As if Michigan’s Republican Party didn’t have enough problems, political consultant Jeff Timmer and like-minded moderates nationwide are on the verge of extending the party’s electoral futility for at least the next election cycle, but maybe many more.
Timmer and his political allies will soon be rounding up 45,000 signatures in Michigan to create the Common Sense Party, which won’t field its own candidates. Rather, it will collect information about the candidates already on the ballot and endorse among that lot.
For example, the Common Sense Party could endorse a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives but a Republican for the U.S. Senate. Any straight-ticket votes for the party would go to its endorsees.
In a return to the “fusionist” voting tactic used in Michigan in the 1880s and ‘90s, candidates in politically competitive districts would need to move toward the political middle if they hope to get the Common Sense Party’s votes.
That, let’s say, 5% could make the difference in a competitive race.
Timmer, the former executive director of the state GOP, isn’t alone in putting this creative concept together. He has on his side former U.S. Reps. David Trott and Joe Schwarz, plus Bob LaBrant, who was a longtime Michigan Chamber of Commerce executive and has advised four Michigan Republican governors.
Meanwhile, nationally, a moderate political group calling itself No Labels is taking shape. It recently sponsored a panel on bipartisanship at Cornell University that featured Fred Upton, another former congressman from Michigan. The Detroit News is reporting the group, whose leadership includes former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman and former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, has $70 million in the bank.
These two approaches spell trouble for the Michigan Republican Party. Its grassroots leaders are successfully cleansing the GOP ranks of RINOs — Republicans In Name Only.
Once an acronym for moderate Republicans, RINOs are now anyone who doesn’t believe Trump won the 2020 election. RINOs also refuse to embrace a Christian nationalism-type political ideology caked in conspiracy, unbridled gun possession and some level of social isolationism.
MRP Chair Kristina Karamo is trying to grow a bigger party by circling wagons of tight-fisted dissidents.
All reports are that this isn’t going well.
Former Republicans like the aforementioned crew are fleeing the MRP, but they are finding they have nowhere to go. They’re not liberal Democrats.
The Michigan Libertarian Party is a sideshow of internal turf wars. It’s nowhere near ready to make that jump to legitimate third-party status.
Could these disaffected find a home in the Common Sense Party?
It’s quite possible.
It worked more than 130 years ago. Back then, the Republicans won everything in Michigan. In the election of 1880, Republicans won a 30-2 majority in the Senate and an 86-14 majority in the House.
To push back against this dominance, Democrats teamed up with obscure third parties such as Greenbacks, the Labor Party, Populists and others to create “Fusionist” tickets. They all agreed that votes for their parties would go to a common candidate.
And in 1882, “Fusionist” Josiah Begole became the governor of Michigan. Eight years later, a Democrat named Edwin Winans became governor using the same Fusionist coalition.
After that, Republican legislators vowed to stop it. In 1895, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Oregon passed laws to prevent cooperation between Democrats and third parties. From that point on, a political candidate could only be nominated by one political party. If that candidate didn’t choose a party, the state must do it for them.
That’s why, if the Common Sense Party is successful in forming, the next step will be to immediately go to the Court of Claims to overturn the state law that prevents fusionist-style voting.
If Timmer and company are successful, they could disassociate with the fringe element that’s taken over the Republican Party and advocate for moderate candidates.
Democrats have shown with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and state Rep. Angela Witwer, in particular, that they have no problem advancing politically centrist candidates when a district calls for one.
A Common Sense Party will give home to RINOs until the Republican Party membership realizes that echo chambers of philosophical soulmates are a recipe for perennial minority status, not a path to broad leadership.
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