Why This Former Republican Wants More Independent Candidates in American Politics

Joel Searby's Centrist Group aims to run more credible independent candidates in what they see as the U.S.'s broken two-party system.

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Nov 7 2017, 5:30pm

Photo via the Centrist Project.

This is an opinion piece by Joel Searby, Senior Strategist of the Centrist Project, a grassroots organization that aims to empower the majority of Americans in the sensible center and elect independent candidates to office in order to bridge the growing partisan divide in the country.

Whenever I tell people I work in politics these days, there's usually an audible sound indicating pathetic sympathy or a questioning of my sanity. Then there's a pause as they consider whether they dare ask the next question, whatever it may be. This question will undoubtedly be a loaded one because, you know, I'm about to be judged as either a "good guy" or a "bad guy" based on my answer. They know it. I know it. In fact, apparently most Americans feel this way. This ever-present tension and division is the thing that has me most worried for our nation right now. It's real and it's dangerous.

But my answer to this question has actually become a liberating and hopeful little exchange. You see, my answer is, "I work in independent politics." It's at this moment that there's a visible and usually audible lightness that comes over the conversation. "Oh thank God," their faces say, "I don't have to talk about [insert Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or liberals or conservatives or whatever other God-forsaken part of the political landscape they despise.]" And this is what has me most hopeful right now.

The conversation that ensues is almost always full of curiosity. "What exactly does that mean?" they usually ask. This is an incredible open door to a real dialogue that is so rare in today's politics. I get to tell them why I think we need a creative, rather than destructive disruption in politics. I get to tell them why I think credible independent leaders of integrity can be that disruption - and why being independent is imperative to change the game. I also get to tell them that it's ok if they're a Democrat or Republican - they don't have to abandon that if they don't want in order to support an independent candidate. And they don't have to abandon their principles. Just be open to the idea (almost all are) when the candidates begin to emerge.

"I've grown increasingly weary of the thin, weak hashtag activism on the left and right and the incessant and divisive social media landscape."

To understand my perspective it's helpful to know a bit of my story. I came into independent politics in a pretty tumultuous way. I was a Republican consultant for 10 years, working my way up to become the CEO of a large and very successful consulting firm. But I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the party and our politics as a whole. Then 2016 rolled around and I felt deeply compelled to do something different. I, like many, found both major party candidates to be deeply flawed and I saw no credible alternatives in the minor parties. So I spent the better part of the year researching and laying the groundwork for someone to run as an independent.


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I was so passionate and committed to this cause that I resigned from my very comfortable and lucrative position as CEO to pursue it. Then we got to the end of the summer of 2016 and everyone had said no. After basically folding up shop on our efforts I got a call from a guy I'd never met. He said, "I understand you're the guy to talk to if you want to run for president." It was Evan McMullin. 10 days later we launched a presidential campaign.

Now here we are, a year after that fateful election. Probably like you, I've grown increasingly weary of the thin, weak hashtag activism on the left and right and the incessant and divisive social media landscape. I participate, of course, as constructively as I can, though imperfectly. But I actually refrain from using social media every Saturday and Sunday. My soul can't take it. I need a break.

But what's a person to do beyond social media? In an effort to really do something constructive in the #realworld, I've dedicated my professional life to helping build the infrastructure, network, and resources to allow independent candidates be successful all around the country. I have spent 2017 serving as the Senior Strategist for the Centrist Project. We are, somewhat shockingly, the only group in the nation focused on recruiting and supporting independent candidates. If I'm honest, I'm a bit surprised at just how well it's going. Get ready, because you're gonna have credible, legitimate independent candidates to vote for this cycle.

"I, like many, found both major party candidates to be deeply flawed and I saw no credible alternatives in the minor parties. So I spent the better part of the year researching and laying the groundwork for someone to run as an independent."

The conversations I described above usually turn to the type of candidates that will be running. I explain that some are center-left, some are center-right. I explain it's highly unlikely they'll agree with everything - but ask, "do you really agree with everything in your party?" I explain why I think they can win using data and laying out the very real plans we've put together. I ask them to consider it. They almost always leave intrigued and open to it.

So what can you do if you're ready for this too? All kinds of things.

Check out the Centrist Project, sign up and lend your support. Get involved in building the infrastructure and grassroots support these candidates will need. Watch for independent candidates to declare for office in your area and then volunteer for their campaigns and donate to them. Ponder whether you should declare your independence and leave your party. Consider running for office yourself as an independent. And please, more than anything else, have real, in-person, humanity-laden conversations with people about the hopeful things you see in politics right now. Then lean into those things.

There's a growing body of evidence out there that the nation is ready for this. But you don't need to read that. You already know it. You feel it. Our nation is pregnant with political disruption. Like, 40 weeks pregnant. And I feel like the doctor in the delivery room. Let's do this.