Divide to Unite: Split the Democratic and Republican Parties
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are struggling with internal divides that have no real prospect of being resolved. The only sane path forward is to split both parties so that the more moderate elements can thrive while at the same time allowing the more radical elements to thrive as well, to be front and center in the general elections, not just to have their voices heard (lost?) in a dysfunctional primary system.
The two-party system was great while it lasted, but it has now clearly stayed past it’s welcome. We’ve clearly outgrown two parties. It’s time to move on.
The goal would be that the two moderate party wings, one Democratic and the other Republican, would generally govern as a coalition.
In rare times one of the two radical wing parties would have an edge and then govern as a coalition with its corresponding moderate wing.
In even more rare times one of the two radical wings would gain power and a governing majority, which would be fine if that’s what the voters chose. The point would be that this would be a true, broad voter choice, not simply due to a weakness of the moderate wings in primary contests.
This paper explores the various aspects of implementing this proposed evolution of party politics in America.
To be clear, it is the intent of this paper that this proposal be implemented ASAP, not some pie in the sky academic thought experiment.
Is this a manifesto? Well, I guess I have to admit that it is, except for the simple fact that I am not in a position of power in any party to be issuing a manifesto at all.
Again, to be super clear, it is the position of this paper that the time is right and ripe for this proposal to be implemented as soon and as quickly as humanly possible.
This is not intended as an academic exercise, a pie in the sky thought experiment.
That said, it could take years, several election cycles, before it finally sinks in for politicians that the old party system is truly, completely broken.
Right now, so many people are simply in denial, fantasizing that a few tweaks here and there can fix things and that we can quickly all be happy again.
A number of benefits would accrue to splitting the parties:
- Voters get more choice in the main election.
- Voters get to vote for a candidate closer to their own interests.
- Citizens get to feel a greater sense of pride in their government and the democratic process.
- Moderate candidates are not deterred in primary elections and held hostage by extremists in their own party.
- Many so-called Independents would quickly find a home in one of the four new parties, expanding the base of these parties.
- Radicals get greater exposure and a chance in the main election.
- Moderates are not held hostage by radical elements of their own party when governing out of fear of primary challengers in the next election.
- The two moderate parties have a greater opportunity to cooperate and compromise without being held hostage by extremists on their own side of the aisle.
- Less risk that on rare occasion an extremist faction can gain power.
How to deal with the Electoral College
With four parties, it will be very likely that frequently none of the four candidates for president gains an absolute majority of electoral votes.
The good news is that this is not a problem per se. It simply means that the House of Representatives gets to vote for president, and vice president. There, each of the four parties can then decide whether to go down in flames with their party choice, or to switch to one of the other two party choices that they would prefer to win.
Note that by definition, by the Constitution, only the top three candidates from the Electoral College vote are subject to the vote in the House. Also, each state gets one vote, not each representative. Still, this is all a workable system that does not mean that the idea of four parties is fatally flawed. In fact, it probably highlights the merit of four parties.
There are probably other ways of dealing with the difficulty of reaching an Electoral College majority, but here are a few to choose from once it becomes clear who has how many electoral votes from the popular general election with no electoral majority winner:
- One of the parties which seeks more control over its destiny picks one of the others which it would prefer to win and declares that it will vote in their favor.
- One of the parties which seeks to win offers promises or assurances to one of the other parties to obtain their votes in its favor.
- Two of the parties which prefer each other to either of the other two agree to share power. Party with lesser votes agrees to give their votes to the larger winner.
- Two of the parties which prefer each other to either of the other two agree to share power. Agree to flip a coin if tied or even if one had more votes than the other.
- Two of the parties which prefer each other to either of the other two agree to share power. Extended negotiation to determine whose candidate to favor for president.
Who becomes vice president when there is a coalition? It could vary. In some elections the president and vice president would come from the same party. In other cases, the vice president might be chosen as the presidential candidate of the other party, especially if the desire to govern more amicably as a coalition is strong enough.
As an added twist, a pair of coalition parties could decide to swap presidents in midterm, the president resigning, the vice president ascending, and then appointing the former president to be vice president. Weird maybe, but possible, especially if it makes ruling by coalition more feasible.
How to do it
Some of the various possibilities:
- An amicable split. A friendly party of the ways. Both wings can read the writing on the wall and believe that they can work better together as a coalition rather than as a single party with a winner take all philosophy.
