DeMarco: Will Brad’s Unparty Dream Finally Be Realized?

The Op-Ed Page

The last third party to have success in American politics (it was a while back).

The last third party to have success in American politics (it was a while back).

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Back in November 2005, Brad argued for the creation of a non-partisan political party which he called the Unparty. In 2008, he suggested a similar party called the Grownup Party.

Whatever you called it, his party would be pragmatic rather than ideological. His first tenet: “Unwavering opposition to fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets.” It would accept liberal, conservative and other ideas, choosing the polices that were best for the country. It would seek compromise rather than holding out to score political points. Ask Brad put it “Every Unpartisan would have his or her own set of positions on issues, having worked them out independently.”

He was clear that he didn’t expect the Unparty to adopt his views. Many would hold opposite positions. He expected some very lively platform debates at party conventions. But what would bind Unpartisans together would be more about people and process than positions. We would be a rational, moderate, thoughtful group. Screaming, ad hominem attacks, all-caps texting, and adherence to falsities and conspiracy theories would be discouraged.

I signed on as a charter member of the Unparty because its existence as a viable force in America politics seemed so needed and salutary. Brad was so committed to this notion that he thought seriously of offering himself for a State House seat in 2016 as the Unparty candidate. Had I been in his district, I would have enthusiastically supported him.

Meanwhile, for those of us who see Donald Trump’s rise to power as an unparalleled disaster in modern American politics, there would be blessed irony in his most important legacy being the creation of a viable third party.

Liz Cheney’s ouster from the Republican House leadership could be the catalyst for something like Brad’s Unparty. A key component of Unparty membership is to evaluate a candidate’s gravitas and competence when voting. I rarely vote based on policy positions because it is unusual for a candidate to fully translate his or her promises into policy when elected. Cheney’s willingness to call out Trump’s lies and blast his Republican sycophants demonstrate to me that she has mettle.

Soon after Cheney’s ouster from her position of House Conference Chair, a group of more than 150 Republicans issued a “Call for American Renewal.” In their preamble, they state, “We…declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative.”

Their website then lists thirteen principles that guide their call. They are so basic as to be almost meaningless (“Democracy,” “Truth,” and “Rule of Law” among them). By the time I had read half the list I was expecting “Baseball,” “Hot Dogs,” or “Apple Pie” to come up in the second half.

But the appeal is the same as Brad’s call for an Unparty 16 years ago.

There’s a group of Americans, which I think is growing, who are tired of the inanity and immaturity of our politics. We are tired of Fox vs. CNN and Trump vs. “The Squad” dominating our news feeds. We understand that Twitter and memes are no way to conduct political dialogue. We are hungry for serious, intelligent leaders. We disdain that scathing personal attacks that have replaced civil discourse.

Although I am fully behind Brad’s call for an Unparty, the realist in me is skeptical. Third parties have a tough go in U.S. politics. The last long-lived new party in America was the Republican Party, which was formed to oppose the expansion of slavery into the western states in the 1850s.

Could I throw in with a Grownup Party led by the those who signed the “Call for American Renewalstatement? The signers are mostly unrecognizable to me. They are listed alphabetically by first name so, jarringly, Anthony Scaramucci is near the top of the list. Not a great start. But it does include some Republican heavyweights like Tom Ridge, Christine Todd Whitman, Max Boot, and Michael Steele. South Carolinians Bob Inglis and Mark Sanford have signed. These would be strange bedfellows. But I would be open to voting for a Grownup Party member the majority of whose policies I could support. I’m even open to voting for Grownups the majority of whose policies I oppose if I think they are better leaders and will steer America more steadily once elected.

In my limited political circle, there does seem to be some interest in a third way. I had a conversation recently with a Republican friend. He said, “I’ll never vote for Trump or McMaster. And I’ll never vote for Graham or Scott again.” Strong words from a country-club Republican. Later that same day, I spoke with a physician colleague who leans left but told me he would welcome a third party.

