Forward Party co-chair Andrew Yang, seen here at the 2022 Bitcoin Conference, Bitcoin Conference, Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
BY DAVID MENDEZ WASHINGTON, D.C.
PUBLISHED 12:30 PM ET MAY 03, 2023
For the better part of the last 170 years, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have been the prominent voices in American politics.
But in the 2024 cycle, a pair of new national third parties, the No Labels Party and the Forward Party, are hoping to buck trends, asking Americans to consider ignoring the loudest entrenched voices dominating politics on each side and throw in their lot for a centrist approach.
Read more in this series
Part 1: No Labels considers bringing ‘unity ticket’ to 2024 race
Part 3: Will third parties play spoiler in 2024, or change the system?
Moving ‘forward’ from the ground up
The Forward Party, the brainchild of former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, recently announced plans to not run a presidential candidate this cycle — and, unless something drastically changes, they may not do so next cycle, either.
Instead of looking at the White House, Forward has its eyes on city councils. The party is looking to work from the ground up, seeking to establish a party brand – and solid base – by supporting local elected officials who they hope will graduate to higher office within a few election cycles.
Andrew Yang announced the formation of the Forward Party in 2021 in the final chapter of his book “Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.”
“The two sides will be trapped in a war that both sides will win — they will still be hovering in one of the most affluent areas in the country trading power — but the people will lose,” Yang wrote.
He proposed a series of solutions: voting reform, more effective government, “human-centered capitalism,” a universal basic income, and “grace and tolerance” — offering the benefit of the doubt to those we disagree with, rather than seeking to demean and destroy.
“If you subscribe to these principles and ideas, you can consider yourself part of the Forward Party while keeping your current party affiliation,” he wrote.
Platforms, priorities and policies
The original Forward Party platform had plenty of tech-forward elements – including calling for data as a property right, establishing a “department of technology” and creating a “citizen’s portal” for government information and services – tucked alongside Yang’s previously-announced policies.
That incarnation of Forward could charitably be called a first draft. In 2022, a new Forward Party was announced — one that absorbed the Renew America Movement, formed by former Trump administration officials, and the Serve America Movement, formed by previous Bush administration staffers.
Yang himself moved to co-chair, alongside former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, formerly a Republican, and media executive Michael Willner.
In doing so, the party largely tossed away its old platform and announced it would move from having a national platform to a less-centralized bottom-up structure.
“The way we’ve set this out is that our national party will set principles, the state parties will set priorities and the candidates will then run on policies,” Joel Searby, Forward’s national political director, told Spectrum News.
What that means is that the national party will set Forward’s core values — collaborative solutions; multi-partisan thinking and conversations; and “grace and tolerance” — rather than “some national prescriptive platform” of one-size-fits-all solutions.
“What we don’t believe in is prescribing a set of national platform ideas on immigration and guns and abortion and health care, when the solutions to many of our national platforms are really hyper-localized,” Searby said. “The solution to homelessness in Lubbock, Texas is different from the solution to homelessness in San Francisco.”
And Forward, Searby said, is making what he calls “real progress”: party recognition in six states, and a “pathway toward recognition” in at least 30 more over the next two years.
Starting from the bottom
While the party has larger ambitions, they’ve dismissed any 2024 presidential aspirations, seeking instead to focus on building a foundation in local and statewide government.
“We believe that over the course of the next two to three cycles, the local elected officials that we recruit … will then be prepared to run for state legislative and federal office. And we will be a real force to be reckoned with,” Searby said.
Part of that effort includes affiliating the party with electeds who already have official party affiliations. Four Democratic representatives in the Arizona State Legislature — sisters Consuelo and Alma Hernandez, of Tucson; Lydia Hernandez, of Phoenix; and Keith Seaman, of Casa Grande — announced themselves as Forward Democrats.
Forward also endorses and supports candidates and — of course — is working to get party recognition, so members can drop the “Democrat” or “Republican” next to their name on the ballot, and replace it with “Forward.”
“The classic political trap is to think that everything revolves around big national issues and national parties, when in reality, the policymaking that makes the most impact on people’s everyday lives is at the local level,” Searby said.
To that end, Forward wants to build its brand on local officials and local affiliates — one that, when a candidate flashes a “FWD” button on their blazer or touts a Forward logo among their endorsements, flashes the idea of someone who promises collaboration over partisanship.
“As they experience how Forward candidates govern and actually get outcomes for people on the issues they care about in their own communities, that is how we will continue to build and show people that this is not just some kind of a flash-in-the-pan protest movement,” Searby said.
Building a ‘farm team’
The idea of building a movement from the ground-up in politics isn’t necessarily new. The Tea Party movement within the Republican party used grassroots campaigning to great success during the Obama administration; experts argue that the faction contributed to the elections of then-Rep. Mike Pence as governor of Indiana, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and, later, the ascent of Donald Trump to the presidency.
And even decades before the Tea Party took root, scholars tracked movement of Republican elected officials on everything from local administrative offices to school boards to county offices, keeping in mind that their gains were as important for the future as at the time.
“County officials may constitute a ‘farm team’ which will provide the GOP with experienced campaigners for the growing number of state legislative and congressional posts potentially within their grasp,” political scientist Charles S. Bullock wrote in the Journal of American Politics in 1991. “From the ranks of county officials could come the personnel necessary to make the GOP competitive in the Georgia General Assembly, where it currently holds 20 percent of the seats. After a term in the legislature, Republicans with county officeholding experience may be more competitive in elections for Congress and statewide office than were most of the candidates put forward by the GOP in the past.”
To wit, the Georgia General Assembly was essentially controlled by Democrats from the time of Bullock’s article until 2003, when Republicans took control of the state senate. The GOP won the state house in 2005, and has maintained majority control ever since.