Interviews & Profiles

A Q&A with Christine Todd Whitman

The longtime GOP stalwart is co-chairing a new political party looking to provide a way forward for American voters and politicians.

Christine Todd Whitman and fellow Forward co-chair Andrew Yang play cornhole at an event.

Christine Todd Whitman and fellow Forward co-chair Andrew Yang play cornhole at an event. NADER SHAKERIN

“Not left. Not right. Forward.”

As party slogans go, it may not be “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” – but it is kind of a banger. The Forward Party, which was founded last summer, is comprised of Republicans, Democrats and independents looking to break the political duopoly held by Republicans and Democrats. Forward already has legal status in six states and is working on adding 12 more by the end of the year – including Pennsylvania.

City & State spoke with Forward national co-chair Christine Todd Whitman – the first female governor of New Jersey and former George W. Bush cabinet secretary – about why the country needs another political party, where Pennsylvania fits in her plans, playing presidential spoiler and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

You were a groundbreaking GOP politician, you’ve got numerous projects going on – why get involved in a startup political party?

I have never been as worried about our democracy as I am today. This is a moment when you look at registered voter numbers, and you see the number of unaffiliated people – they’re fed up and they’re angry. They don’t see a way to take back control. I feel this is so important for the future – for democracy – that I just have to be part of it.

Give me the elevator pitch for Forward – why should voters consider it, why should politicians consider it?

Forward is a home for the politically homeless. It’s not a traditional party in the sense that it will not adopt a platform at the national level, but we set the principles and they’re pretty darn simple: to respect and to uphold the rule of law, respect the Constitution, be willing to work across the aisle, but, just as importantly, be willing to work toward changing the way we choose our candidates. Until we break the stranglehold of the two major parties, you won’t get people in office who can think and speak for themselves or their specific constituents. They have to respond to what the party tells them – and the party tells them how to talk about those issues. Unfortunately, we got lazy about elections and now, average primary voter turnouts have been around 12% to 15%. That means a small portion of eligible voters are making the choices for everybody in the spring. They tend to be the most loyal partisans and more toward the extreme, and that’s been building over time to the point where our very real problems are not getting solved.

Why and how are you focusing on Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania is an important state. We have great leadership there and you’ve had a history of electing politicians who want to work across the aisle. You now have two Republican state senators introducing that bill on requiring runoffs if no primary candidates get 50% of the vote – but people need to know this: You can have an instant runoff if you adopt ranked choice voting and open primaries – you don’t have to call people back to vote again and you don’t have to spend that extra money. That should be very appealing.

Why is Forward prioritizing ranked choice voting and open primaries?

To educate people on the issues because, once you do that, then you get the pressure on those who are already in office who may not have particularly wanted to enact either option. Certainly, the Democratic and Republican parties hate ranked choice voting and open primaries – which should be enough to make anybody want to have them – because it takes away their control. 

Our Founding Fathers were desperately worried about parties; they worried that parties would become more important than solving politics and policy. We have to get back to what our Founding Fathers envisioned for the way our government was going to work. 

When people think about third parties, they think of spoilers who frequently tank Democratic candidates. How do you respond to people who worry that Forward could siphon enough votes in 2024 to shift the balance to potential GOP nominee Trump?

Because our candidates are going to be running on the local issues. There are 500,000 elected offices across the country, 70% of which are uncontested. Everybody deserves a choice – we’re not about a single candidate. When people think of spoilers, they really think of spoilers in terms of the presidential election, but we’re down at this basic level where most of the time you don’t have any challenges. There’s just nobody else running for those offices.

You’re on a listening tour right now - what are people saying that you didn’t expect to hear?

The breadth of willingness to adopt the message. By that, I mean the variety, that diversity of people who are feeling the need to do something – and their willingness, once they hear about this and get to know a little bit more about what we’re doing, to get involved. That’s what tells me that if it’s ever going to work, if we’re ever going to break the hold of the two parties, it’s going to be now.

What does short- and long-term success for Forward look like?

Short-term: getting on the ballot in 12 states, including Pennsylvania, and/or getting ranked choice moving through legislation. It’s going to mean electing some candidates at the local level we can point to and build on. Long-term, we want to be on the ballot in every state and recognized as a party in every state by 2024/2025.

How have your former Republican colleagues reacted to your change of heart – and of party?

I really haven’t talked to a lot of current officeholders, but they are as fed up as I am and they’re as worried as I am. For the most part, the people recognize our system is just broken right now. It’s not solving the country’s problems and it’s having an incredibly damaging effect on the status of the United States in the world and our leadership position.

Eagles or Giants?

I’m a Giants fan – but I can root for the Sixers because my daughter works for the Devils, who are owned by the same guy.