My guess is that we will see stronger factions in our two current parties rather than a third party. The Biden moderates vs. the AOC progressives on one side and the Cheney Republicans vs. the Trump Republicans on the other. The moderate wings of each party will compete for my vote. For example, Tom Rice has staked a claim to the moderate wing of his party after his vote to impeach Trump. That increases the likelihood I will support him (although I am concerned he will not survive a challenge from the right in the primary). What about you? Are you ready for a third party? Do you think it could happen?

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.


27 thoughts on “DeMarco: Will Brad’s Unparty Dream Finally Be Realized?

  1. Pat

    Yes, I am, and yes, it could happen. I’m already feeling it out and looking for more leadership like Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s. I think a lot of people are ready and want to find a place to land.

  2. Doug Ross

    Never in our lifetimes. The game is rigged. You’ll get your 5-7% at best and wonder why all your great ideas didn’t resonate.. and then the career Democrat and Republican politicians will laugh at your folly.

    1. Doug Ross

      Meanwhile Democrats will put Trav Robertson in charge of the SC party AGAIN and watch him lead the way to another wipeout across the board. He’s about as effective as the coach of the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters.

  3. bud

    Paul if you had written this a month ago I might have been mildly interested. But Biden’s response to the latest round of carnage in the Middle East reminds me why I had strong reservations against our current POTUS. I align with the squad more than Biden. Any third party will likely come from never trumpers.

  4. Mark Stewart

    The scenario that is going to stick is the self-destruction of the GOP, concurrently with the abolition of the Senate’s long stale blanket filibuster and the passage of a strong voter-rights bill. Two separate centrist factions cannot compete with the bi-polar two-party system that’s evolved out of connivance and rank partisanship.

    When even Kevin McCarthy acts like a lunatic the extreme progressives (though I hate that label in this context) sound reasonable and competent.

  5. Paul DeMarco

    The blog has united a group of people from diverse backgrounds with diverse philosophies of government. I don’t think it’s that big a step to imagine a blog with this sensibility and atmosphere as a political party. We could organize virtually in a way not previously possible. The Call for American Renewal is having a virtual meeting 6/16 at 7:30. If I can join I will report back.

  6. Ken

    There is no such thing as an unparty party. The very name is a non-sequitur.
    Those who long for such castles-in-the-air have little appreciation for how democracy operates. Or, for that matter, how any political society works.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, but there should be…

      You do understand, of course, that the non-sequitur is deliberate. In that column, I was saying that what we needed was a NOT-party, as measured against what parties had become.

      Since then, of course, the situation has deteriorated. The Republican Party ceased to be a party — in the sense of what they had been throughout our history — when it failed to prevent Donald Trump from capturing its presidential endorsement. That was it. It was over. Now all is left is a Trump cult.

      I would say the same about the Democrats, except that in 2020 the opposite happened. The party somehow managed to do what the wisest party bosses of the past would have done — pick Joe Biden, the only one among 25 or so candidates who 1) was fully prepared and qualified, 2) embodied what the party has stood for over time and 3) could win.

      But it wasn’t a bunch of guys in a smoke-filled room who did that. It was the primary voters of South Carolina. And I am very, very proud of them for accomplishing that.

      But after Joe, what happens? Does the party just become a matter of — as we’ve seen increasingly since the 60s and 70s — the loudest attention-grabbing egotist in the crowd grabs the brass ring? What happened to the Republicans was the worst-possible, most nightmarish version of that imaginable…

      1. Ken

        Who are all these attention-grabbing egotists grabbing the Democratic brass ring since the 60s and 70s?

        Clinton (ok, maybe a little bit in his case)

        These are the sort of figures you think of when you think: attention-grabbing egotists?

        No, to me there is only one party left that can be trusted with the responsibilities of governing.

