Business Politics and Current Affairs

October 21, 2010

US Politics – Reform Party

Filed under: US Politics — ispoli @ 10:38 am

Reform Party

Once of rapidly growing, populist third party, the Reform Party shifted far to the right in recent years – but then experienced massive waves of conservative defections away into the Constitution Party and the new America First Party in 2002. First, some history: after running as an Independent in 1992, billionaire Texas businessman Ross Perot founded the Reform Party in 1995 as his vehicle for converting his independent movement into a permanent political party. In 1996, Perot ran as the Reform Party’s presidential nominee (8,085,000 votes – 8%). Although an impressive showing for a third party, it was much less than the 19 million votes Perot carried as an independent candidate back in 1992. The party traditionally reflected Perot’s center-conservative fiscal policies and anti-GATT/NAFTA views – while avoiding taking any official positions on social issues (although much of this group seemed to hold generally libertarian social views). The RP was plagued by a lengthy period of nasty ideological battles in 1998-2000 involving three main rival groups: the “Old Guard” Perot faction, the more libertarian Jesse Ventura faction, and the social conservative Pat Buchanan faction. A fourth group – a small but vocal Marxist faction led by RP activist Lenora Fulani – generally backed the Perot faction during these fights. To make this even more confusing, the Perot faction ultimately turned to Natural Law nominee and Maharishi follower John Hagelin as its “Stop Buchanan” candidate for President. After several nasty and public battles, the Ventura faction quit the RP in Spring 2000 and the old Perot faction lost control of the party in court to the Buchanan faction in Fall 2000 (and Perot ultimately endorsed Bush for President in 2000). That gave the Buchanan Brigade the party’s $12.6 million in federal matching funds. Within months, the Buchanan allies won control of nearly the entire party organization. Along with Buchanan’s rise to power in the party, the party made a hard ideological shift to the right – an ideological realignment that continues to dominate the RP. In the aftermath of the 2000 elections, it is clear that Buchanan failed in his efforts to establish a viable, conservative third party organization (comprised largely of disenchanted Republicans). Buchanan was on the ballot in 49 states, captured 449,000 votes (4th place – 0.4%) – and later told reporters that his foray into third party politics may have been a mistake. His weak showing also meant that the party is ineligible for federal matching funds in 2004. The new RP had the opportunity to become the leading social conservative third party (think of it as a Green Party for the right) – but more internal conflicts made this impossible. In Spring 2002, former Buchanan VP runningmate Ezola Foster and the California and Maryland RP leaders jumped to the Constitution Party. Almost simultaneously, the entire RP leadership in nearly 20 other states (the core of the Buchanan Brigade folks) defected en masse to form the new America First Party – delivering a demoralizing and devastating blow the the future viability of the RP. The remaining pieces of the RP now appear to be trying to reorganize back into a more centrist party – similar to the original one Perot wanted to create in the 1990s. But – without Perot’s involvement (and deep pockets) – even a new, centrist RP may have serious trouble rebuilding itself. Another official RP site is the State Party Organizations/RPUSA.

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