TECHNICALLY and historically speaking, political parties only have one purpose: To win elections.
No, really. That’s it.
To win, pure and simple.
The sooner you fully internalize this fact the more clearly you will see the world. Whether you will sleep more soundly at night is an open question.
But Jim, you say. Surely the reason for a political party is to advance that party’s ideas. It’s about the ideology, the issues. You just don’t get it.
Oh, I get it, all right.
Parties have ideologies, yes. Ideologies which shift with the times, almost always as a perceived way to help win elections and consolidate power.
Republicans began as the party of Lincoln, abolition, and emancipating slaves. Then came Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the ‘60s, expressly designed to play on white people’s fear of African American political enfranchisement and to take advantage of anger at the Civil Rights Movement.
To win elections. Which he did, twice.
Democrats were once the party of Jim Crow and the KKK. Hell, at one point they were the party of Jim Crow, the KKK, and the Civil Rights Movement, simultaneously!
Each side does whatever it takes to win.
One of the most common criticisms of the media is that we focus too much on horserace journalism, i.e., obsessively covering the ins and outs of the contest without focusing on “issues that matter.”
(And considering how poorly most journalists seem to grasp American history, civics, and issues these days it’s probably for the best.)
As an admitted political junkie I’m a little biased, but I see it differently. I think we’re doing everyone a favor by focusing on the horserace.
To me, one of the silver linings in this otherwise totally horrifying presidential election season has been that the mask has finally, at long last, been torn off the American electoral process.
You don’t want to see how your sausage is made. But once you do, you usually have a more realistic opinion of sausage.
Political parties exist to win elections. To serve themselves, not you. And party establishments run their primaries with that in mind.
They’ve always done this. You just may not have realized it before because they so often get it wrong. (See Mondale, Walter).
What you see today in both parties’ nomination processes are the ugly, cynical inner workings of two power-seeking organizations which exist for the sole purpose of winning elections and maintaining their own status quo.
What is really interesting is we’re also seeing what happens when those two goals — winning elections and maintaining status quo —diverge, and don’t necessarily represent the same thing.
For example, it was only a few years ago that anyone had a clue about what a “superdelegate” is, or had even heard of one. Now it seems all anyone does is count up superdelegates and muse on their loyalty or lack thereof.
Thing is, by design Democratic superdelegates are there to make sure the nod goes to the candidate the party thinks can win and maintain the status quo. That isn’t a conspiracy theory; that’s the express, stated purpose behind the Democratic superdelegate system.
Look at a list of them. Most are former or current Democratic officeholders and registered lobbyists, i.e., literally the status quo, the heart of the machine.
Given what we know about how the process was designed, the idea that the Democratic establishment would desert the machine that gave them so much power and instead back Sen. Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even a Democrat until only recently, seems unlikely to say the least.
Now, the fact that in nearly every general election poll Sanders polls better than Hillary Clinton against every Republican shows you how powerful the pull of the status quo really is.
Regardless of Sanders’ polling strength and his huge popularity with Millennials, i.e. future voters, the Democratic Party seems intent on dragging an FBI-investigated Clinton over the finish line.
We’ve occasionally seen this kind of schizophrenia before, but now we are seeing it play out with both parties simultaneously, which I believe is a first.
The Republican situation this year is even more bizarre.
Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump—and no one is ambivalent about him—in terms of raw votes he is likely to end up as the largest primary vote-winner in the entire 160-year history of the Republican Party.
That’s not an endorsement, just a statement of mathematical reality so far.
Yet now we see that the Republican Party status quo is willing to openly work to make sure their number-one vote-getter does not get the nomination—so much so that the absurd idea of naming a nominee at the convention who hasn’t received any votes has been floated as a possibility.
There isn’t much outrage over this outside of Trump circles mostly because so many people find Trump so objectionable. He provokes visceral and polarizing reactions which hinder objective analysis.
But as a thought exercise, replace Trump’s name with someone more reasonable and more palatable, and see if what the Republican Party is doing still makes any sense to you at all.
One could be charitable and say they’re going #NeverTrump because they find Trump’s ideas repellent (which seems odd given that the Republican brand is currently symbolized by an obsession with which bathrooms people can use).
Or one could be more cynical and say GOP leadership wants to deny Trump because they see the polls showing both Sanders and Clinton easily beating him.
In any case, as nauseating and execrable as this campaign has become, it’s a trainwreck you can’t keep your eyes off of.
It’s a very interesting time to be a political junkie, but my hope is that people can find a sort of solace in cynicism, as I confess I do.
Embrace the suck, as they say in the army.
Stop pledging blind allegiance to Team Red or Team Blue, because they’re both really on the same team — their team.
See that change comes from culture, from people, not from political parties or superdelegates or conventions and those who profit from the power those things confer.
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