As the Trump campaign flounders under the accumulated weight of the pandemic, the economic crisis, the mass protests, and a Twitter account plugged straight into the president’s limbic system, I wonder: What if the parties mattered?
I’m a subscriber to a counterintuitive school of thought popular among some political scientists. Their belief is that partisanship is so strong today because our parties are so weak. Both Democrats and Republicans have become incapable of defining and protecting their long-term interests on a time horizon longer than the news cycle.
Prior to the “reforms” of the early 1970s, our democratic system depended largely on the internally undemocratic nature of the parties. Under the pre-1972 system, independent socialist Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have been allowed to run for president as a Democrat, and Donald Trump wouldn’t have gotten within 100 miles of the Republican nomination.
Because we live in such an unthinkingly populist time in which even the president can whine that the “system is rigged” without irony or fear of correction, it’s difficult for many people to grasp how totally democratized the parties have become.