A Republic, If We Can Keep It

Robert J. Lacey


The insurrection on January 6, 2021 was one of the darkest hours in American political history.  If there were any doubts that we live in desperate times, the images from that day have dispelled them for good.  Searching for causes, many commentators have pointed to our fragmented media landscape and to the echo chambers that provoke anger about stolen elections and other outlandish conspiracies.  There is plenty of blame to be placed on Fox News, Newsmax, Facebook, Twitter, and other media outlets, and we need to think about how to reduce the toxicity of our political discourse and the influence of cynical purveyors of misinformation.  But what I aim to argue here is that the shocking attack on our democracy should compel us to take seriously the proposition that our political institutions are in crisis, that a confluence of developments over the last half-century has produced an anti-majoritarian system in which the Republican Party can control the levers of power while behaving like a small extremist party.  

Simply put, the Republican Party has adopted what historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style,” which evokes “the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”[1]  If the paranoid style becomes prevalent in mainstream politics, it can pose a grave threat to any democracy.  While Hofstadter saw cause for concern in the right-wing activism that gave rise to the Goldwater insurgency of 1964, he argued that the paranoid style had operated primarily at the margins of American political life throughout its history.  Indeed, the landslide victory for Democrats that year seemed to confirm the view that ideological extremism could never be viable in American politics.  Yet we now face a moment where the Republican Party, caught in the throes of the paranoid style, remains competitive in our elections, and enjoys the influence and status of a major big-tent party.  How could this happen?  

We must reckon with the fact that, at least in their current configurations, neither the Constitution nor the American party system can solve the problem of faction of which James Madison warned his readers in the Federalist Papers.  Madison had political parties in mind when he referred to factions, and most of the founders regarded them as a threat to republican government.  They believed that a combination of men working to serve a particular set of interests could undermine the public good, especially if it somehow attained a majority.  But because factions were inevitable in a free society, argued Madison, the only solution to the problem was to find ways of controlling their effects, making it exceedingly difficult for any faction to become a majority power.  And there’s the rub: The founders were so fearful of majority tyranny that their constitutional design pays insufficient attention to the dangers of minority factions.  More specifically, it has created the conditions where a party that represents a shrinking minority of the population can wield disproportionate political power and then devise anti-democratic measures to buttress that power even further.  And the modern two-party system, often praised for supplementing Madison’s constitutional solution to the problem of faction, also fails to moderate our politics right now.  Writing in the late 1960s, Hofstadter counted on the attenuating influence of our major political parties, which he referred to as “great, bland, enveloping coalitions, eschewing the assertion of firm principles and ideologies.”[2]  It was inconceivable to him that the paranoid style could take hold of a major party.  

Hofstadter admitted that “certain features of our history have given the paranoid style more scope and force among us than it has had in many countries of the world.”  But for the most part, he said, “it has been the preferred style of only minority movements.”[3]  It was only at the margins of American political life where one could find groups that saw “a ‘vast’ and ‘gigantic’ conspiracy as the motive force in historical events.”  Consumed by apocalyptic delusions, such groups regard history itself as a conspiracy, “set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power,” and they believe that an “all-out crusade” against the forces of “absolute evil” is required to save civilization from utter destruction.[4]  There was always reason to be wary of such groups, said Hofstadter, but there was never too much cause for concern, for our political system always managed to mitigate the most extreme whims and passions of the people and to erect institutional barriers through which extremist groups could never break.  

The insurrection incited by Donald Trump—and enabled by Republican leaders who have proven unwilling to consider their own complicity in the radicalization of their party—should shatter such unwavering faith in our institutions once and for all.  But a sense of urgency commensurate with the menacing threats to our republic has not yet emerged.  We must no longer embrace delusions about the strength of American democracy, assuming that its institutions are somehow impervious to decay and superannuation, believing that our republic merely requires routine maintenance of its political inheritance, and refusing to think deeply about what is fundamentally wrong with our system, why it no longer functions as it once did, and how we can fix it.  

