- The “intellectual dark web” star Bret Weinstein sees certain disaster for the US if Trump or Biden wins in 2020.
- Weinstein launched “Unity 2020” – a “patriotic” bipartisan ticket with the president and vice president determined by coin flip – in the hopes of uniting the country.
- Unity 2020 has chosen Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw for its ticket. But both have already endorsed their respective parties’ nominees.
- Weinstein wants the Libertarian and Green parties to give Unity 2020 their ballot access as a demonstration of their patriotism.
- The Libertarian Party’s executive director told Business Insider that Unity 2020 “feels like snake oil” sold by “people who should know better.”
- “Instead of as spoilers, [third parties] would be understood as heroes,” Weinstein told Business Insider.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s hard out here for a third-party presidential ticket.
To gain ballot access in all 50 states, third parties struggle for years. These lesser-known parties launch nationwide grassroots efforts to collect signatures, file paperwork, and clear innumerable bureaucratic roadblocks. In many cases, a bid also requires reaching a vote-percentage threshold in down-ballot elections for the national party’s presidential candidate to stand a chance of making it onto the ballot.
Even then, candidates are hampered by minuscule name recognition, left out of most national polling, and locked out of the presidential debates.
It’s a rigged game.
As of now, the Libertarian and Green parties are the only third parties that regularly gain widespread ballot access (Libertarians are on ballots in all 50 states; the Greens are in 45 states). But both parties are routinely dismissed as a “waste of a vote.”
All in all, it’s a massive undertaking to make a difference as a third party in the US. So it’s intriguing when a new alternative to the Democratic and Republican stranglehold tries to make some noise.
The latest attempt to enter the fray, Unity 2020, wants to be taken seriously as a “patriotic” movement that stands as the last hope “to save the Republic from the disaster that looms on our current path.”
It’s making some noise thanks to a prominent internet presence. But the massive holes in its plan â€” to say nothing of its logic that seems unmoored from political reality â€” have led at least one critic from a third party to call it “snake oil.”
A ‘patriotic’ presidential ticket with no party
Unity 2020 is the brainchild of former Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein, a charter member of the “intellectual dark web” (IDW) who is probably best-known for being the target of a student-led mob on campus in 2017. Unity 2020 isn’t a party; it’s “a grassroots presidential campaign to restore patriotic, courageous & capable leadership to the United States,” according to its website.
Fundamental to the Unity 2020 ethos is the belief that the country faces certain doom if either President Donald Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the election in November. The idea, then, is that a “patriotic” bipartisan ticket can save the day.
Weinstein told me Unity 2020 has about 1,000 volunteers and has eschewed fundraising to preemptively cut off any accusations of financial grifting. Such a small and impoverished operation stands little chance of even making as much electoral impact as the perennial third-party candidate Rocky De La Fuente. But the movement is generating noise because of IDW’s broad audience reach online.
In addition to his YouTube channel with over 220,000 subscribers, Weinstein also recently made his latest of several appearances on the “Joe Rogan Experience,” one of the most popular YouTube shows and podcasts. The interview with Rogan â€” a fellow IDWer â€” has been viewed more than 6.5 million times. And that’s just on YouTube, which doesn’t account for the millions of audio-only downloads and streams Rogan gets with every episode.
Carlson’s and Rogan’s audiences are massive â€” and loyal. While it may not have reached “the mainstream,” it’s clear that Weinstein is leveraging his network to spread Unity 2020’s message to a large audience.
So what is that message? The “Articles of Unity” published on Unity 2020’s website show a passion for shaking up the establishment, uprooting the staid two-party system, and moving toward democratic initiatives like ranked voting as a way of juicing more ideological diversity into politics, while chiseling away at two-party tribal hackery.
Hey, no one ever changed the world by thinking pragmatically. And judging by the many vagaries in the nitty-gritty of its plan, neither has Unity 2020.
While Unity 2020 has grand ideas, the organisers have a few practical problems. They have no ballot access less than 50 days before the general election, which is constitutionally required to take place on November 3. They have volunteers but very little organizational infrastructure. And the two candidates they have picked haven’t agreed to run on their ticket and have already endorsed their respective parties’ standard-bearers.
Oh also, a coin flip will determine whether the Democrat or the Republican serves as president or vice president, and the order of the ticket will be reversed every four years.
