Upending decades of political tradition, the Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved a sweeping overhaul of the Democratic primary process, a critical step in President Biden’s effort to transform the way the party picks its presidential nominees.
For years, presidential nominating contests have begun with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, a matter of immense pride in those states, and a source of political identity for many highly engaged residents.
But amid forceful calls for a calendar that better reflects the racial diversity of the Democratic Party and the country — and after Iowa’s 2020 meltdown led to a major delay in results — Democrats voted to endorse a proposal that starts the 2024 Democratic presidential primary circuit on Feb. 3 in South Carolina, the state that resuscitated Mr. Biden’s once-flailing candidacy. New Hampshire and Nevada are scheduled to follow on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and then Michigan on Feb. 27.
Category Archives: political parties
“Do We Need to Party Better to Fix U.S. Democracy?”
Didi Kuo and I recently spoke with Daniel Stid, Executive Director of Lyceum Labs about our recent article, Associational Party Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy. Daniel pushed us on the questions such as whether we are calling for a turn away from national politics and how we think about parties past. We reminded party skeptics that they are part of the party already. A lightly edited version of the full conversation appears on the Art of Association.
“Will the Real G.O.P. Please Stand Up? A National Power Struggle Goes Local.”
Zach Scherer, a 20-year-old car salesman and Republican activist in Pennsylvania’s Butler County, decided to run for a seat on the county commission this year — a move that ordinarily would mean seeking the endorsement of local Republican Party leaders.
In Butler County, this raised an unusual question: Which Republican Party?
Last spring, the officially recognized Butler County Republican Committee was divided by a right-wing grass-roots insurgency, then divided again by a power struggle among the insurgents. There have been a lawsuit, an intervention by the state Republican Party and a dispute over a booth at the local farm show.
Butler, a rural county in western Pennsylvania where Donald J. Trump won nearly twice as many votes as Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020, now has three organizations claiming to be the true tribune of local Republicans. All of them consider the others illegitimate.
“There is, in effect, no committee,” said Al Lindsay, a four-decade veteran of the local party, who was ousted as committee chairman last year.
The partisans in Pennsylvania agree about one thing, if not much else: Their fight is a microcosm of the national struggle for control over the Republican Party, one that began with Mr. Trump but has been inflamed by the party’s weak showing in the midterm elections….
The current rifts date most directly to Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020, when his relentless claims of a stolen election divided Republican leaders between those who took up Mr. Trump’s cause and those who wanted to move on.
In several closely contested states, state party leaders loudly supported his election claims, and backed the Republican candidates who earned Mr. Trump’s endorsements by doing the same. But many of those candidates were extreme or erratic politicians who would go on to lose in November, and their nominations have caused enduring divisions. ….
After watching videos of Mr. Bannon advocating the precinct strategy, he began recruiting local candidates. “I told them what we wanted to do,” he said, “which was take over the Republican Party.”
His group scouted potential candidates by identifying “super voters” — registered Republicans who had voted in two consecutive elections — and canvassing personal networks on Facebook and Telegram. Corey Check, a 20-year-old member of the Patriot group who ran for committeeman in his township, said he recruited one candidate for committeewoman after noticing a cardboard cutout of Mr. Trump in front of her house and knocking on the door.
Mr. Scherer’s Patriot group made common cause with Mr. Halle, a born-again evangelical pastor, who had recently clashed with Mr. Lindsay and other local committee leaders.
Both Mr. Halle and Mr. Lindsay agree that their disputes were less over ideology than what the party apparatus was best used for. Mr. Halle saw it as a vehicle for remaking a state party whose compromises on Covid quarantines, mail-in voting and responses to 2020 election fraud claims he considered unacceptable. Mr. Lindsay — who describes himself as strongly anti-abortion and favored investigating the 2020 election outcome in Butler County — saw it chiefly as a vehicle for electing Republicans.
“Our opponents were Democrats — or that’s what we thought,” Mr. Lindsay said. “These people were not interested in that. They were interested in attacking Republicans.”
“The GOP’s great Trump reckoning begins at the state party level”
But underwhelming midterm performances across the board have already ignited a wave of intraparty conflagrations. And as a post-midterm power vacuum in Michigan, New Hampshire and other pivotal states threatens to weaken Trump’s vise grip on state party apparatuses, Republican insiders are jostling for what they believe will be a great resorting.
