If you want to watch a political suicide in real time, check out Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s six-minute video declaring that he’s leaving the Republican Party.
It’s not merely the weird way the video is cut, right through his forehead. Or his grim tone (act like you’re excited about this, Nathan!). Or the self-serving statements connecting his military service to his decision to leave the part (fighting a war is a patriotic and courageous act, for which Fletcher deserves our thanks, but that doesn’t have anything to do with changing your party affiliation to independent two months before a non-partisan mayoral race).
But the real problem here is one of political judgment. Fletcher, like too many others in the political world, is overestimating the political power of the center.
Yes, there are more and more people deciding not to register as a member of either political party. They are called “Decline to States” in California. I’m one of them. The trouble is: most of us nonpartisans behave like partisans. We vote almost exclusively for candidates of one party or the other.
That, of course, is when we vote at all. Non-partisans are less connected to politics, and thus vote less than partisans. Some studies suggest we’re half as likely to vote. (I’m a good example—I’ve stopped voting in state elections, mostly out of disgust with a process I see as fraudulent). Yes, independent voters can be swing voters in a close election, but to run up big numbers in an election, you need to win the votes of a lot of partisans, because they vote more often.
So aligning yourself with the least engaged part of the electorate before an election is – let me use a technical term — dumb.
And it smacks of desperation. Fletcher is running behind in the polls. This probably seemed like a way to grab some attention, and give himself a new shot at getting his message out. But it’s hard to see how this will help much in this election.
It may well finish him for the future. If he seeks to run for statewide or federal office, he’ll find the task of running as an independent virtually impossible, even in the new top-two primary world. The dirty secret of Prop 14 is that the parties themselves are doing more screening and endorsements, and those endorsements are likely to have more value as a result. And if Fletcher were to crawl back to the GOP, it would be unlikely that he’d be welcomed back with open arms and real support.