Our No-Win Scenario

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden at the first 2020 presidential debate. (Photo by Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

America’s decision tree has gone horribly awry.

The Constitution doesn’t mention political parties, but the Constitution and the two-party system rest on a central Madisonian idea: make politics safer and more boring. James Madison wouldn’t put it that way, though John Adams might.

Both our formal and informal political decision-making processes are designed to force a lot of debate and contemplation, to secure buy-in from diverse coalitions of interests and stakeholders. One reason for constitutional checks and balances is to make sure that momentary popular passions don’t overpower reason with demagoguery.

The parties, meanwhile, are supposed to pick candidates who are the least objectionable to the broadest array of interests within the party coalition. Even the primaries—which I loathe—were intended to give geographically diverse voters a chance to see if a candidate has the temperament and character to be president. They’re also supposed to give the press and other institutions an opportunity to vet candidates before they get the nomination.

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