Some of the first shots fired came via a Michigan GOP memo leaked on Twitter by none other than the state’s defeated gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon. The Nov. 10 memo, authored by state party chief of staff Paul Cordes, blamed “the Trump effect” for the party’s historic losses in the midterms. Two days later, Dixon tweeted that she was weighing her own bid for party chair — possibly challenging the defeated Trump-backed attorney general nominee, Matthew DePerno.
Some Republicans told POLITICO the memo didn’t go far enough in criticizing and identifying the direction of the party, which they said ceded too much power to co-chair Meshawn Maddock to broker Trump endorsements up and down the ballot.
“For the GOP to have any chance in [Michigan] in  the leadership has to be changed in full to someone focused on winning and who is totally dedicated to making sure that the people who are encouraged to win primaries are those who will appeal to the median general election voter,” a Republican operative familiar with the state told POLITICO. “A ton hangs on the decisions that will be made on this in the coming weeks and months.”
Jeff Timmer, the former state party executive director and a senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, put it more bluntly. The memo, he said, “was a ‘fuck you’ to the Meshawn Maddocks and the MAGAS.”
In New Hampshire, it’s a similar tale. GOP Chair Steve Stepanek, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign state co-chairs, is likely to face a leadership challenge after Democrats trampled the party’s congressional candidates and brought themselves within a few recounts of taking the state House.
The Limits of Federal Voting Rights Reform
Voting rights are under attack, both by Republican state legislature and by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Given Congress’s rejection of voting reforms in January 2022, Didi Kuo and I argue, in our new article, that it is time to reconsider strategies for democracy reform. Our argument, however, is not just strategic. To suggest that reformers need to choose between legislative efforts to secure voting rights and political organizing through parties is obviously a false dichotomy. But it is also the case that too often federal voting rights legislation is presented as a panacea to our democratic ills without sufficient consideration of its limitations as a reform strategy.
First, it is not clear that the sweeping federal reforms that have been proposed would pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court has reduced the scope of both federal voting rights and federal oversight over voting rights—and, thereby, the extent of voting rights violations by states. There is also a high likelihood that if pushed the Supreme Court would have extended its federalism concerns to its Elections Clause jurisprudence.
Second, reforms to election procedures are not a panacea. Voters should have easier access to the ballot. Redistricting should be less partisan, and there should be greater transparency in campaign financing. But creating uniform federal standards for election administration and increasing voting access would not necessarily reduce polarization or make it easier for congressional majorities to pass policies. Several procedural reforms (eliminating the ﬁlibuster or mandating rank-choice voting in party primaries) might have more traction restoring conﬁdence in Congress, but those are rarely part of the package of election reforms and were not part of the package rejected in 2022.
By comparison, political participation as evident from recent high-turnout and civically engaged elections have yielded important policy results at the state and local levels. In 2020, Floridians passed a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to ﬁfteen dollars. Tellingly, more Floridians voted to raise the minimum wage than in the presidential election. The stories of ballot initiatives in 2018 and 2022 are similar. Bipartisan majorities have also led to the direct enactment of a variety of election reforms, from Kentucky (which made early in-person voting permanent) to Vermont (which mandated absentee ballots for all registered voters).
Our argument, however, is not that we should have more direct democracy. Our argument is that:
“Mass participation would be more consistently effective . . . if it were channeled through participatory party organizations. Associational parties, as we call them, can do even better than idiosyncratic mass participation to promote the demands of voters and begin to restore the fraying trust between citizens and government in the United States.”
“Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy”
Didi Kuo (Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University) and I are excited to share our new article, Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy, which is out today in the Columbia Law Review Forum.
This Piece advances a fundamentally different orientation to democracy reform. It starts from the premise that the ultimate normative goals of democratic reform should be policy responsiveness and the restoration of confidence in government through its functionality. And it looks to ways to achieve those goals without legislative intervention. Voters should have easier access to the ballot. Legislatures must be un-gerrymandered, and economic elites, like hyper-partisan ideologues, should have less inﬂuence over politics. But, we argue, procedural reforms do little to ensure government responsiveness. Political parties, by contrast, if systematically strengthened as organizations with deeper ties to voters, have enormous potential to boost not just voter turnout, but democracy itself.
