The American Solidarity Party is growing. Can it succeed?

News: Politics

When Charles Camosy decided to join the American Solidarity Party in 2020, the decision was not a difficult one.

“It was the only real option left for me,” Camosy told The Pillar.

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The Fordham University theology professor was a longtime registered independent, but said he would have been a Democrat “in a heartbeat” if the party had different views on life issues. He had been serving on the board of Democrats for Life in the hope of opening space in the party for the millions of Democrat-leaning Americans who are pro-life.

“Unfortunately, over time, I came to see just how unlikely it was that this would happen,” he said. For him, the breaking point came in the 2020 Democratic primary, “in which every single candidate took a wildly extreme position on abortion. At that point I knew there had to be greener pastures.”

For Camosy, those greener pastures were found in the American Solidarity Party, which describes itself as “based in the tradition of Christian democracy.” Camosy said the party appeals to him because of its consistency, authenticity, positive vision of the good, and unashamed embrace of Catholic ideas.

Camosy is not alone in his decision to join the American Solidarity Party. The party, which was officially incorporated in 2016, has seen significant growth in recent years.

Exact membership numbers are considered sensitive strategic information by the party and are not shared with the public. But Tony Guidotti, interim executive director of the party, said membership doubled within the 2020 election cycle alone.

Brian Carroll, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate, earned more than 42,000 votes nationwide, some six times the number of votes received by the party’s inaugural presidential candidate four years earlier.

Furthermore, Guidotti told The Pillar, while most political parties see growth taper off after an election, the American Solidarity Party has not.

“We've grown another 10% since the 2020 election ended,” he said. “That makes us really excited that we're continuing to grow, even though it's not campaign season.”

What is the American Solidarity Party?

The American Solidarity Party sees itself as part of a tradition known as “Christian democracy,” a political movement drawing largely on the writings of early 20th century Christian thinkers like G.K. Chesterton and Jacques Maritain.

“These are ideas that come from Catholic thinkers who are saying, ‘Let's look at these encyclicals. Let's look at what the Church teaches about society and what does that mean for us as political persons that exist within society, both at the national, but also at the community level,’” Guidotti said.

“In many ways, Christian democracy looks different in every country because of the nature of that country...But those core principles that steer it and guide it in really thinking about human dignity and the common good, the center, is the same, universal.”

Christian democracy shares many of its essential values and principles with the principles of Catholic social teaching. The principle of solidarity is a pillar of the Church’s social teaching that focuses on the interconnectedness of all persons, and the resulting obligation in working for the common good.

Guidotti said that for himself as a Catholic, the ASP is “the only party that comes even close to matching the social teaching of the Church and living out our values.” However, he clarified that the party is not just for Catholics. It also has members who are Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, atheist and agnostic. 

The party’s platform rests on seven foundational principles, all built on the theme of solidarity: sanctity of life, social justice, community-oriented society, centrality of the family, economic security, care for the environment, and peace and international solidarity. 

The party opposes abortion and capital punishment, supports universal health care and just war theory, and champions an economic model known as distributism, which is based on widespread ownership of production assets. 

It also supports criminalizing the creation of pornography, opposes mandatory sentencing requirements, and calls for local measures to build trust between police forces and communities. Its immigration stance stresses an end to for-profit immigration detention centers and promotes trade agreements that would help families avoid feeling forced to flee their home countries. 

Growth through relationships

The American Solidarity Party has garnered interest around the country, but there are a few areas that have become hotspots of growth. 

Michigan houses the ASP’s fastest growing chapter. California is the biggest chapter, and Guidotti is hopeful for the potential of even more growth there, with the party running a candidate in the upcoming recall election for governor.

South Bend, Indiana, home of the University of Notre Dame, also has strong membership and potential for more growth, Guidotti told The Pillar.

“I think that real, authentic growth of a political movement, or any movement, happens at a lower level. It happens in a city, in a church. It happens in a network of people around friendships and in a relationship,” he said.

“And so I think that we're looking at, where are we building relationships? Those are the places where we're going to have growth. Where we have relationships, we have good leaders who are not just sending out emails, writing articles, but are actually cultivating relationships between members. And that would be our growth strategy, because relationships and solidarity go hand-in-hand.”

Guidotti said that although the past few years have been a time of intense growth in the party, the process has been relatively smooth. 

“We're a party that's based on this principle of solidarity,” he reflected. “And so I think that means that even when there are disagreements and even when not necessarily everyone's on the same page, there is this understanding that we can work together and we can hear one another.”

The party’s statement of principles was written by people who had some genuine differences of opinion on policy, he said. 

