eformers floundering in divisive whirlpool

Editorial Analysis
David Gustafson
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura wisely fled the Reform Party in February when he foresaw its chaotic demise. The governor said Pat Buchanan intends to destroy the party. Indeed, if anything remains intact after the infighting, it will surely be bent to the will of its new leader.
Many Perot supporters — the same people who invited Buchanan into the Reform Party in reaction to Ventura — are now endorsing physicist John Hagelin, since their original pick has veered frighteningly far from a socially moderate agenda.
But Reformers never had a stable platform. It was the Perot party, and now it is becoming the Buchanan party. When the ex-Republican was invited to join their ranks, reformers were not just hopeful, they were desperate.
In exchange for the nomination, the high-profile Buchanan promised necessary name recognition, the soul and sustenance of all third parties. Now reformers have found themselves at the mercy of an alleged turncoat leader who threatens to redefine the party and repopulate the ranks with his own supporters.
Much of the Reform Party has all but abandoned any realistic hope for electing the next president and has focused on building grass-roots support. But traditionally, third parties have had the most success in running presidential campaigns. Independents can field a high-profile candidate who addresses important issues otherwise ignored by the mainstream nominees. Replicating this strategy on a local basis proves more difficult, especially for a third party originally built from a single personality.
Political publications forecasted the increasing likelihood of a successful centrist third party back in the mid-1990s. Perot relied on harnessing the moderate voter, an increasingly valuable commodity. But the Democratic and Republican parties have proven themselves surprisingly malleable and fluid throughout history. Centrist voters are now the hot targets of both major candidates and the mainstream seems to have invaded Perot’s territory.
Many Reformers mistakenly believe the party still stands for the original moderate agenda, but now they are locked in a confusing and embarrassing ideological war with their chosen leader. Historically, third parties serve three separate functions: provide a platform for emerging ideas, offer a forum for splinter groups or give a voice to celebrity personalities. The Reform Party exists for the latter two purposes.
Buchanan’s crusade to reshape the party is his reaction to the moderate agenda of the Grand Old Party. The end result is a rebirth of the party under the staunch conservative. The Democrats and Republicans are trying to envelop the center from both sides to compensate for decreasing support for partisan politics, especially among college-age voters. In a sense, the independent Reform Party not only changed allegiance, but swapped roles with its Republican opponent. Instead of speaking out for moderates, the new party is preaching to disenfranchised conservatives.
If a successful third party must be the outgrowth of a high-profile founder, as many experts suggest, then the Reform Party could have once been called a success. But now, when the group is racked with internal turmoil and warring factions, their charismatic leader is nowhere to be found.