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History As It Happens

Jun 10, 2021

In the words of Richard Hofstadter, “Third parties are like bees: once they have stung, they die." What Hofstadter, a towering public intellectual who died in 1970, meant was that in American politics, third parties succeeded not by winning elections, but by pushing the major parties to reform, to adopt ideas circulating on the margins and bring them into the mainstream. Whether third parties are a help or a hindrance, there is an immovable reason why they have struggled to maintain relevance in U.S. history. Two political scientists, Lee Drutman of New America and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, discuss why third parties fail, and whether we could use some new parties today.