The Problem with Fence-sitters

While it may be fashionable these days to say that "both major parties are corrupted and only independents are the real protectors of our democracy" it is not true and certainly is a flight from responsibility. The candidate season is always an open bazaar where the parties go to display their wares and hawk their favored would-be officeholders, but that bazaar is also the locus for party food fights over who the 'real' Republicans and Democrats are.

Party elites push their favorites forward and sometimes they even drop the hammer of 'official' criticism over those candidates that haven't received the blessing of the D.C. coven of entrenched politicos. A case in point is the Republican Senate Minority leader who weighed in a few months back that he wanted to ensure that the party had 'good quality candidates' and intimated that some of former President Trump's choices were somehow not up to snuff.

There is absolutely no question that the love lost between Sen. McConnell and Pres. Trump couldn't fill a seamstress' thimble and that he (McConnell) is worried that the party will continue to be a majority MAGA-loving one and that he will come under pressure to stand down as majority leader should the Rs take the Senate in November.

McConnell and those that see themselves as 'to the manor born' senators-for-life worry that the hibernating Republican moderates who are now calling themselves independents might somehow spring to life and go in full-bore for the Trump-supported candidates who would side with the former President in an 'oust Mitch' campaign after the mid-terms. And that brings up the whole question of political fence-sitting and if the so-called independents will be the tail that wags the election dog and ensure a marginal win for the Republicans or, God forbid, the Democrats.

Both the Rs and the Ds have worked tirelessly, it seems, to ensure their own extinction by moving to the outer reaches of their respective ideologies and have embraced policies (or at least rhetoric about their policies) that guarantee an abandonment of what we used to call 'moderates' to the no-man's land of the independents' oasis. That oasis is best described as a political gated community or safe space where no one really has to own up to a political position but can keep 'his options open' and play the field as if he were on an episode of the reality TV show, 'The Bachelor.' Granted there are many very serious -- and highly disappointed -- people that populate that group and it's not my intention to question their motives for leaving what they view as a sinking ship. That said, those who lean conservative must realize that their unwillingness to show their support for those candidates that speak to the majority of their issues is harmful to the whole election process.

By remaining holdouts they make polling difficult. By playing their cards close to the vest they create messaging problems for candidates, and by not endorsing the party's principal ideological tenets and remaining on the sidelines over disagreements on second-tier issues they embolden the opposition and create hope that they can be wooed away to the other side.

Pollsters know that there are really very few 'pure' independents out there and that the majority of them actually lean Right or Left. They know, too, that their decision to lay back is generally due to their overall dissatisfaction with the entire process and is rooted in their belief that a 'Lazarus moment' can be created where the party (I'm speaking of the Republican Party primarily) will rise from the tomb of its own building and return power to the party moderates, who consider themselves the true palace guards. But expecting their party to return to the middle is a pipedream. They are wishing on a shooting star and indulging in sleepwalking. There is no way that will happen. The only way to return America to prosperity is to return to populism and the election of a Trumplike candidate (or Trump himself) who understands and sympathizes with their desires and incorporates them into a plan that will address them but views the big picture as more important for the long-term.

Independents must realize that they wield significant power over the campaign process and that they must not wait until Election Day to exercise it. By putting their dissatisfaction with 'the system' aside and coming out to support candidates that represent most of what they want, they can turn defeat into victory for their party. In the state of New Mexico where I live that could make the all-important difference in electing a Republican governor in a state that has 45% registered Democrats, 32% registered Republicans and 23% independents and unaffiliated voters.

In reality, there are only two things that the current crop of uncommitted fence-sitters have in common. One is their intransigence and the other is hemorrhoids. Both are curable.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in 30 countries for 25 years during the Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush Administrations. He is the author of twelve books, six of which are on American politics and has written over 1,300 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He operates a political news story aggregator website: He can be reached at:

Image: Gilles Gonthier

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