New party that spans ideological divide?

by David Jolly

As a new era has begun in American politics, the always gracious Joe Biden was right to promise in his inaugural address that, while elected as a Democrat, he intends to serve all Americans. That is, after all, the calling of public office and of public service. Americans from all walks of life, including myself, wish him great success as he assumes his awesome responsibility.

As president, Biden will set the agenda and his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill will work to advance that agenda. Republicans, after losing the presidency and both chambers of Congress, will inevitably serve as a formidable opposition party. And millions of Americans, for varying reasons, will continue to wonder if there is any way to solve our endless partisanship.

There is. The United States is in the minority among leading nations in having an entrenched political duopoly — just two major parties, insulated from accountability by a campaign finance system that rewards their mutual power and protected by election rules deliberately implemented to limit challenges by independent candidates or new parties.

Conversely, many nations have rich multiparty democracies, and research continually affirms they produce more inclusive policy outcomes, greater voter engagement and satisfaction, and better participation of both political and demographic minorities.

This contrast is made more relevant today as the Republican Party wrestles with its future. Conservatives continue to chatter about either “reclaiming” the GOP from the angry populism of Donald Trump, or starting a new party altogether based on rigid ideological principles. Trump himself has reportedly discussed launching a new party in his self-proclaimed image, flirting with the prospect of a Patriot Party rooted in his America First platform.

Democrats, though united in victory, continue to wrestle with the ideological diversity that strains all major political parties. Indeed, it was widely reported that following the Democrats’ loss of House seats last fall, moderates and progressives in the caucus clashed on a three-hour call about which members, and which message, bore responsibility for the losses. Those clashes will inevitably continue.

But our political problem is not one of ideology. In fact, one of the greatest blessings of America is that we live in a society where competing ideologies can be openly debated. We are made better by thought leaders who push the boundaries of new policy ideas and test them against our collective political interests.

If we are to be truthful about our politics, we need to recognize that Trump’s populism resonated with 74 million people. It gave voice to many who felt they had been left behind. It is also true that progressives were aghast at the policy and leadership decisions of the last four years. That anger and conviction motivated enough of the country to demand a change of direction.

These conflicting truisms apply within our major parties as well. Moderates in the House Democratic Caucus have been elevated by a constituency that chose a centrist ideology, just as the progressives have been elevated by a constituency that wants to move left. So too for Republicans: The most conservative members elevated by the most right-leaning constituencies, and the more moderate members by more centrist constituencies.

No, the problem is not the diversity of our ideologies. The problem — the fatal flaw in today’s American political system — is that there is not a political party structured to accommodate our diverse ideologies.

Which is why the next successful party will not be one that defines itself by claiming a spot on the ideological spectrum. It will have a big tent platform that welcomes progressives, conservatives, moderates and single-issue voters. It will coalesce these competing perspectives around shared values of problem solving, democracy protection, election reform and accountability.

The Serve America Movement is one such party. A coalition of current and former Democrats, Republicans and independents, SAM has run or endorsed candidates at the local and state levels in Connecticut and New York, including unity tickets for governor and lieutenant governor. Our regional task forces have advanced significant electoral reform initiatives and continue to speak to the value of ideas like ranked-choice voting, primaries open to all voters and gerrymandering reform. The party is growing and will be endorsing and running more candidates next year and in 2024.

Whether SAM holds the keys to disrupting our system, let us not miss this opportunity to rethink how we approach politics. For too long, we have needlessly limited ourselves by subscribing to politics only through the lens of left, right and center. The truth is our nation’s most pressing problems can be solved through policy prescriptions found all along the left-right spectrum.

Show me a political party willing to recognize that health care can be strengthened through both a strong public option and a true and robust private option; that public education deserves greater investment but students and parents also deserve choice; that immigration policy can include border security but also a pathway to dignity and citizenship for those who desire it; and that the rights of responsible gun owners and our obligation to public safety can both be secured through greater regulation.

Show me that political party and I’ll show you a governing majority for the coming decades.

For now, the two major parties will continue to provide a political home rooted in rigid left-right ideology, as will minor parties like the Greens and Libertarians. Perhaps a new conservative party indeed emerges from today’s GOP, or a new populist party under Trump. But for many Americans, the SAM Party is providing a new political home.

Our next successful party won’t be bound by the dictates of ideology, it will be bound by the dictates of conscience. And it will reflect incredible diversity of thought, a remarkable spirit of cooperation — and a resolve to forever disrupt the politics that our Founders forewarned us about, and that today leave so many behind.

David Jolly is the new executive chairman of the Serve America Movement, also known as the SAM Party. He was a Republican congressman from Florida from 2014 to 2017 but quit that party the next year.