        1. bud

          That is disappointing, but not surprising, that Brad would characterize the Democrats as “attention grabbing egotists”. I’m sure he sees Bernie that way. But I would suggest the Democrats have a great diversity of philosophies on the best way for the country to be governed. Disagree if you like. But if you do disagree don’t insult people with name calling.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, come on, guys…

            I make a reference to a basic, widely-accepted fact about the decline of the role of parties in selection of candidates (particularly on the presidential level) — that no one any longer has to pay dues or demonstrate competence within a party, but can simply parlay celebrity or wealth or mere notoriety into a nomination while basically telling the party to go to hell — and y’all get all defensive on behalf of Democrats? Really?

            Folks, this has probably been THE big story of party politics for my entire adult life.

            Back in the 60s, when I was still in school, we last saw parties fully playing their traditional roles — the leadership gathering in conventions to debate who would be the best candidate to put up for the biggest position in the country.

            Increasingly since then, year after year and election after election, we’ve seen the multiple effects of such things as the democratization of the process — the primaries and caucuses increasingly committing delegates so that the convention has no role to play — which has enabled candidates to increasingly sort of nominate themselves, and catch on and win if they can get enough enthusiasm going on the grassroots level.

            New media, which have produced the phenomenon of everyone having his own version of reality, have made the conditions necessary to succeed as a candidate even more chaotic.

            As I clearly, clearly suggested, the “worst-possible, most nightmarish version of that imaginable” was when Trump — a guy who had been a national joke for more than three decades, although he was probably best known among his supporters as a “reality TV star” — managed to ride his notoriety into a coup that took over one of our two main parties in 2016.

            That year, the Democrats had gone Old School. Unless you’re a starry-eyed feminist who thinks her gender made her a revolutionary figure, Hillary Clinton was almost the stereotype of the kind of person party bosses would choose. It was, indeed, “her turn.” (Or at least, it was once Joe had stepped aside for her.)

            And the “loudest attention-grabbing egotist” beat her.

            This did not bode well for the future, at all. And sure enough, in 2020, out of the burgeoning crowd of Democrats who ran, there was only traditional, solidly Democratic Party figure running. And he won, thank God.

            But who will be available in the future? The Republicans aren’t likely to produce anyone a person of conscience could vote for for many years to come. And who is there like a Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton (or a Carter, or a Gore, or like the many candidates who used to run but didn’t quite make it, such as Ed Muskie or Mo Udall or Walter Mondale or Dick Gephardt or Bill Bradley — and don’t scream “all white guys,” because I can’t help the fact that that’s all there was at the top of the party in those days)?

            I don’t see anybody. It’s kind of a vacuum. And vacuums are dangerous.

            When I get on this topic — which I occasionally do — I realize readers are likely to be confused. After all, everyone knows I despise parties, right? Well, yeah, but I despise what they have been during my career of covering them. I recognize that once upon a time, they had some useful characteristics. I’ve often quoted an excellent column David Broder wrote 30 years ago about that topic. It’s one that made me think, “Well, yeah, if parties were still the things David Broder remembers, I wouldn’t hate them so much.”

            I’d link you that column, except for some reason the link isn’t working. I don’t know why. I’ve linked to it many times in the past. About all I can see now are the first few tantalizing words, which are very much on the topic of what we’re talking about: “Democratic presidential candidates are popping up almost daily.” He was commenting on the thing that was already, in 1991, a huge part of our politics: Anybody with enough ego to take the chance was running, whether they were in any way qualified or not…

            1. Ken

              No confusion out here. If there’s any confusion, it’s the blog-master’s. He doesn’t want parties to control things as much as they do, because that leads to partisanship. Boo! Hiss! Yet he does want them to control things when it comes to making nominations. Hurrah! It would be nice if he could make up his cotton-pickin mind and not be so Goldie Lockean about this.

              This is tied together the matter of looking to the past through rose-colored glasses and seeing a perfect world in which party bosses choose the best man for the job. History begs to differ. Polk led us into a shameful, land-grabbing war with Mexico. And Buchanan helped make the Civil War more rather than less likely. I take a backseat to no one in my criticism of Trump, but that’s a cataclysm far greater than Trump’s election. So, yearning for what parties once supposedly were doesn’t help and is really nothing more than fading nostalgia.

