We don’t have third parties here, but we have seen some of the same energies. Surveying the landscape in 2014, David Schleicher, now of Yale Law School, suggested that the basic turn made, both in Europe and North America, was to a politics that was “fundamentalist or expressive”—in which voters cared less about compromise or policy success and more about ideological clarity. What complicated matters here, in Schleicher’s view, was the peculiar structure of American elections.
Because third parties are functionally forbidden but primaries are open to all comers, that same pairing of rejectionism and nationalism, and the same tilt toward politics as expression, has been compelled to fight for the leadership of the G.O.P.
So the Tea Party, for all of the hype and interest surrounding it, has matured into a factional force, which is now consumed by a campaign to radicalize the leadership of the Republican Party. The voters whose ferocity powered the insurgency, however, never seemed interested in building a conservative coalition that would win a national majority. Their politics seemed expressive; they wanted a party whose identity reflected theirs. In their raw anger and their nativism and their comfort with the fringe, they seemed like people who, in the currents of social change, thought they were being left behind. They seemed, in other words, like third-party voters. And their growth, in some ways, mirrored that of the populist movements whose influence grew in the West after the global financial crisis.