- Just do it because the other side is doing it. A split party on the other side could be a serious threat. The only way to counter it would be a similar split. Besides, the split party can always govern as a coalition anyway.
- Natural split of a splinter group. No negotiation or deal needed. A splinter group can simply leave the old party and form a new party.
Do both parties have to split at the same time?
In a word, no. There might be benefits to splitting before the same election, but it wouldn’t be fatal.
It all depends on how the split occurred.
If the split was amicable enough to make it clear that the two wings are likely to govern as a coalition, the sooner the split the better. Get people used to it and comfortable with it.
Would a split weaken the party even as a coalition?
Yes, it’s possible that the split party would result in less net power in government, but it’s just as likely that the two separated parties might be able to muster greater net power since each would be more energized and more likely to have increased voter turnout.
Most importantly, each moderate wing party would be more able to attract voters from the moderate wing of the other side. And if the intention is that the moderate parties will govern as a coalition if neither wins, there is no dramatic downside to stealing from the other moderate party.
In general, the split party pair would only have less net power to the degree that their divide is less than amicable and the divide on the other side is more amicable.
But the bottom line is that a single party seriously divided is unlikely to prevail against anything but an even more seriously divided party on the other side.
Isn’t it risky to split one party if the other doesn’t?
In some cases, it could be risky for one party to split while the other remains whole, in which case the split should simply be deferred.
But given the nature of the current intraparty divides, it simply isn’t practical or desirable to delay splitting indefinitely.
The real point is that a split will occur only because the members and leaders of a party feel that there is no other way forward. In other words, they seek to split regardless of the short-term consequences anyway. So the fact that there is some potential downside is a moot point.
Besides, there are actually distinct advantages of splitting first:
- The two new parties will be much more energized and much more able to attract voters.
- The new moderate party will now be much more appealing to crossover voters from the moderate wing of the non-splitting party.
Sounds like a win-win to me.
Doesn’t it just shift the vicious primary battles into the general election?
Yes and no.
Yes, obviously all four candidates want to win. And will do anything to do so. Great political theater.
But, a big part of why primary campaigns can be so vicious is that only by winning in the primary can you get the chance to appear in the general election.
Failure to win the primary means your voice won’t get heard by the people who really matter.
It is that simple fact of assuring that all four candidates get their voices heard by all the people which will assure that much of the viciousness is dispelled.
Then, in the general election, all four candidates can rest assured that they will be heard out by all the people without some party hacks blocking their way.
Make 60 votes the norm in the Senate
The goal is to assure that governance has as broad a base of support as possible. Trying to govern with only a slim majority is a recipe for disharmony that can only end badly.
Changes to laws should have a very clear majority of support. A slim majority of support will result in laws that do not have broad support.
51 votes in the Senate is more a sign that something is wrong rather than a sign of great victory.
The 60 vote threshold should be the norm for virtually everything the Senate does.
In fact, the goal here is to encourage coalitions, rather than one party seeking to gain partisan advantage.
That said, there are special cases such as executive appointment confirmations. My solution: flip the process on its head; instead of requiring the Senate to approve an appointment, the Senate could vote only to deny an appointment. So, the Senate would have the ability to be a check on the executive branch, but not have a stranglehold on relatively routine appointments.
Congressional leadership when no party has an absolute majority
Coalitions are very common or even the norm in many other countries, but have never been seen in the U.S. So, what does the term majority mean for Congress, such as for leadership roles, committee assignments, and controlling legislative agendas?
First, I’m not expert in a lot of the nuances of congressional organization, rules, and procedures.
Second, I think it can all be finessed or resolved in any case, even if it means redefining or adding some rules or procedures.
Third, the general principle of this proposal is that two of the four parties will combine their members and votes to form an absolute majority as a governing coalition.
An open question is what would happen if a single party does have an absolute majority but still seeks to form a governing coalition, for whatever reason. I don’t see any problem. Coalitions would probably become the norm, and would still be permitted even if one party had an absolute majority, but such a party could opt out of forming a coalition if it so chose.
The Speaker of the House is selected by a majority vote anyway, so the governing coalition would make the choice.
Senate majority leader and similar majority rules could be based on the governing coalition rather than the single party majority.
