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We need stronger candidates, not stronger parties

We need stronger candidates, not stronger parties

So here we have another typical week in the capital: President Trump humiliated his own United Nations secretary, Nikki Haley, who announced to the world that the administration was handing down new sanctions against the Russians without realizing that Trump had decided not to do that, because by now it’s clear that he’s way more protective of Moscow than he is of anyone in his administration.

(A little free advice for the president: If you’re going to undermine a member of your Cabinet, maybe choose Pruitt or DeVos, or someone else who wouldn’t completely dismantle you in a Republican primary if she woke up one morning and thought to herself, “Ah, what the hell.”)

But let’s leave the daily drama of Trump’s Washington there for now, and let’s talk instead about the much larger question of how we got here and where we’re headed.

As you may have seen, my colleague Jon Ward, who’s one of the best political reporters anywhere, published a thoughtful and provocative mini-treatise this week about the decline of parties over the last half century or so.

I know how it feels to have your complex ideas distilled down to CliffsNotes, so I hope you’ll read Jon’s piece for yourself rather than rely on my summation, but essentially the argument goes like this: Reforms that were meant to transfer power away from party establishments to individual voters, beginning in the 1960s, have had the perverse effect, over time, of obliterating a crucial buffer between the voters and all manner of extremists or charlatans.

With weaker parties comes not the idealized form of democratic participation that reformers had envisioned, but rather a riotous process that allows someone like Donald Trump to pretty much walk in and take over the entire operation with a plurality of reactionary supporters.

To be clear, I don’t think Jon is suggesting we return to the days when a handful of party bosses could effectively choose or veto the nominees. He’s saying that the system has tipped too far now in the other direction, and that the only way to save our political system is to rediscover a balance that gives party elites more control — something more along the lines of the superdelegate system Democrats instituted in the 1980s.

(Jon’s also launched a fun podcast around this subject, which I’ll take a moment here to plug.)

It’s hard to argue with the diagnosis here. The system for selecting candidates we have now is too easily overwhelmed by passionate minorities and digitized mobs, and I’m betting that Democrats who felt smug about the implosion of Republicans in 2016 are about to find out just how perilously unruly the process can get for them, too.

But when it comes to the remedy, I arrive at a slightly different, and maybe more optimistic, place.

For one thing, I’ve never been a fan of political parties, generally. As party structures have grown weaker over the course of my lifetime, and as more of us have chosen to remain unaffiliated, the parties themselves have become increasingly dogmatic, homogeneous and intolerant of dissent. Most often, they reflect the impulses of their most cloistered constituents.

I can’t imagine that giving those party establishments more control over our politics would actually have any kind of moderating or ennobling influence, even if we could.

More to the point, we can’t, or at least not without a well-equipped DeLorean. Parties haven’t lost their influence because we changed the rules; we changed the rules because big institutions everywhere were beginning to lose their influence.

I’ve written often over the past two decades, the centralreality of our time.” data-reactid=”51″>That’s not a trend we can just decide to reverse. It is, as <a href=”h

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