A hardcore Trump supporter and a renegade Democrat to unify us all
Supporters submitted over 2,000 candidate nominations, according to Weinstein, and the top six were then voted on via ranked online ballots.
Eight rounds of online voting â€” with 7,919 votes in all â€” ultimately yielded two sitting members of Congress (as well as military veterans) as Unity 2020’s presidential ticket: Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
(I made numerous attempts to reach Crenshaw’s and Gabbard’s spokespeople to see if they were at all interested in running for president under the Unity 2020 banner but never got a response.)
Crenshaw was a featured speaker at last month’s Republican National Convention, where he endorsed Trump. Gabbard ran for the Democratic nomination this year, finishing with a grand total of two delegates and the dubious honour of being the candidate most disliked by Democratic primary voters. Upon dropping out of the race, she endorsed Biden.
I asked Weinstein in a phone interview last week how a dyed-in-the-wool Trump-supporting conservative and a renegade Democrat would appeal to moderates, centrists, or independents.
“The ticket isn’t moderate. The ticket is patriotic. And what makes the ticket viable is that both of these people are intelligent. They are clearly willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the nation. And they clearly both have courage,” Weinstein said.
Unity 2020 was designed to draw voters “equally from the two major parties,” Weinstein said. But the two candidates selected may have some problems bridging that gap.
Gabbard’s unpopularity within her own party, Weinstein said, comes in no small part from “an absolutely bizarre attack from the DNC, with Hillary Clinton accusing her, of all things, of being a Russian asset.”
Weinstein added, “As somebody who grew up during the Cold War, seeing that kind of rhetoric deployed domestically in a political context against an obvious patriot is jaw-dropping.”
Regarding Crenshaw, Weinstein said, “He is a loyal Republican, but I have also spent a fair amount of time talking to Dan, and I find him interpersonally very reasonable. Dan, I would argue, is a person I have long hypothesised exists, which is to say someone who functions well within the current system but would prefer that the system did not have this partisan feature.”
Weinstein sees no evidence of patriotism in Trump or Biden, calling the president “an entirely cynical actor who does what is necessary to advance his own cause” and describing Biden as a “lifelong machine politician” who has run his campaign in “a decrepit condition.”
A self-described “radical progressive,” Weinstein said: “Economic inequality, growing past a certain point, tends to trigger revolts.” But he added, “The focus on race on the BLM left is going to drive the entire nation to a place that it has been in the past, where race was a primary feature of how we viewed each other. And anybody who understands the United States knows that moving in that direction will be negative and not positive.”
It’s not just the forces of the political duopoly that Weinstein is fighting, it’s what he sees as political bias in Big Tech.
Twitter permanently suspended Unity 2020’s “@ArticlesOfUnity” account for violating its “platform manipulation and spam policy,” a company spokesman told me. Weinstein said an internal investigation of Unity 2020’s volunteers found no evidence of such violations and that Twitter has ignored appeals. A new account has been set up by Unity 2020 volunteers to document Twitter’s alleged suppression of Unity-related hashtags and links.
None of this is an accident, according to Weinstein.
“It is noteworthy that in the Twitter communications division, Kamala Harris’ former press secretary is now highly placed,” Weinstein said, referring to Joe Pacilio, who worked for Harris in that capacity when she was California’s attorney general.
According to Twitter, Pacilio is a spokesperson and has nothing to do with policy enforcement. But he’s been accused without evidence by conservative websites of policing Trump’s tweets anyway.
Brother, can you spare your national ballot access?
Needless to say, the odds are stacked against Unity 2020. Among its many disadvantages, it has no ballot access to an election that’s less than two months from now.
But Weinstein has a plan for that, too: Third parties â€” particularly the Libertarian and Green parties â€” should hand over their ballot access to Unity 2020 out of a sense of patriotism.
“Libertarians and the Greens have achieved something very difficult: They have gained national ballot access. However, their role in American politics is effectively as a footnote,” Weinstein said. “But with the intent of making the point now at this moment in history, neither one is positioned to win â€¦ It is almost impossible to imagine Howie Hawkins or Jo Jorgensen ascending to the presidency.”
Hawkins and Jorgensen are the respective nominees for the Green Party and the Libertarian Party.