The governing coalition could select committee chairpersons as well.
Committee assignments are based on proportionality of members already.
What constitutes a ranking member is debatable, especially if the two parties outside the coalition have exactly equal membership. Maybe they could rotate.
In any case, none of this constitutes a fatal flaw in the proposal.
What if the parties refuse to form a governing coalition?
Technically, in extreme cases, the people might vote in candidates who simply refuse to cooperate with any other party, so that no party has a majority and no coalition can be formed.
Other countries may have had this situation, so we could look to what options they might have chosen.
One option would to simply wait for a cooling off (or warming up?) period to let the situation resolve itself.
Another option would be to force a new election. Another option would be that after a designated period of time, a simple plurality would be allowed wherever a majority is normally required.
In some cases, a plurality could become the norm to avoid the hassle and delays of lack of a majority, but not for all cases since a majority gives the government more credibility.
An extreme option would be that in the absence of an effective legislative branch, the executive branch may then govern and legislate in its absence, subject to the check of suits that could be brought by party members before the Supreme Court.
Could there be different coalitions in House and Senate?
Technically, there is no reason that different combinations of parties could decide to form coalitions in the House and the Senate.
It might be odd and could cause problems, but it’s not a fatal flaw in this proposal.
Besides, to the extent that each of the four new parties is much more tightly knit, such discord would be significantly less likely.
Although personality conflicts could rise to the level of exercising a veto over party preferences.
Could there be a different coalition for the Electoral College?
Technically, there is no reason why the coalition that elects the president would have to be the same as the coalition(s) in Congress.
That might be less common when the president is elected, but the coalition could shift during a midterm election.
In any case, this would not be a fatal flaw in this proposal.
Who gets the names?
Which of the two wings of the split parties would get to keep the original name of the party?
My inclination would be to retire both party names. After all, they are both very damaged brands.
I would imagine that whichever of the two wings feels most reinvigorated by the split would want a new name anyway. The other wing could then keep the old name if they so chose, although I imagine that they would want a new name as well.
It may also depend on how the split is actually accomplished, whether a friendly, amicable divorce, a hasty exit by a splinter group, or a long, drawn out, sordid affair. A splinter group would have to choose a new name anyway, leaving the remainder of the party free to keep its name or choose a new one.
There would be plenty of room for lawsuits as well. Especially if the two new names simply add an adjective but keep the original name as well, such as Conservative Republican Party or Progressive Democratic Party.
Again, I would opt for completely new names.
Maybe pick the name of the past president the new party most closely aligns and identifies with. Radical Democrats might call themselves The Party of Roosevelt, and moderate Republicans might call themselves The Party of Reagan. Just an idea.
There are so many interesting possibilities, so it would be a shame to cling to the old, tainted party names.
Who gets the party symbols?
The donkey and the elephant are well known symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, but who should get the rights to use those symbols when the parties split?
Should the moderates get to keep the symbols?
Should the bigger portion of the split party get the symbols?
Should the symbols be retired by definition?
Or are the brands of the two old parties so damaged and so tarnished that getting rid of the symbols is the more important matter?
I would argue for retirement of the symbols.
And I would argue that each party deserves a fresh, new, vibrant, invigorating, and inspiring symbol, something that young and old alike can rally around. Especially the young, in my own personal view.
Fresh new brands
Branding is important. Nominally it’s just marketing, but it’s more than that. Symbols, meaning, principles, and vision are important. Branding just ties it all together.
The problem is that the brands of both the Democratic and Republican parties are now so damaged and tarnished that nobody feels invigorated by them. They are plain and simply uninspiring, which is the kiss of death for brands.
Fresh and new brands are the only way to go. For both parties, for all four parties.
The concept of superdelegates was ignored by most people until the Democratic party primary of 2016 when they became a real issue for Bernie Sanders. They were seen as a way of protecting the status quo and making it almost impossible for an insurgent candidate like Bernie to prevail. Not absolutely impossible as Barack Obama proved in 2008, but still a monumental hurdle.
This whole notion of having a sense that the status quo must be preserved and defended in such an extreme manner is outright undemocratic. Primaries should be just as democratic as the general election — in my opinion.
In any case, if one of the wings of each split party wants to keep and value this notion of undemocratic superdelegates, let them. The existence of an alternative wing, either of the same party or of the other party gives people the freedom of choice they need.
