Skip to comments.Political Parties Can No Longer Harness Their Bases
Posted on 11/07/2018 10:15:13 AM PST by Kaslin
It is perhaps the central irony of our politics today: We live in an incredibly polarized and partisan moment, but our political parties have never been weaker.
As odd as it sounds, political parties in democracies have an important anti-democratic function. Traditionally, the parties shaped the choices put to voters. Long before voters decided anything in the primary or general elections, party bosses worked to groom good candidates, weed out bad ones, organize interests and frame issues.
In the modern era, the story of party decline usually begins in the aftermath of the 1968 presidential election. The move toward primaries and the democratic selection of delegates took power away from the bosses.
After Watergate, there were more reforms, curbing the ability of the parties to raise and spend money freely. This led to the rise of political action committees, which raise cash independent of the formal party structure. As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during the floor debate over the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in 2001, "We haven't taken a penny of money out of politics. We've only taken the parties out of politics."
Outside groups -- the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, unions, etc. -- often do more to effectively organize voters around single issues or personalities than the parties do. The Kochs, Tom Steyer, George Soros and Sheldon Adelson serve as party bosses, only outside the parties.
Technology is another, less obvious force siphoning power from the parties. For instance, as political historian Michael Barone has noted, the telephone dealt a grievous blow to political conventions, where insiders have outsize power.
"Until the 1960s, the national convention was a communications medium," Barone writes. "Political leaders in the various states seldom met each other, outside of sessions of Congress, during the four years between presidential elections."
The telephone eliminated the need for the face-to-face negotiations. Today, political conventions are little more than infomercials for presidential candidates.
The internet and cable TV have accelerated the eclipsing of parties. Opinion websites and TV and radio hosts now do more to shape issues and select candidates than the parties do. It's a bit like comic books. Readership of comics has been in steady decline, but movie studios and toy manufacturers still feed off the brands created generations ago.
The weird thing is that the American people didn't seem to notice. The largest voting bloc in America today call themselves independents, but most of them tend to be as partisan as everybody else, while "pure independents" are less likely to vote at all.
And yet, Americans keep talking about partisan politics as if the parties are in charge, and base voters on the left and the right keep railing against the party establishments like mobs unaware that they're kicking dead horses.
Among the many problems with the rotting out of the parties is that the rot spreads. The parties are supposed to be where politics happens. McConnell's point about money in politics is analogous to the larger trend. When you take political power out of the parties, other actors seize it.
When wielded by people who aren't supposed to be in the politics business, that power corrupts. This is why every Academy Awards ceremony is peppered with asinine political jeremiads, and why late-night comedy hosts serve as de facto Democratic Party organizers.
It's why people like Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, act like social-gospel ward heelers. It's why the cable news networks spend so much of their time rallying voters in one direction or another. And it's why countless pundits and allegedly objective reporters serve as unofficial political consultants.
It's also why Donald Trump could leverage his celebrity to seize the GOP nomination, and why someone like Oprah Winfrey could be next.
There are other, larger forces at work. The decline of strong independent institutions -- religious, civic and familial -- has people searching for other outlets to find a sense of meaning and belonging. Identity politics, populism and nationalism are filling that void.
That's happened before, but when it did, the parties were there to filter, constrain and channel those passions in a healthy direction. The Potemkin parties can't, or won't, do that anymore. The result is a nation of partisans decrying partisanship.
Never Trumper at his best.
Political parties “weed out bad candidates”? Both major, U.S. political parties have failed to “weed out bad candidates”, and this is continuing, today! Far Leftist candidates with domestic violence records and RINO Republicans are two examples of bad candidates who aren’t “weeded out”!
Good one Katlyn. As The Bible States the next stage is global 1 world socialism I find it interesting how this article plays into that issue. Just how will the strength of the American people, their faith, be weakened so much that it can be overcome by utopian ideals that have never worked in the past.
Certainly we do live in interesting times!
Correct. ALL the neverTrumpers in the House lost.
Heller was lukewarm at best. Vukmir and Walker didn’t want Trump around.
Two of the few Trump supporters who lost was Jason Lewis and Matt Rosendale. I still don’t get MT. This should be solid red.
Lewis was in a bluish district. MN looked as though it was moving toward Trump but fizzled.
This is very insightful - thanks for posting this, Kaslin.
I hadn’t thought about the eclipsing of political parties leading to the division we have today. It’s obvious the phone, computers, teleconferencing, the Internet, 24/7 cable TV and internet political sites and chat have had a big influence, but I hadn’t thought about those media replacing political parties. Goldberg does a good job explaining why insane libs, in the absence of moderating forces of traditional parties and conventions, have taken over everything in modern life and infused it with politics. Explains why you cannot watch a sporting event, a concert, an awards show, go to a restaurant, etc without getting slapped in the face (or worse) with politics.
In short, it explains why modern life has been thoroughly ruined by politics and the ends of moderating parties and party bosses.
The big question is “Where does it go from here?” Are there ANY possible moderating forces on the horizon that can control this typhoon?
Never Trumpster pundits like this clown are no longer needed to tell us how to vote and why!
Wow JoNah’s inner fascist coming to the fore today. How dare the people govern their own destiny! Their “betters” in the poltical party should be managing them better!
The in mass retiring of a whole slew of rhino republicans I believe was a deep swamp sabotage in a mid term election. However in the long run it ended up weeding out rhinos from the Republican party. The strengthening of the party just took place.
I suspect the next stage of trump negotiations over the fate of America just switched to hardball.
Would you please post a list of the House Never Trumpsters, who were voted out of office?
Was this satire?
Maybe he wants us to have a red chip or blue chip implanted in their head so we can take orders from headquarters. `
“How dare the people govern their own destiny! Their betters in the political party should be managing them better!”
Jonah and his DC peers are starting realize that we don’t need nor want them anymore!
The Republicans only lost because of the massive censorship campaign against them.
Jonah is saying the horse started to leave the barn when the telephone was invented and party bosses could begin plotting long before the conventions. The eclipse of parties and strong political bosses accelerated with the telephone, television and internet. We’ve all instinctively known this, but he lays out a cogent analysis of what happened.
Say what you will about political bosses selecting the candidates, it did weed out the flakes and crazy and led to better, more sober statesmen getting nominated at all levels. We didn’t have insane socialists and communists making inroads into our politics. We didn’t have such inflamed passions where you can’t even dine in a restaurant or watch an awards show or football game without the crazies accosting or assaulting you.
That genie isn’t going back into the bottle, either. Unless there is somebody strong enough to put a leash on the crazies, we now have the “new norm” in front of us and it isn’t pretty. It may well lead to civil war and the complete failure of the Republic.
I honestly never would have expected modern communications technologies to have led to that. We all thought they would lead to more civic engagement and more sober discussion of policies, not to unhinged crazy hordes and mobs organizing themselves.
Yeah, well, Jonah, the parties SUCK, so it’s no great loss.
The purpose of the Democrat Party is to elect thieves to public office so that they have access to the public treasuries in order to loot them.
Their base is thieves.
I vote Democrat because they will steal for me. I know they keep some of the stolen money for themselves, but Ill get some.
I've said for more than two years now that political party affiliation means less today than it has at any time in my life. I've voted pretty consistently for Republicans, but I am not registered with any party and I have no faith in the GOP leadership. I run into more and more people here on FR who say the same thing.
The other thing that amuses about JG here. In his world Hillary Clinton was the perfect candidate. A corrupt career politician carefully pushed through the nomination process by party possess who carefully protected her from the “crazy” candidates.
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