Third Parties and Tequila Shots

It starts with jokes and murmurs, but Democrats shouldn't go on expecting blind support.

By Kai Wright Dec 06, 2010

The brewing talk of a Latino-led "Tequila Party" had folks chuckling last week. Check out Julianne Hing’s digest of the discussion, if you missed it. I taped a long and interesting discussion on the topic for NPR’s Latino USA that aired over the weekend. It’s a conversation with political scientist Luis Fraga and Lydia Camarillo of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in San Antonio. Give it a listen here.

The whole thing spurs broader thoughts about third parties for me. Given the challenges of mounting a national campaign–both financial challenges, made worse by Citizens United, and structural constraints of a winner-take-all system–a real progressive challenger on that scale is unlikely. But where third parties of all sorts can have a meaningful impact is at the state and local level. Alyssa Katz offered a pre-election profile of New York’s Working Families Party that’s instructive (I’m a registered member of the party). The party’s had its ups and downs, but it’s undoubtedly helped drive progressive policymaking in the state. WFP doesn’t run candidates, but rather endorses them. Candidates woo WFP’s endorsement, and voters show their allegiance by voting for endorsed candidates on the WFP line. [Update: Reader Richard Winger adds clarity on WFP’s structure in the comments below. As he notes, WFP does field some candidates, but primarily cross-endorses through "fusion" voting. Get more info here.]

But it also seems like we need to think beyond political parties themselves. How can a focused, relentless issue-based campaign like the DREAM Act movement impact electoral politics? We got some sense of that in Nevada this November. What happens when labor breaks from the Democrats, or at least the president, in the way it has threatened to do in recent months? We’ll see. The Tequila Party idea is mainly drawing cringes and laughs right now, but it’s not going to be the last one to pop up. There’s an increasingly concrete conversation developing about if and how progressives of all stripes may break with Obama’s Democrats over the next two years.