Think the two-party system stinks? If you’re like 60 percent of Americans, you agree that the Democratic and Republican Parties don’t accurately represent the views of the nation. Well, I’ve got good news for you: neither party will exist in its current state within five years. The party dynamic that has existed uneasily since the 1980 election is not just dying, it’s already been killed. That’s right, the zombie apocalypse has finally come, and the walking dead hold our nation’s capital.
Tectonic shifts in American politics over the past 10 years have all but ensured that the current bipolar system is failing, leaving both parties hopelessly corrupted and an entire electorate disillusioned. The decrease in effectiveness of the tools from which the parties derive their powers, coupled with desperate tactics they use to stay relevant, has strained the system to its breaking point.
Party dominance in fundraising is evaporating. In the Age of the Super PAC, the party is not the critical source of funding that it used to be. Under the McCain-Feingold system of campaign finance, a candidate can only personally receive $2,500 a year from a given donor, while the national, state, and local party can together receive $45,800 in the same year. These rules enable the party to receive an immense amount of money and therefore power. However, a candidate’s affiliated Super PAC can receive an unlimited amount of money. A major donor can donate “a la carte” to his or her candidate of choice without limit while circumventing the party altogether. As a result, candidates require party support much less than they did before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
Knowing that their direct power is waning, at least one party has capitalized on the sole advantage they still hold onto: brand loyalty. Merely holding the endorsement of either the Republican or Democratic parties historically guarantees a presidential candidate 40 percent of the total vote, with elections being won or lost in the fight for the approximate fifth of so-called swing voters. Similar statistics, though obviously dependent on year and area, exist for down-ticket candidates. The Republicans have been ruthless in circling the wagons and enforcing party loyalty, casting out apostates as RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only). Since the 2008 election, though, over 2.5 million voters have left the two parties, while the share of unaffiliated voters has steadily grown over the years.
The Republican Party in particular is ready to burst. To see the party rupturing at its seams, look no further than it’s two top congressional leaders. Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) represents the classical conception of the modern Republican Party, a midwestern, pragmatic country club conservative who is ultimately willing to reach across the aisle to make deals. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) has been leading a successful insurrection within the party ranks, embodying a much more extreme form of conservative zealotry. Such is the wing responsible for much of the more terrifying and infuriating chapters of the 112th Congress. Tension has gotten so high that aides for the two supposed allies had to call a secret “truce” with one another. The Party is a house divided which cannot stand for much longer.
Mitt Romney may be the Brahmin that broke the camel’s back. His main selling point is that he embodies the Platonic ideal of the Republican: the business expertise, the deeply held religious ethic, the perfect hair. But the repeated fiery ascents and collapses of candidates high on demagoguery and low on plausibility—in rough chronology Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, Gingrich—has shown that there is a major wing of the party that can no longer accept this kind of perceived moderate.
Such deep party divisions may lead to a full-scale schism. Try 1948, when southern Democrats angered by the strong government and racial integration policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Class of 1904) and Harry S. Truman seceded from the party to become the “Dixiecrats” before being absorbed by the Republicans. Or 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt (Class of 1880) established the Bull Moose Party that broke the Republican party into “progressive” and “conservative” wings for decades to come.
If Romney loses this November, watch out for a GOP internecine war developing between now and 2016, one that might end with a Tea Party secession and moderates from both parties allying under a new moderate, something like Obama without the baggage he’s accrued in his first term.
Though the chance of this brewing realignment to affect the 2012 election may have passed, don’t be surprised if a party with the last name like Bloomberg or Huntsman or Petraeus starts to shake up the red and blue on a map sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Sam N. Adams ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House.