Want Real Change? Occupy the Republican Party #ORP

Obama is running in 2012 regardless. Frustrated Democrats and independents should re-register and make their voices heard in the GOP primaryelephant full.jpg

The left is upset with President Obama. Occupy Wall Street protesters object to his economic policies. Anti-war voters are upset by the intervention in Libya, the drones in Pakistan, and the troops still in Afghanistan. ACLU liberals are disillusioned by indefinite detention, the expansion of executive power, and warrantless spying. The marijuana legalization crowd hates the raids on pot dispensaries.

They're all in a hopeless political pickle. A primary challenge risks dividing the Democratic Party. It might weaken the president so much that he'd lose to a GOP challenger -- someone they'd regard as even worse than the incumbent on most issues. But doing nothing is fraught too. If a Democratic president can get away with Wall Street giveaways, militarism, and civil liberties violations, it's basically a guarantee that the left will never achieve the reforms it regards as urgent.

There is, however, an intriguing alternative.

What if the left registered its discontent with Obama and its disgust for the GOP frontrunners by registering Republican? It would only matter during primary season. And what a message they could send! One long-shot Republican candidate, Gary Johnson, visited Zuccotti Park, affirms that Wall Street banks got unseemly favors, wants to legalize marijuana, opposed the Iraq War, favors bringing the troops home, and even wants abortion to stay legal. Another, Buddy Roemer, has made the centerpiece of his campaign "fighting the corrupting influences in Wall Street and Washington, ending favors to big donors and the misuse of federal funds to benefit major corporations." Though the typical Democrat would disagree with both of them on various issues, they'd surely prefer either to Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, or Rick Santorum; elevating either would send a powerful message on several of the most important issues that has the left upset; and like all quixotic stunts worth trying, there is a huge upside and no downside.

Think about it.

At this point, Obama is effectively going to run unopposed in the Democratic primary. He'll be the general election candidate regardless. A protest movement that used the GOP primary as its vehicle would, at worst, fizzle out with no real effect. If it succeeded in getting Johnson even a bit more attention, there would be two voices, Johnson and Ron Paul, speaking out in favor of shrinking the military, ending the drug war, and protecting civil liberties; they'd give voice to an actual marginalized constituency on the right that the left should want to see better represented; in the unlikely event that elevating Johnson succeeded wildly, and he won the GOP nomination, the left would have dodged the possibility of President Perry or Cain; Obama would be no less likely to win the general election; and to do so, he'd be forced to move toward the civil libertarians on issues like drugs, war, and homeland security policies, rather than moving right. Much the same logic applies to Roemer. Elevating him would inject into the campaign more talk about the capture of government by various moneyed special interests.

Is hijacking a primary legitimate?

I'd say so, at least in the way that I'm suggesting. The rules permit anyone to register in any party, regardless of their beliefs. It would transgress against fairness and good sense to deliberately elevate someone primarily because they'd be a weaker general election candidate. But voting for someone you earnestly regard to be the more sensible pol, the better prospective president, and the more healthy influence on their party? What's wrong with that? The Republican and Democratic Parties have used their entrenched position to erect unfair barriers to other parties and independents, creating a duopoly that large swaths of America hold in contempt.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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