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The Two Parties: Rotten Oaks?

Is there room for a third-party challenge in 2024?
May 3, 2022
The Two Parties: Rotten Oaks?
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

[On the April 29, 2022 episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, guest Bill Galston revealed that elected officials in both the Democratic and Republican parties are considering fielding a Macron-style third-party candidate for 2024 if there’s Biden-Trump rematch.]

Josh Barro (guest host): Bill, I want to ask about something that you mentioned in your column, because you’re somewhat pessimistic about European politics and the center. But you also suggested that this might be a moment where you could have a serious third-party center movement here in the United States, especially if we had a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the 2024 election. I was a little surprised by that, can you sketch out why that opportunity would be there?

William Galston: Yeah, it’s quite simple. A rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump would bring together in one election, two of the most unpopular candidates in recent memory. And I know for a fact, although I’m not at liberty to name names, that serious elected officials in both political parties are considering this option seriously.

Now, whether it’s a good idea or not is a different question altogether. But there is discontent in the center with a choice between a Trumpified Republican party on the one hand, and a Democratic party that seems to have lost its ability to put the left-wing of the party in its place, rather than yielding to it on a regular basis.

So there is an opening, what would happen if someone moved to fill it is an interesting and somewhat imponderable question. My fear is that the effort might very well end up taking more out of the Democratic candidate’s hide than the Republican’s, which I doubt is the intention of the elected officials who are considering this strategy.

But on the other hand, there is a case to be made, that we may be nearing a kind of Macron moment in the United States, where the two political parties that we’ve had for more than a century are sort of like rotten oaks that can be blown over with a sufficiently large wind.

William A. Galston

William A. Galston, a regular guest on The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, holds the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, where he serves as a senior fellow. Prior to January 2006 he was the Saul Stern Professor and acting dean at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, founding director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), and executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, co-chaired by former Secretary of Education William Bennett and former Senator Sam Nunn. A participant in six presidential campaigns, he served from 1993 to 1995 as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton for domestic policy.Galston is the author of nine books and more than 100 articles in the fields of political theory, public policy, and American politics. His most recent book is Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (Yale, 2018). A winner of the American Political Science Association’s Hubert H. Humphrey Award, Galston was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. Galston writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @billgalston.