The once vaunted American political experiment now teeters on the precipice.  When asked what kind of government was created at the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”  Keeping our republic demands a serious reassessment of our institutions, both constitutional and extra-constitutional.  We must think of American democracy not as an unfinished project but as a critically flawed one.  Any hope we may have of achieving a more perfect union rests on our willingness to acknowledge this bitter truth.  

The Emerging Republican Majority

When Hofstadter praised the American party system in the 1960s, there was still reason to be sanguine about the way in which both major parties amassed broad and diverse coalitions of interests.  Madison envisioned an American republic with a “pluralism among the parties,” in which there would be a multiplicity of factions representing “limited, homogeneous, fiercely aggressive, special interests” that competed for political influence.  But the emergence of the modern party system in the 1830s produced something quite different from what Madison imagined.  Instead, according to Hofstadter, we began to see at that time a “pluralism within the parties”—with the two major parties “embracing and muffling the struggles of special interests” inside their organizations, and working to “forge the coalitions of majorities that are in fact necessary to effective government.”[5]  For well over a hundred years, each of the two major parties tried to broaden its base by brokering deals and compromises internally, all in the hope of winning a majority in the next election.  Theirs was an approach to politics that was less ideological and principled than transactional and pragmatic.  

After World War II, a burgeoning conservative movement, led by William F. Buckley and his compatriots at National Review, captured a wing of the Republican Party and threw its support behind a few ideological convulsions, most notably the menace of McCarthyism and the Goldwater insurgency at the 1964 Republican National Convention.  Emerging in the early 1950s in response to the hegemony of the liberal order, movement conservatism comprised three groups—religious traditionalists, economic libertarians, and staunch anti-communists.  Despite the apparent tensions among these groups, the “fusionist” strategies of Buckley and his colleagues at National Review (especially Frank Meyer) were able to transform modern conservatism into a unified ideology.  The movement coalesced around several principles: a zeal for individual freedom and unfettered markets; a belief in a divine order; a deep-seated hostility toward the welfare state; and an undying resolve to defeat communism at home and abroad.  Staunch adherence to these principles would lead to a number of radical gestures, including an eagerness to completely dismantle the New Deal and a willingness to accuse liberals of being godless crypto-communists.[6]  

But the radical right remained largely at the margins of the GOP throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  The mainstream of the party gravitated toward what Arthur Schlesinger called the “vital center,” where one could find a bipartisan consensus on critical questions regarding economic and foreign policy.  Because both parties were ideologically heterogeneous, any divergences between them were matters of emphasis, not so much of principle.  President Eisenhower was the embodiment of the vital center.  Courted by both parties before he decided to join the Republicans in his quest for the presidency, Eisenhower extolled the virtues of balance, moderation, and centrism.  He regarded the dramatically enlarged federal government that came out of the New Deal as a necessary response to modern economic life.  As a result, he had little patience for movement conservatives eager to destroy the welfare state, calling them “stupid” in a letter to his brother.  “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs,” he wrote, “you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”[7]

Other Republican leaders at the time also praised the convergence of the two parties in the middle and saw each party as a hodgepodge of perspectives on major issues.  Just two years after losing the presidential election, Thomas Dewey observed that many interests and identities cut across party lines.  He remarked that “no single religion or color or race or economic interest is confined to one or the other of our parties.”  “Each party is to some extent a reflection of the other,” he said.  “This is perhaps part of the secret of our enormous power, that change from one party to the other has usually involved a continuity of action and policy.”  Echoing these sentiments as he was gearing up for his own presidential bid, Richard Nixon said, “It would be a great tragedy if we had our two major political parties divide on what we could call a conservative-liberal line.”  The American political system was able to avoid “violent swings in Administrations from one extreme to the other,” he said, because “in both parties there has been room for a broad spectrum of opinion.”[8]  

The similarities between the parties frustrated many critics and scholars at the time.  The report written by APSA’s Committee on Political Parties (1950) called for reforms that would bring about responsible party government.  “Unless the parties identify with programs,” the authors wrote, “the public is unable to make an intelligent choice between them.” In effect, they wanted the United States to move closer to a parliamentary system in which parties have distinct platforms and ideologies and give voters a clear choice.  Then, after there has been sufficient time to evaluate whether the programs passed by the party in power have been successful, voters can either reward or punish that party in the next election.  According to the APSA report, the problem with the American system, in which the two major parties looked largely the same, was that it did not result in policy-making based on a coherent set of ideas and principles.  Instead, they argued, policies were a product of muddled compromises and unsavory bargains, often yielding less than satisfactory outcomes for which no party is clearly accountable.[9]  

