Thus, learning the lessons of 2010, Snowe and some of her compatriots are likely to jump before they are pushed and just do what Chafee did and dispense with their party label altogether pre-primary. That provides a base of independent candidacies. The more open question is whether any Democrats will join them. Certainly those moderate House members who can survive the 2010 purge but worry about next time are possibilities. On the Senate side, Florida's Bill Nelson and Nebraska's Ben Nelson have the potential to make a switch under the right circumstances, and Lieberman is up himself in 2012.
The reason why this all makes political sense is that the powerful swing bloc — the independent voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 but are deserting him this year — aren't particularly in step with the Tea Partiers. Sure, they'll vote for the Tea Party GOP candidates in 2010 because they'll vote for anyone this time who doesn't have a "D" next to his or her name. But the truth is that while the economic views of these voters are roughly in sync with the Tea Partiers, their cultural outlook isn't. Somewhat libertarian, they are the heirs of the Perot movement of the 1990s, which emphatically rejected the approaches of both parties — the Democrats on economic grounds, the Republicans on cultural ones.
What would really give the independent movement impetus in 2012 would be a viable third-party presidential candidacy. The problem, of course, is that third-party presidential candidacies in American politics seldom gain traction. Bloomberg had been toying with the idea but apart from having a Perot-like fortune that could certainly bankroll a campaign, even he has had to concede in recent days that an elite Manhattanite couldn't galvanize middle Americans. What the movement needs is a leader outside the domain of traditional politics, not a businessman in the current climate, but an athlete, coach, or military figure — which is why those who construct scenarios such as this one look longingly at David Petraeus.
Still, even if Petraeus doesn't turn to politics, there's never been a moment in recent American history when the voters were more open to new ideas and approaches. Our two-party nation so far has resisted the multi-party model of most other countries. In a time of turmoil, that could well change in the years ahead.
Steven Stark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
: News Features
, David Petraeus, Olympia Snowe, Michael Bloomberg, More