“I think that the reason we are able to do that is because...everything we do is really based on this idea that all human beings have this innate dignity - the Imago Dei - and that means that no matter what we disagree on, we can see in the other: Okay, this is how they're trying to affirm human dignity. This is how they're trying to advance the common good in a way that really helps bring compromise, even in places where there may be different strategies or visions of how to grow moving forward.”

Guidotti said the ASP’s platform has “gone through a few iterations,” but he described the changes in the platform as developments and occasions of growth, rather than changes in direction. 

“Our main cornerstones, they haven't changed. Our main policy priorities haven't changed,” he said. “There's been areas where we've grown. For example, there has been more recognition of racial injustice and historic systems, aspects of injustice - that's something that the latest platform gave more light to. But those core values and principles behind our understanding of racial justice, that's not something that has changed in any of the platforms.”

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Looking to the future

After making a splash among a certain set of Catholics in the last election, what’s next for the American Solidarity Party? Can third parties actually make a difference? And what does success look like for a third party?

Ahead of the 2020 election, ASP’s presidential candidate Brian Carroll told the Catholic News Agency that third-party candidates can draw attention to certain policy issues and shape the way people - and other parties - are discussing them. 

He gave the example of Ross Perot, who lost presidential bids as an independent candidate in both 1992 and 1996, but whose campaign emphasis on a balanced federal budget endured on the national stage for years afterward. 

If people begin leaving the Republican and Democratic parties in sufficient numbers, the parties could respond by altering their positions on some issues, he said.

Camosy said that in his view, one goal of the ASP is to help break apart a left/right political binary in which people define their views, and themselves for that matter, by antagonism toward those on the other side. 

“The ASP can and does work to find common ground in ways that the two major parties are totally incentivized to reject,” he said. “Why would you work with the enemy? Especially the enemy whose being the enemy nets you all kinds of massive fundraising?” 

“Another important part of moving to the ASP is trying to force the major parties and appeal to us and our values,” he added. “Already the idea of ‘solidarity Republican’ (maybe someone like Congressman Fortenberry of NE) or a ‘solidarity Democrat’ (maybe someone like Governor Bel Edwards of LA) are starting to take root in some places. We need to give permission to folks in the major parties to branch out and defy the orthodoxy.”

Guidotti said that while shaping discourse and building coalitions to influence policy are good goals, he personally would like to see the party develop to the point of winning major elections.

“I have a degree in international relations, public policy. I spent years writing public policy memos. I'm involved in this because I want to make a difference politically,” he said. “I would really like us to become a party that is viable in the sense of winning elections, having representation.”

And the party is already doing that - on the local level. 

“We do have some local officials. We've got more folks who are gearing up for running for races at the city and county level. And we can win at that level.”

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The importance of local elections

One key to the American Solidarity Party’s push to grow its membership may be a renewed appreciation for the role of local politics.

In its short history, the party has had a few local victories, including members being elected to the roles of mayor in a city in Pennsylvania and a board of education member in a town in Connecticut. It is also running a candidate in California’s gubernatorial runoff election, Dr. James Hanink.

Winning local elections can have more of an impact than many people realize, Guidotti said. In many cases, a federal law will send money to the states for a certain purpose, but the money will then be administered at the county level, with local officials making decisions about implementation. 

Asking only whether a third-party candidate can win a national election is the wrong question, he said. Rather, people should be asking, “[C]an these people in my community make a difference? And then we can actually look at, okay, can we organize around that person? And all of a sudden these folks become more viable.”

Camosy echoed the importance of a more local focus, stressing that “our obsession with national politics is deeply unhealthy.”

“Folks used to say that 'all politics is local', but that is definitely not true any longer,” he said.

“The internet and social media, the failure of so many intermediate institutions, and the de-placing of individuals and communities has led to the idolatry of not just national political campaigns and elections — but even the 24-hour 'news' about them, sometimes 2-3 years out.”

Camosy called for a return to a more local focus that includes one’s own neighborhood, school district, and parish. 

“I think doing the blocking and tackling of working on the local level with a party like the ASP could go a long way to still being engaged without all the toxic idolatry.” 

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The need for election reform

Although he is pleased with the ASP’s success at the local level, Guidotti said he would personally like to see the party winning bigger seats as well - in state legislatures or the U.S. Congress, for example. 

He acknowledged that the road to bigger victories is a long one and would require building membership, fundraising, and running campaigns.

“But it also has a lot to do with electoral reforms that make it more feasible for us to have anything other than an entrenched two party system,” he added. “And I think progress is being made there, but some of that is out of our hands, though we certainly support organizations that are advocating for those reforms.”