              Trump’s capture of the presidency was a living nightmare, but it’s a mistake to view everything about American politics through that one lens. Similarly, it’s also a mistake to view Biden as a savior figure. Because it’s quite likely Biden didn’t defeat Trump, it was Covid did that (with significant assist from Trump himself). I’ve spoken with Republicans about this, those who voted for and thought Trump was a good president but who weren’t among his fanatic adorers, and they agree with this assessment.

            2. bud

              I’m not confused at all. Not one bit. Kamala Harris will make fine choice for POTUS when her time comes. Several others would also be great presidents. Not sure what you’re trying to say with all this nonsense. The Dems had no one remotely like Trump running in 2020. Again, for the billionth time let’s be clear. You may not like someone’s style or policy issues. I know you had problems with Bernie for his sensible approach to income inequality. Fine. Argue why his ideas are wrong. But don’t accuse him of being a Marxist. And for Pete’s sake don’t cite David Broder as if his opinions are useful. Really Brad you’re an elitist on this and it doesn’t age well.

              1. Ken

                Rather than looking for answers to our predicament in primaries and algorithms and such, instead try looking at why people choose to believe and vote as they do. That’ll get you further.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, I tried understanding that (why people choose to believe and vote as they do) for four years with regard to Trump voters, and didn’t learn anything enlightening. I guess I’m less interested in what they want, and more interested in what will benefit the country as a whole. And the questions for me are, what are the obstacles, and how do we address them?

                  I think I see the obstacles pretty clearly; I can’t say that the solutions are as easy to see…

                  1. Ken

                    In other words, rather than sniffing down the rabbit hole, you will have to gander through the looking glass.

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I guess. I might need a refresher course on Lewis Carroll to know for sure.

                      I just know that while the problems become clearer, the solutions do not. The pills that mother gives me are doing nothing at all…

                    2. Ken

                      Alice: “There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.”

                      White Queen: “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

            3. Bill

              “For months I’ve been hearing about pursuing a bipartisan America; about this nation needing to forge a new spirit of political collaboration if we ever hope to bridge the massive divides here.
              I’m tired of hearing that.
              We all know how we got here.
              We’ve all lived through the past five years.
              We saw the “both sides” rhetoric in Charlottesville.
              We saw the George Floyd murder.
              We saw the violence against the BLM protests.
              We saw the support for Kyle Rittenhouse.
              We saw the conspiratorial pandemic denials.
              We saw the anti-mask defiance.
              We saw the legislative attacks during the election.
              We saw the terrorism at the Capitol.
              We saw the lack of response by the Government.
              We can’t apologize for seeing it and we can’t be gaslit into thinking that we didn’t see it and we can’t be guilted into forgetting that we saw it.
              The divides here in this country are not arbitrary and they are not meritless.
              They exist for a reason.
              They are here because some of us simply refuse to tolerate racism and sedition and the systematic extermination of diversity here, and we need to remember that.
              This is not blind tribalism, this is our shared decency rejecting something so very indecent.
              We need to stop talking about bipartisanism in America and start talking about humanity before it’s too late.”

      2. bud

        Embodied what the party has stood for over time. Is that really a good thing? I’d like to see the party move forward from its past. Like moving beyond the relics of the Cold War. And an undying devotion to and gross financial aid to Israel. And Biden was doing some good things, especially with COVID. And saying the right things on global warming issues. The truck drive was very cool. (Has Trump ever even driven a car) I’d like to see a bit more on health care in general. We can do better than the clumsy ACA. My grade for the Biden presidency so far is a solid B. Down from A- a month ago.

  7. Lynn Teague

    Something has to change. I am so tired of campaigns that have nothing to do with our state’s real problems and possible solutions, and governing that is all about campaigning.


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