There is a tendency for the right to court centrists and try to convert them. This is a terrible mistake not only in that it doesn’t work, but it is counterproductive. There is a better way to engage with centrists.
Before we get into the strategy, let’s wrap our heads around centrism, its tenets, and its effect on the broader political landscape.
The Median Fallacy
Centrism is the political expression of the median fallacy. That is, their core belief is that the truth can always be found somewhere between opposites. This is not only a fallacious pattern of reasoning, it is also a recipe for extreme political weakness.
An important step in examining centrism is to separate relative political terms like left, center, etc., from the names of the ideologies they stand for in the current political landscape. A centrist in the US in the 1900s would most likely have been a classical liberal, an ideology closest to present-day libertarianism, but a centrist today is a social democrat, a socialist-lite who wants to preserve capitalism only for the purpose of parasitizing it to pay for a massive welfare state. These ideologies are extremely dissimilar; the only thing connecting them is that, at some point in time, they were considered the center: that is, their relative position to the extreme ideologies of their time.
Today’s centrists are social democrats. They cut a compromise between the leftist extreme – totalitarian socialism – and the extreme on the right, free-market nationalists. This compromise, though, is most of the way to what the far left wants, for a key reason: the left is much more extreme than the right. The key weakness of the median fallacy and centrism is that the extremists they love to criticize are their agenda-setters.
An Incentive Toward Extremism
Since the extremes set the centrist agenda, and centrists’ platform is a compromise between the extremes, the only winning move is to be more extreme. Centrists today lean most of the way toward socialism because the left has become very extreme. While some centrists are the result of “the left leaving them” and have moved to the right on many issues as their former cohorts have become their attackers, the vast majority have let themselves be swept with the tide. A winning strategy caters to the rule, not the exceptions, so we won’t pay further attention to those who move a baby step in the opposite direction.
So, then, we have arrived at the great irony of centrism: their purpose is to oppose all extremes, but their impact on the political landscape is to create a race toward further extremism in order to move the center in their direction. The prominence of centrism drives further extremism; the best thing they could do for their cause is to stop being centrists!
This irony forms the basis of the strategy to exploit centrists.
The Losing Strategy
The losing strategy, also known as what the right is currently doing, is wooing centrists. Being more moderate for the sake of centrists places the center further toward one’s political opponents. It is the surest way to lose in the political contest, particularly in a two-party system.
Furthermore, note what happens when your side cozies up to the center: principled politicians who hold firm to their beliefs don’t move with your platform, and can be rendered “more extreme” and thus unpalatable to centrists. In this light, this strategy is practically giving away seats to the opposition.
The Winning Strategy
As should be clear by now, centrists are political prostitutes. The winning strategy uses them like the cheap whores they are.
The winning strategy consists of inverting the losing strategy: make your platform more extreme.
As examined before, rather than moving the center toward your opponents, this pulls the center toward your movement’s previous positions. Furthermore, while the rank-and-file will move along with the new platform, the principled politicians who stand for something will grow to look more moderate as their cohorts approach or exceed them. Centrists will think “well, he’s more moderate, and the other guy is a socialist…” and vote for your guy.
A Word of Caution
This strategy can be executed in many ways, but one variation is counterproductive: do not compete with your own side. This variation has been attempted by third parties, and it actually harms their own side in a two-party system. Libertarians don’t draw any leftist votes, only votes from the right, and this spoiling can hand the seat to the opposition in narrow races.