (or some like-minded equivalent) is going to succeed, they need a national organization which is willing to build from the bottom by gaining ballot access where it’s easiest to obtain and working with the grassroots elsewhere to amend restrictive laws that protect the duopoly. Maybe there’s no CP presidential candidate for 2024 or they de-emphasize his or her success. For the near term the goal is simply to build name recognition for the CP by being principled, not to make a name for yourself.
Maybe it’s time for other CP state groups to follow Indiana’s lead. As it stands now I don’t have a lot of confidence in what the CP wants to do.