In 1964, Barry Goldwater offered a glimpse of what parliamentary parties might look like when he argued that the GOP should offer the American people “a choice, not an echo” of what the Democrats set out to do.[10]  At the Republican National Convention in 1964, Goldwater made it clear what he thought of compromise and moderation.  “I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” he said.  “And let me remind you also that moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”[11]  Though Goldwater won the nomination that year, the mainstream of his party did not agree with his apology for extremist politics.  George Romney, a distinguished moderate in the GOP, wrote a long letter to Goldwater explaining why he opposed partisanship driven by ideology.  “Dogmatic ideological parties,” he said, “tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”[12]  Despite the wisdom and prescience of Romney’s remarks, the Republican Party began its inexorable march toward becoming exactly what Goldwater and his supporters wanted. 

The transformation of the Republican Party required the fracturing of another.  There is intense scholarly debate about when the New Deal coalition, which held together the Democratic Party, began to splinter.  In truth, the New Deal coalition was fragile from the very beginning, and the issue of race was always a fault line, dividing conservatives from the South and liberals from the Northeast and West.  Political historians often identify the passage of landmark civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s as the truly seismic event that set in motion partisan realignment, a sectional and ideological re-sorting of the parties that did not reach its completion until the turn of the century.  After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Bill Moyers remembers President Johnson lamenting, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”[13]

Though Johnson won a landslide victory just a few months after he made that comment, the defection of the South to the Republican Party had begun.  Thanks in large part to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, Goldwater won five states in the Deep South.  The passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act alienated the South even further, prompting Nixon to adopt the so-called “Southern strategy” in the 1968 presidential election.  The thinking among strategists in the GOP was that the party could win significant majorities in national elections by attracting Southern whites—along with a growing number of aggrieved whites from other regions of the country who were disturbed by urban unrest and rising crime—to their existing base.[14]  In short, Republicans began exploiting the white backlash to the civil rights movement for political gain, positioning themselves as the party that represented states’ rights and the preservation of “law and order.”  

The GOP saw its electoral fortunes resting increasingly on the politics of fear, warning Americans of the many serious threats to their way of life.  Though McCarthy was eventually censured by the Senate for taking his disreputable antics too far, his meteoric rise to national prominence imparted the undeniable lesson that stirring up fear and loathing pays political dividends.  The fear of communism never went away, and now there were new fears to exploit.  It was at this point that conservative populism entered the mainstream of the Republican Party, as it shrewdly combined the outsize dread of communist subversion that still pervaded much of the country with the racial panic that arose with the prospect of an integrated America.  And it worked.  The party that stood for individual freedom, the struggle against global communism, states’ rights, and the preservation of law and order started to expand its coalition in the late 1960s.  Meanwhile, the New Deal coalition was coming apart, bitterly divided over both civil rights and the Vietnam War.  

Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, hardly a surprise, seemed to presage an emergent Republican majority.  But it is important to remember that the Democrats held on to both congressional houses and still maintained its dominance in the South.  And, then, Watergate dashed any hopes that the GOP would fare well in the next few election cycles.  Republicans would need to wait a bit longer for Southern realignment to take effect and for their populist rhetoric to lure away other voters from the Democrats’ base, including working-class whites and union members.  This came to fruition in the critical election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan charmed many Americans with his rhetorical gifts, artfully combining toughness and warmth, fear and hope, in his presidential run.  The man who built his political career on virulent anti-communism, uncompromising opposition to the welfare state, and persuasive advocacy for Barry Goldwater in 1964—the man upon whom movement conservatives rested their hopes—won decisively, bringing with him control of the Senate.  The insurgent forces that had galvanized the ill-fated Goldwater campaign in 1964 were finally triumphant.  Goldwater himself came too soon, but the 1980 election solidified his legacy for years to come.  As conservative columnist George Will quipped, “We—27,178,188 of us—who voted for him in 1964 believe he won, it just took 16 years to count the votes.”[15]