Weinstein added: “I have put my ideology aside, and all of the other volunteers inside of Unity have put their ideologies aside, in order to advance a plan for the good of the nation; the Libertarians and/or the Greens could do the same thing at this moment.”
The Libertarians and Greens have other ideas about Unity 2020’s ambitions.
“They’re absolute f—ing morons,” Nicholas Sarwark, the Libertarian Party chair from 2014 to 2020, said. “They don’t have any plan for ballot access other than pretending it’s not a thing.”
Sarwark said Unity 2020’s plan is to “transcend laws” by using a kind of magical thinking that he likened to Marianne Williamson’s big-on-love and short-on-policy campaign.
“Who’s your ticket? Dan Crenshaw and Tulsi Gabbard? And the runners-up were William McRaven and Andrew Yang. It’s like the start of ‘Street Fighter‘: Randomize your fighter and let’s see how it goes,” Sarwark added.
Sarwark said the potential Unity 2020 candidates were “popular with a lot of people” whose second choice would be Trump and that the project itself “is an attempt to dismiss all of the work that’s been done over decades by somebody who’s done no work, and it should be treated with all due respect.”
The Libertarian Party’s executive director, Dan Fishman, said Unity 2020 “feels like snake oil” sold by “people who should know better.”
Fishman noted ballot-access deadlines have already passed and said getting the Libertarians on all 50 states’ ballots (plus DC) was particularly difficult this year.
“Without question this was the most difficult year ever to get 50-state ballot access. Because in the COVID era, nobody wants to take a pen and a piece of paper from you and sign their name to a petition,” Fishman said.
Fishman said the idea that the Libertarian Party would just hand over its ballot access after successfully completing all the “arduous” required work was risible. He added that Weinstein appeared to be “a person who hasn’t done any due diligence at all.”
As for the argument that the Libertarians have a patriotic duty to dump their ticket in favour of Unity 2020’s, Fishman called that notion “fearmongering” and the opposite of patriotism.
“We’re not looking to elect somebody other than a Republican or Democrat,” Fishman said. “We’re looking to elect a Libertarian.”
The Greens agree.
“Greens want to run Greens for office,” Michael O’Neil, the Green Party’s communications manager, said. “They want to run candidates who will advocate for our platform and for the policies that we believe in. That’s what political parties are supposed to do.”
O’Neil is more sympathetic to the Unity 2020 cause than the Libertarians I spoke with.
He said the Greens were “in 100% agreement with the motivation for the Unity 2020 project” to bring about structural reform and “democratize our elections.” But O’Neil added, “This change is not going to come in one election. It’s certainly not going to come in the last two or three months of a presidential election.”
However, the Greens have no intention of partnering with Unity 2020 to get Crenshaw and Gabbard on their ticket.
“The Green Party nomination is not for anyone to hand out or to trade,” O’Neil said.
“What people need to understand about creating actual democratic political parties is that they have to be accountable to their membership, they need to be transparent, and, you know, they aren’t built in a day,” O’Neil added.
Weinstein doesn’t buy these arguments and says it’s defeatist to believe it’s too late in the process to run the Crenshaw-Gabbard (or Gabbard-Crenshaw) ticket â€” and win.
“Instead of as spoilers, [third parties] would be understood as heroes putting aside their interests for the moment to save a republic that many people seem to understand is in jeopardy,” Weinstein said. “It is the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do. And it is also the strategically savvy thing to do.”
Weinstein has alluded to elements of his plan that he has not yet made public, and he insists that ballot-access deadlines, running candidates who’ve already endorsed Trump or Biden, and a cyclical downturn in third-party interest are not immovable barriers.
“We discovered that nobody was going to enter the race that could possibly save us from this disastrous outcome, and somebody needed to do something,” Weinstein said.
But he conceded, “If I had it to do over again, if I knew the future, if I knew where we were going to end up where we did, would I have started much earlier? You better believe it.”
In reality, there’s little chance a freshman congressman and a lame-duck congresswoman on a random party line would make a dent in the polls against a sitting president and a former vice president. But prospective third-party voters who caught Weinstein on Rogan’s show could be swayed, which given enough volume, might chip away at the already modest expected returns for third parties.
As for the notion that the Libertarians and Greens would team up with Unity 2020, representatives from both parties said they have not been asked.
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