The following is an excerpt from an edition of a Pearson Custom Textbook that I wrote in the past:
I am a big fan of political movements. I like how they bring new voters to the political process. For me, the more participation in politics, the better for our democracy. What I do fear, however, is the power of this anti-incumbent, anti-establishment movement that is currently in our midst and how long it will last.
History shows us that political movements that challenge the political status quo tend to start off quickly and then fade away just as fast. The Liberty and Free Soil Parties of the 1830s and 1840s wanted to abolish slavery to different degrees, but because these parties were considered one-issue parties which could not challenge the breadth and depth of the major parties of the time, the Democrats and Whigs. In fact, those anti-slavery movements gave rise to the Republican Party in the 1850s.
The Populist Party of the 1880s established itself as a party working on behalf of America’s farmers and laborers. The Democratic Party, seeing a rift within their own party, usurped the rising third party’s issues, which in turn, nullified the need of a third party. By 1900, the Populist Party as a national force was no more.
Progressives found a voice in 1912 with the candidacy of Teddy Roosevelt for President as the Bull Moose nominee. The Progressive movement had been around before 1912, but now they had a national figure to head their cause. When Roosevelt lost that year, the Bull Moose Party dissolved and the Progressive movement sputtered.
In 1992, I remember the anti-establishment candidacy of Ross Perot. He had ballot access in all 50 states. He rode a national tide built on small government, lower tax, and government accountability rhetoric. Perot lost, but Republicans used that same rhetoric to win both houses of Congress in 1994. When Perot ran for President in 1996, his campaign was considered unnecessary because the Republican Party was now firmly entrenched as the party of smaller government.
But what of that smaller government, low tax, government accountability, Republican Party of 1994? By 2008, the party had shifted away from those principles and gave rise to the Tea Party and anti-incumbent movements that we see today. It is now 2015 and the Republican Party still has a conflict with its membership as so-called Tea Party Republicans have labeled House Speaker John Boehner as an establishment Republican.
My question is: are anti-establishment party movements good for American politics?