And if too many party members start chattering about considering bolting due to the continued use of superdelegates, there’s a good chance that the practice will be eliminated.
Besides, if there is a clean split of each party, it is likely that many if not most practices of the old party would be thoroughly reviewed before casting them in stone for the new party. I can’t see undemocratic superdelegates surviving in any sane modern political party.
If anything, there is now a propensity for trying to achieve as close to direct democracy as possible, and primaries provide more of an opportunity for that — if run democratically.
Doesn’t resolve underlying ideological and policy divides
The main thing this approach does is eliminate the messy divides that we are encountering in primary elections and the inability of groups to cooperate and compromise in government out of fear of primary challengers in the next election.
To be clear, this approach does not eliminate any of the ideological or policy divides.
What it does do is eliminate those divides from the primary process.
The hope and expectation is that the higher likelihood of coalition government by the two moderate parties will generally work to minimize or at least paper over ideological and policy divides.
Right now, the two moderate party wings know full well that some degree of cooperation and compromise are needed, warranted, and even acceptable, but fear of primary challenges from the radical elements of their own parties keeps those moderate inclinations in check.
Ultimately the risk here is that failure to resolve the divides over the long run raises the risk that on rare occasion one of the radical party wings actually does gain power and then takes a scorched earth policy to anything resembling moderation and compromise. That in turn will eventually invite a counter-radical move. And if not that, then at a minimum an even more harshly divided and dysfunctional government.
What if it doesn’t work and the divides persist?
I concede that there is a fair chance that people will remain disenchanted with government even when this proposal has been given every possible chance to work. What then?
I have another proposal, rather more draconian, in that case: Dissolve the United States, with the prospect that states will then form regional federations of ideologically likeminded states. I’ll be posting a paper on that proposal a week or so after this paper.
Sure, even that might not work, although I think it would, in which case all hope is indeed lost, but as I said, I think it would work.
But that’s only a backup plan in case this proposal does not work. And I do think this proposal has a fair chance of working. In fact my backup plan should only be needed if this plan is not pursued and things spiral down to an even more dispirited state of affairs.
The last poll I saw, more people identified with being Independent than either party. That’s a great measure of the level of disenchantment with the two current main parties.
I suspect that a significant swath of these Independents would quickly identify with one or more of the four new parties.
Let the people choose
The ultimate answer to all concerns is to defer to the wisdom of the people. Let the people choose. The elites may not like the outcome, but the elites are there to serve the people, not the other way around.
Let the kids decide
Younger voters should have a greater say in the future of their democracy.
As things stand now, the party system is stacked against new, fresh faces in favor of preserving the stodgy old status quo.
The four new parties would each have a greater opportunity to appeal to younger voters.
What issues have I not addressed or maybe not even identified?
Although this is a serious proposal, there is no intention for it to be pursued in the very near future. We’ve got plenty of time.
It is just something to ponder more thoughtfully in the background as this country plods along in its current state of relative disharmony.
Until… at some point people will start repeatedly saying that enough is enough and something more drastic needs to be done than just repeatedly bashing our collective head against an unmoving and unchanging stone wall.
Work in progress
This proposal is not considered complete and comprehensive. It is everything that I have thought of, so far, but ideas will likely continue to pop up, so I expect that this will be a living document.
Or, maybe at some stage it peters out or becomes irrelevant and is finally relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history.
The current situation within the two main political parties is absolutely untenable and that the only sane path forward is to split both parties so that each of the four resulting ideological factions is deeply and passionately committed to all aspects of their respective party ideologies.
The two-party system was great while it lasted, but it has now clearly stayed past it’s welcome. We’ve clearly outgrown two parties. It’s time to move on.
Cooperation and compromise are very difficult even under the best of circumstances, but the current deep divides within parties make cooperation and compromise between parties untenable.
The prospect of two moderate parties would make cooperation and compromise tenable once again.
And the knowledge that the two new radical parties would not be forced to cooperate or compromise with moderate elements would reinvigorate public discourse and participation in the electoral process immensely.
My expectation is that once the radical elements are not forced to cooperate or compromise, then on occasion they would actually be much more willing to selectively cooperate and compromise when they see an advantage.
Voluntary association and freedom from coercion are two of the most significant hallmarks of a free and just society, and a workable government.