Saturday, December 20, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 10 - the Reform Party

The Reform Party became a prominent Third Party in the 1990s as the base for Presidential candidate Ross Perot. Since the turn of the century, however, they have declined significantly as a result of inter-party squabbles and lack of cohesive vision.

It should be noted that there is also an American Reform Party - a splinter party which split from the Reform Party of the United States because they believed Ross Perot rigged the nominating process in 1996.

Members: 42,376 registered (as of November 2006)


The Reform Party (or Reform Party USA) was founded by Perot in 1995 to be a base for his second Presidential campaign. Perot said Americans were disillusioned with the state of politics as being corrupt and unable to deal with vital issues, and wanted a new party.

For the 1996 Election, the Reform Party ticket appeared on all fifty state ballots. Perot ended up receiving over 8 million votes - down considerably from his first candidacy in 1992 - which was approximately 8% of the electorate.

In 1998 the Reform Party saw its first - and arguably only - major victory by electing former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota.

Due to federal matching funds law - and Perot's 8% in 1996 - the Reform Party ticket was able to secure $12.5 million for the 2000 presidential campaign. The party's nomination was subsequently sought by two well supported candidates, the editorialist Pat Buchanan and three-time Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin.

The race for Reform Party nomination resulted in a bitter division for the party, which ended up holding two simultaneous conventions in 2000. Several state affiliate parties split off, but Buchanan ended up winning the nomination. However, he secured less than 450,000 votes (.4%) in the General Election.

As a result of the poor performance, the Reform Party lost its matching funds, ballot status in nearly every state, and considerable credibility as a major Third Party.

Between these financial and organizational problems and consistent infighting, the Party opted to nominate Ralph Nader as its 2004 Presidential nominee - despite the fact that Nader never sought their endorsement.

In 2006 the Party started to build again, running several Congressional races across the country - earning as much as 11% in Colorado's 4th Congressional District.

In 2008 the Reform Party nominated Ted Weill of Mississippi as their Presidential nominee. However, the party did not announce the nomination until October, so Weill only appeared on the ballot in his home state - earning just 470 votes.

On the Issues:

The Reform Party has always held to a series of issues regarding taxes and trade. While they do not have a real platform on their website, they do have a Mission Statement and a "Core Mission".

Since the days of Ross Perot, the Reform Party has always stood for a few key positions:

  • A Balanced Budget Amendment
  • Campaign finance reform that includes banning PACs
  • Enforcing immigration laws
  • Opposition to Free Trade deals (particularly NAFTA and CAFTA) and withdrawal from the WTO
  • Term limits for Members of Congress
  • Abolition of the Electoral College

The Reform Party does welcome members of all positions on Social Issues, which has led to a large number of moderates joining the party. Because of Pat Buchanan's staunch social conservativism, his candidacy led to much of the bitterness within the party.

Final Thoughts:

The Reform Party certainly had its moment in history. However, it was from the start a party built around the ideology of one specific man - Ross Perot. A serious political party in the United States cannot revolve around the specific policy beliefs of one candidate - especially one that has been out of the scene for over a decade.

Beyond that basic concept, however, the Reform Party has too many structural and organizational problems. The constant inter-party rifts have distracted them from accomplishing any victories like Ventura's. As these tensions continue, we can expect the Reform Party to spiral into obscurity.

Coming Tomorrow - our Conclusion

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