Under the leadership of Reagan, the Republican Party adopted the principles and the populist rhetoric of movement conservatism.  Reagan captured the spirit of Goldwater in his First Inaugural when he said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  And he never recoiled from using the dog-whistle of race when it served his purposes.  In a grotesque use of the Southern strategy, he gave a speech about his commitment to states’ rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the infamous town where three civil rights activists working to enfranchise African-Americans were murdered in 1964.  He also exploited race in his ongoing war against poverty programs, which he unjustly claimed were rife with abuse.  In his 1976 and 1980 presidential bids, Reagan would often make use of an apocryphal story about a “welfare queen” from Chicago who cheated the system so effectively that she earned over $150,000 a year in government benefits with which she was able to buy a Cadillac, expensive furs, and other luxuries.[16]  Though Reagan never explicitly mentioned the race of this symbol of welfare fraud, it was clear to his audiences that he was referring to an African-American woman.  In doing so, Reagan endorsed the racist trope that big-government welfare programs waste enormous amounts of money—the hard-earned tax dollars of “honest” Americans—on lazy people of color who are undeserving of any sympathy.

Reagan’s aspirational rhetoric catered to the base of the GOP, but he governed much more pragmatically.  The tension between his words and his policies, in fact, define his political career in many ways.  As E.J. Dionne put it, “Reagan changed the terms of the American political debate without changing the underlying structure of government.”[17]  Reagan was able to satisfy his base with major policy victories, including tax reduction and economic deregulation, but he was willing to set aside his principles when necessary.  

Delivering a speech on behalf of Goldwater in 1964, Reagan excoriated Social Security for giving contributors a poor return on their investment and argued that participation in the program should be strictly “voluntary.”[18]  He even made it clear during his run for the Republican nomination in 1976 that privatizing Social Security was his express wish.  But, on the campaign trail in 1980, Reagan acknowledged the political reality before him and reversed his message, declaring that “it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security be preserved.”[19]  In 1983, after painstaking negotiations with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, Reagan approved an increase in the payroll tax, which, along other reforms, helped ensure the solvency of Social Security for at least another generation.  This pragmatic solution, born of compromise and bargaining, was a far cry from his earlier aspirations.  The critic of Social Security became its savior.

James Baker pointed to Social Security reform as just one example of what he called Reagan’s “principled pragmatism—the art of the possible without the sacrifice of principle.”[20]  Indeed, the Gipper would exhibit “principled pragmatism” many times during his presidency.  To be sure, the aspirational conservative was nowhere to be seen when he increased taxes five times after that original deep cut in 1981, signed a law giving amnesty to millions of undocumented residents, and eased tensions with the Soviets by engaging in meaningful talks that culminated in a major arms reduction treaty.  In the end, Reagan and the GOP would not allow principles to get in the way of doing the people’s business.  However important principles may have been to them, they recognized that winning elections required a willingness to govern.  And that meant working in earnest with the other side.

The Radicalization of the GOP

By the early 1990s, when Newt Gingrich became minority leader in the House, the Republican Party, having shifted considerably to the right, became less disposed toward finding common ground with the Democrats.  Even though Bill Clinton was a moderate, a New Democrat promising balanced budgets and welfare reform, he faced a hostile opposition that painted him as a far-left liberal who wanted to increase taxes on hard-working Americans to pay for wasteful government programs.  Early in his presidency Clinton recognized the dramatic change in Washington’s ideological landscape.  “I hope you’re all aware we’re Eisenhower Republicans here,” Clinton complained to his advisers in April 1993.  “We’re Eisenhower Republicans fighting the Reagan Republicans.  We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market.”[21]  

The Clinton administration governed at a time when liberals were on the defensive.  Successfully portraying government as not the solution but the problem, Reagan left behind a legacy that changed political discourse in America.  Burdened with this inheritance, Clinton faced significant limits on what he could say and do.  Gone was the lofty rhetoric about ending poverty and creating a Great Society where, as Johnson said in 1964, “every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents” and “the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.”[22]  Facing well-funded opposition from special interests and conservative ideologues, his one ambitious policy initiative, universal health care, suffered a resounding defeat even though the Democrats controlled both houses.  