The party’s platform calls for ranked-choice voting, a system in which voters mark multiple candidates in order of preference, and a winner is calculated from among them. 

The platform also supports proportional representation, as well as changes to ensure that third-party candidates have “fair and equal access to ballots,” in part by ending “exorbitant voter signatures and filing fees.” In some states, voters were not even able to cast a vote for Carroll, the ASP’s presidential candidate in 2020. Due to current ballot requirements, Carroll was only listed on the ballot in eight states and was certified as a write-in candidate in another 31 states. 

“I would also add support for campaign finance reform and a federal law which de facto overturns the decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, ending corporate personhood and the kind of dark money facilitated by super PACs,” Guidotti said.

Dr. Matthew Green, chair of the politics department at The Catholic University of America, said the ASP’s leaders are wise to acknowledge that election reform measures will be critical if they are to win national elections.

“In general, it is very hard for third parties to win elections in the United States. The barriers to get on a ballot are high, and most elected offices are determined by winner-take-all elections,” Green told The Pillar. “Third parties are more likely to have influence by shaping the national agenda, merging with an existing political party, or serving as spoilers in elections.” 

“I'd say that the party's goal of ranked choice voting is the most realistic, as ranked choice ballots have been adopted by several cities and states in recent years,” Green continued. “Overturning Citizens United and instituting proportional representation will be much harder to achieve, at least in the short run.”

Still, Green said, the party has shown promise in recent years.

“The fast growth of the American Solidarity Party does suggest that it is a political party worth watching in the near future,” he said.

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Why vote third party?

Another big obstacle the American Solidarity Party must face in recruiting new members is the narrative that a third-party vote is a throw-away vote. This political sentiment is a common objection, and it can be difficult for people to overcome, Guidotti said.

But in reality, he said, third parties can allow voters to follow their consciences without compromise.

“I think that a world in which people feel like their only option is to compromise some of their values for other values is one in which people - from a human-centric standpoint - are going to be really unhappy, to feel like you're having to split and divide who you are,” he said.

“I'm a firm believer that people should have the freedom to vote their conscience,” he stressed. “People should have a right to vote all their values.”

Some of the misgivings surrounding third party voting go back to the fact that so much of politics is shown on the national scale, Guidotti added. 

“If you vote for the lesser preferred party, you are advancing the antichrist - that's the kind of rhetoric that's used in the media. And so of course, people feel like, ‘Oh my goodness. If I vote for a third party, I'm dooming us all.’ When in reality, most decisions are made at the local level. And that is a place where third parties, especially when you look in places that make decisions based on committee, where third parties can have an outsized impact. And even on federal legislation.”

He suggested that there is nothing preventing voters sympathetic to the ASP from supporting the growth of the political movement, particularly at the local level, while also making strategic decisions to vote for a more mainstream candidate in certain national elections, as compelled by their consciences.

Guidotti added that the ASP aligns with the views of Americans in a unique way. The party’s four cornerstones - sanctity of human life, social justice, environmental responsibility and pursuit of peace - all poll as majority opinions in the United States, he said. But that alignment of political views is not represented by either major party. 

In a political climate marked by polarization and division, Guidotti thinks the existence of parties like the ASP is good for the whole country. 

“All of the incentives [for people in the current political atmosphere] are to go to one side, go to the other, to not engage with members of their community, with their neighbors on finding real solutions,” he said.

“If people are not engaging with their neighbors because they're evil - or at least they think they're evil - they're not going to hear those legitimate needs [of one another]. And there is no solidarity. There's no brotherhood.”

Part of the ASP’s role, he said, is casting a political vision that can show people a less polarized and divided way forward.

“Even if those people are not the members of the party, people recognize that there is a vision other than right or left, [and that] frees them to say, I don't need to sign my soul over to this one political alignment. I don't need to make an idol of this political party for fear that the other one is the antichrist,” he said.

“I think that the American Solidarity Party plays an important role in spreading and building a movement around that message that says, ‘We can do politics differently. There is another option. And the way forward does not come from demonizing your political opponents, but actually comes from seeing and affirming their human dignity and acting in solidarity with them for the good of our communities’.”

Ultimately, embracing solidarity is the only way to make the country stronger and less divided, he said. And this solidarity is desperately needed, because the alternative is fewer and fewer people having their needs met amid rapid swings back and forth between two ends of a political spectrum.

“And so there needs to be a third way. And I think that for the sake of our country, it needs to be a third way that recognizes the human dignity of all persons.”