Political parties are the only civic associations with the capacity to organize at a scale that matters and the only intermediaries that both communicate with voters and govern. Yet it is no surprise that many Americans, including democracy reformers, are skeptical about political parties. They seem incapable of performing their basic representative functions. Further, pundits and scholars focus much more on parties as vehicles for funding elections, as policy-demanders, or as heuristic brands governed by political elites, rather than as intermediaries.
Our Piece argues that Americans need to shed their anti-partyism. We explain why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there. Distilling and further developing an argument I first made in 2019, we explain that reestablishing parties as strong intermediaries with linkages to civic groups and citizens is likely to be an effective strategy, in the long run, for rebuilding trust in democratic institutions overall. Parties with the commitment and capacity to engage in mobilization between election cycles, including through local civic groups, have the potential to bring about the responsiveness essential for democratic governance and public trust. The Piece both articulates the basis for these theoretical hypotheses and offers preliminary data to support them.
In all, we advance a fundamentally different conception of political parties in the hopes of setting a research agenda capable of more systematically testing the hypothesis. Over the next few days, I look forward to sharing more details about our argument.
“A QAnon Democrat? Fierce 2022 Warfare Erupts in Deep-Blue California”
The mailers and online ads vividly paint David Kim as a right-wing extremist, accusing him of running for a House seat in California “with QAnon-MAGA support” from “QAnon Republicans.”
But Mr. Kim is not a Republican. He’s a progressive Democrat who supports “Medicare for all” and a Green New Deal. And the attacks come from a fellow progressive Democrat, Representative Jimmy Gomez, who is fighting to keep his seat in Congress.
The vitriol in what is normally a quiet race for a decidedly safe Democratic seat illustrates how liberal California, of all places, has become home to some of this year’s most vicious political mudslinging — and not across party lines.
Unlike a vast majority of the country, where voters are mulling the yawning ideological gaps between Republicans and Democrats on their midterm ballots, California has a top-two open primary system, which means two Democrats can — and often do — square off against each other in general elections. And in many cases, those candidates prove strikingly similar on policy, forcing them to dig deep to distinguish themselves.
Lately, it’s grown pretty nasty.
Democrats are running against Democrats in six House races, 18 state races, and dozens of municipal and local elections around California in November. In many contests, the candidates have resorted to extreme and divisive language, in a reflection of the growing polarization of American politics.
“Ticket-splitting voters were going extinct. Now they may decide 2022’s biggest races.”
Fascinating new NBC report on polling: “In battleground states from Georgia to New Hampshire to Ohio, a potentially decisive slice of voters tell pollsters they’re supporting a Democrat for one high-profile office and a Republican for another. Nowhere is the dynamic clearer than in Pennsylvania.” Most interesting of all, police unions in Pennsylvania seem to be splitting their endorsements.
“Within the past two weeks, an Oz campaign co-chair was spotted at a Shapiro fundraiser while two major police unions, one representing Philadelphia officers and the other Pennsylvania state troopers, offered endorsements of Oz and Shapiro.”
“Forget ‘polarization.’ The problem is right-wing extremism.”
Jennifer Rubin makes a key point in this Opinion piece in the Washington Post, arguing that the problem in American politics today is not polarization but “right-wing extremism”: Democrats are not selecting extreme candidates. For example, as of July, in “the 22 primaries in safe Democratic seats in which a progressive candidate challenged a more moderate one, the moderate candidate won 14 — or about two-thirds — of the races.”
“It’s not polarization when one party recognizes the results of a democratic election and the other does not. That’s radicalization of the GOP. Nor is it polarization when the GOP reverts to positions it has not held for decades (e.g., banning abortion nationwide, ending the protected status of entitlements) while the Democratic Party accommodates its most conservative members as it crafts popular legislation (e.g., paring back proposals to allow the government to negotiate prices for pharmaceutical drugs).”
With or without what kind of parties? And at what cost?
Today was the 10th Anniversary of the Mischief of Faction Blog, which started from the premise that “on balance, a nation is better off with parties than without them.” Seth Masket and Julie Azari took the opportunity to reflect on the state of American political parties. As Masket notes, “The past decade has taught us a lot about the dark side of parties.” Ultimately, Masket, like many in this field, points to the party primary as the problem. Azari, by contrast, urges political scientists to consider whether the traditional goals and assumptions of the field match political realities and institutions. The former is a more comfortable space for election law reformers. And yet, as Azari recognizes, institutions matter. And for the foreseeable future, the Supreme Court (an institution) and its doctrine (part of that institution) significantly constrain the feasibility of many of the most promising ideas for reforming party primaries.