Not long after the debacle of healthcare reform, the GOP massacred the Democrats in the 1994 midterms.  Then, while Clinton pivoted to the center and discussed “triangulation” with his new advisers, the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, were determined to pass a series of bold policies, outlined in their Contract for America, that would push the country further to the right.  And they were willing to use radical tactics, including obstruction and brinkmanship, to get their way.  As Mann and Ornstein point out, Gingrich and his allies had calculated, long before their victory in 1994, that there was far more to be gained politically from refusing to cooperate with the Democrats, denying them as many wins as possible, and then criticizing them for making Congress a feeble and corrupt institution.  “The core strategy,” write Mann and Ornstein, “was to destroy the institution in order to save it, to so intensify public hatred of Congress that voters would buy into the notion of the need for sweeping change and throw the majority bums out.”[23]  After the 1994 midterms, the Gingrich-led Congress still had to contend with a Democrat in the White House, and they saw fit to use the same scorched earth tactics.  But now they aimed not only to block Clinton’s proposals but also to use any leverage at their disposal to bend him to their will.  

For the most part Clinton and the Republican Congress clashed over budget-related matters, and the House Republicans threatened government shutdowns and debt default in order to force the president to cut spending, regulations, and taxes.  Their confrontational brand of politics eventually backfired when, after two government shutdowns, the majority of Americans blamed the Republicans.  This setback for the GOP led to a temporary ceasefire, even a moment of cooperation, between Clinton and Congress in 1996, culminating in the passage of a comprehensive welfare reform bill that enjoyed bipartisan support.  But Gingrich had set a precedent, forever lowering the standards of acceptable behavior on Capitol Hill.  According to Mann and Ornstein, his legacy was the transformation of the GOP into a “cohesive, parliamentary-style” party that adopts a “take-no-prisoners politics of confrontation and obstruction” to defeat its opposition.  By creating a norm where “partisan adversaries” can be understood and classified as “mortal enemies,” Gingrich “deserves a dubious kind of credit for many of the elements that have produced the current state of politics.”[24]  

This was the moment when polarization between the two parties really began to intensify.  The widening ideological gap between the parties is especially noticeable on Capitol Hill, and the empirical evidence shows that Republicans are largely to blame.  According to studies of roll call votes in the House of Representatives, for example, Republicans have moved much more dramatically to the right than Democrats have to the left over the last forty years.  Their lurch rightward reached unprecedented extremes—that is, they became even more conservative than House Republicans of the Gilded Age—when Gingrich and his allies took charge in the 1990s.  And it has only gotten worse since then, for the ideological composition of House and Senate Republicans continues to move rightward after each election.  Meanwhile, Democrats are only slightly more liberal today than their predecessors in the House and Senate.[25]  According to Mann and Ornstein, we now live in an era of asymmetric polarization where the GOP “has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”[26]  In the preface to the 2016 paperback edition of their book, Mann and Ornstein say something that might have raised a few eyebrows:  “It is as if one of the many paranoid fringe movements in American political history has successfully infected a major political party.”[27]  Today, there’s no doubt about it.  

It is not obvious to everyone why one party has abandoned pragmatism and moved to the “paranoid fringe” while the other holds fast to the center.  But the short answer is quite simple:  The Democratic Party is diverse; the Republican Party isn’t.  The Democratic Party represents a diverse coalition of interests and demographics—or, to invoke Hofstadter’s language, it contains “pluralism within”—which means that maintaining cohesion requires finding middle ground through negotiation and compromise.  Representing a much more homogeneous group of people, the Republican Party resembles a Madisonian faction, reflecting passions and ideas that diverge from the mainstream of American society.  

