Political parties seem like a permanent feature of modern Western societies, but there’s no reason to think they are permanent. At the founding of America, parties were looked down upon as a potential problem for a self-governing republic. In Federalist 9 and 10 Madison argued that the proposed constitution would guard against factionalism and was essential to preventing partisan government.
In the 19th century, political parties made a lot of sense simply for organizational reasons. The only way you can stuff the ballot boxes and intimidate voters is with a well-organized ground game. No matter how rich the candidate, he could never overcome the army of poll workers, ward healers and bagmen that the party could deploy in every election. If you wanted to run for office, you had to do so as a party man.
That reality has been with us for a long time, so it is proper to think it is just the way it has to be. Independent runs for president have all ended in tears, mostly because the parties own the system. Attempts at creating third parties in America have failed because the resources involved in pulling it off are just too great. Ross Perot probably came the closest to pulling it off. Maybe the Green Party. Both efforts failed when their famous leader left the stage.
I wonder if what the Trump phenomenon really portends is an end of national parties or at least the decline of the parties as king makers at the national level. Trump is a surprisingly capable politician, but his success is remarkable given that his party and its media operation is blasting him relentlessly. The coordinated assault against him this week is a curious thing in that it looks like they are pushing all of their chips into the middle of the table.
They may be doing exactly that. Trump is spending his own money on local political operators in Iowa and New Hampshire so he can compete at the street level, but without the massive overhang of the consultancy and their party patrons. If Trump manages to win the nomination, and it is looking like a certainty right now, a lot of other rich guys are going to wonder if they could do the same.
One of those is the filthy rich former mayor of New York City, who is thinking about an independent run. Unlike Trump, Bloomy would run as a third party option, but he has a ton of cash and a lot of connections in Progressive circles. It’s not unreasonable to think he could siphon off a lot of the Democrat Party organization for his effort. Given the options on the Democrat side, it’s not unreasonable to think he could do well.
As an aside, how unreasonable is it to think that National Review and The Weekly Standard would come out and support Bloomberg over Trump and Sanders? They agree with him on more issues than they disagree and he would be down with the invade the world/invite the world paradigm. More important, he’s their sort of people.
Anyway, we have billionaires launching rockets into space, planning a Mars voyage and creating robots that promise to become aware and unleash terminators on humanity. That’s all cool stuff but being in charge of the Imperial Army as the temporary Emperor is way cooler. You can be sure they are looking at what Trump is doing and thinking they could do the same thing.
In the past, what has kept rich guys from running for office is the hassle of dealing with party politics. In order to get in the game, you had to suck up to a lot of twerps and losers who have burrowed into the system like weevils. If you can blow past that and assemble your own temporary campaign machine that does all the stuff the party does, but without all the party nonsense, why not do it?
Of course, this is a form of Caesarism, but updated to the modern mass media world. Instead of a cult of personality and bully-boy tactics, it will be mass media strategies and the bribing of interest groups. Americans are used to experiencing elections in the same way they consume talent shows. Having a bunch of rich guys staging these things without the hassle of political parties is not a great leap.
That’s certainly part of what is unnerving Conservative Inc about the Trump campaign. If this crude rich guy can buy his way into the game and then shove aside the commentariat on his way to the nomination, why will anyone bother catering to them in the future? While I think most of the tantrums, we’re seeing are just a way to get attention, some of them are smart enough to see the threat.
The parties will still have a role as the legislative bodies are regulated to the benefit of political parties. As dangerous as Caesarism sounds, the American system allows for the legislature to claw back its authority in hurry if it cares to do it. Maybe the specter of billionaires buying the White House is what’s needed to slap the political parties to their senses and maybe is what’s needed for the Congress to reassert its role in government.
Or maybe we’re doomed.