The question then is what options remain for encouraging democratically functional parties. One idea that appears to be gaining ground in public discourse is fusion politics. Just today, Andy Craig published a short but clear argument in favor of fusion politics for Cato. It offers a particularly nice history of efforts to ban fusion candidacies and posits fusion politics as an answer to polarization, one that will bring more independents into politics–and presumably by expanding the electorate increase democratic accountability and responsiveness. While I generally agree with those goals (the latter in particular), I do think we should all pause to reflect on Azari’s most provocative question, what if polarization is “the result of progress on race and gender issues”? Viewed in this light, should we worry that a return to moderation and compromise (even if possible) would be backsliding?
Party Leaders Seek to Rein in Extremists through Spending–But Quietly
A new Washington Post report suggests that Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney, as party leaders, are both working to bringing order back to the Republican Party. It is only their methods and interests that differ. McCarthy’s interests appear to be mostly about maintaining his own political power–as the political science literature would expect. That apolitical interest, however, has led to a campaign of often secret spending “to create a more functioning GOP caucus next year.”
“The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning.”
The article describes a large “behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues.”
“After Sarah Palin’s election loss, Sen. Tom Cotton calls ranked choice voting ‘a scam'”
After Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin in Alaska’s special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., discredited the voting system used by Alaska voters that they chose to implement in their state.
Cotton tweeted that Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system “is a scam to rig elections,” casting doubt on the outcome of the process to fill the seat of late GOP Rep. Don Young.
“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat ‘won,'” Cotton said in a separate tweet.
fter Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin in Alaska’s special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., discredited the voting system used by Alaska voters that they chose to implement in their state.
Cotton tweeted that Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system “is a scam to rig elections,” casting doubt on the outcome of the process to fill the seat of late GOP Rep. Don Young.
“60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion — which disenfranchises voters — a Democrat ‘won,'” Cotton said in a separate tweet….
In response to Cotton, retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted, “Ranked choice voting gives all Americans a voice and not the extremes of a party. So youd be outta luck. No wonder you don’t like it.”
“Two nonbinary candidates make history with election to Maryland’s Democratic Central Committee”
Hopkins’ and Bowens’ strong showings in the July 19 primary has focused attention on the Democratic Party’s efforts to be more inclusive from a gender standpoint. The DCC voted in 2018 to allow nonbinary candidates to identify as such, and it subsequently established a third gender category to help guide committee elections. The party had required an equal number of male and female DCC members, but now says nonbinary candidates must be factored in.
LGBTQ people make up 0.02% of elected officials in the nation, according to Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs at the Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ candidates. Meloy said that in the last five years, the country has gone from no trans elected officials at any level to double digits in 2022. There were 11 nonbinary elected officials in the United States as of June, according to the Victory Fund’s database.
Meloy said hearing about the success in Maryland makes him feel great.
“We have a diverse party,” he said. “We need to make sure that the full diversity of our community is represented.”
Pildes: “It’s not just us. Western democracies are fragmenting.”
Rick Pildes, in the Wash Post:
Three major elections on the same Sunday in June — in France, Colombia and Spain — tell the fundamental story of democracy in our era: the continuous disaffection with government, the collapse of traditionally dominant parties and figures, and the constant search for alternatives — which is quickly followed by yet more disaffection and the search for yet other alternatives. This is no longer a narrative of dysfunction distinctive to one country, if it ever was. The Conservative Party in Britain is now scrambling to find a new prime minister; the government in Italy is near collapse. The nature of political authority has fundamentally changed. Political power has become fragmented, as voters abandon traditional parties and turn to upstart, insurgent parties or independent, free agent politicians from across the political spectrum.
In multiparty democracies, such as the three that held elections last month, the fragmentation of political power makes it more difficult to form governments, causes those governments to be fragile and prone to collapse, and weakens their capacity to deliver effective policies. Politics in the United States, with our well-entrenched two-party system, are nonetheless being shaped by similar forces — although here fragmentation means the Democratic and Republican parties are torn by internal factional conflicts that party leaders struggle to surmount.