The demographic data is revealing.  The American National Election Survey has found that there is a widening racial gap between the parties.  Today, only 9 percent of Republicans are non-white, but that figure is 43 percent for Democrats.[28]  It is hardly a surprise that, according to exit polls, Trump did poorly among non-white voters in 2020, winning 12 percent of African-Americans, 32 percent of Latinos, and 34 percent of Asians.  Overall, he won only 26 percent of non-white voters, and he also lost decisively among the college-educated and young people under the age of 30.  The groups that voted for Trump in the last election reflect the base of the Republican Party generally.  Trump won 61 percent of white men, 67 percent of whites without a college degree, 76 percent of white evangelicals, and 57 percent of rural voters.  Older and more affluent voters were also more likely to support Trump, though the margins were smaller.  In short, election results show that over time the Republican base has skewed increasingly white, working-class, evangelical Christian, and rural.   As the Republican coalition has become more demographically homogeneous, so has its ideological composition.  About three-quarters of Republicans identify as conservative, and Trump won 85 percent of conservatives in the 2020 election.  Meanwhile, Democrats enjoy far more racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, with Biden winning 71 percent of non-white voters and about two-thirds of non-protestant voters.  Democrats are not monolithic ideologically either.  Only 47 percent of Democrats identify as liberal, and 38 percent see themselves as moderates.[29]  This would explain why Biden won 64 percent of those voters who identified as moderate.[30]

Since party realignment began in the late 1960s, the sorting of American voters has made the Republican Party more reliant on conservative white voters, especially those who identify as evangelical Christians.  Over the same period, the Democratic Party has become more diverse, maintaining a broad coalition of liberal and college-educated whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and non-protestants.  “Sorting has made the Democrats into a coalition of difference and driven Republicans further into sameness,” says Ezra Klein.  In order to win elections, Democrats must attract “different kinds of people with different interests.  It means winning liberal whites in New Hampshire and traditionalist blacks in South Carolina.  It means talking to Irish Catholics in Boston and the karmically curious in California.”  Democrats must “go broad” to remain competitive, whereas Republicans must “go deep” within their base.[31]

One would think that changing demographics in the United States makes “going deep” a losing strategy, for it involves winning larger margins out of shrinking groups.  As the country becomes more diverse, better educated, and more secular, the core groups that make up the Republican coalition are declining as a share of the American electorate.  White people without a college degree represented a slim majority (a little over 50 percent) of the electorate in 2004, but that figure has declined sharply over the last fifteen years.  Results from a recent Pew survey show that they represented 42 percent of voters in 2020, and a Census Bureau study estimated that this group actually makes up less than 40 percent of the electorate.  For the first time in American history, the share of white Christian voters fell below 50 percent.  According to Pew, they represented 49 percent of the vote in 2020.  Meanwhile, the groups that lean Democratic are growing.  People of color cast about 20 percent of the votes in 2004, but they represented 30 percent of the electorate in 2020.  Secular voters are also growing in number, representing about one-fourth of the electorate in 2020, and Biden won a whopping 70 percent of them.[32]  The 2020 Census also identifies trends that are favorable to the Democrats, showing that the country is more diverse and urban than ever before.

Unless the GOP responds to these demographic trends by expanding its base, the future would seem to belong to the Democrats.  Perhaps Republicans will be forced to moderate their position on immigration or show an interest in expanding health insurance coverage to attract more Latinx voters.  Or they might lure some younger voters to their side by addressing the soaring costs of higher education.  Instead, in what appears to be a defiance of logic, the party remains committed to its shrinking base, which in recent years has abandoned the mainstream and embraced increasingly extreme passions and beliefs.  What ultimately enables the GOP’s movement to the fringe is the structure of our political institutions.  More specifically, we can blame our anti-majoritarian Constitution and our weak party system.  These are surely not the underlying causes of the paranoid style in American politics.  But they have made it possible for the paranoid style to capture a major political party and threaten our democracy. 

The GOP’s Constitutional Advantages

Over the last couple of decades, the Constitution has conferred a systematic electoral advantage to the Republican Party.  This means that Republicans are in a unique position where they can take control of the legislative and executive branches of government without winning the national popular vote.  This advantage is evident in our presidential selection system.  The framers created the Electoral College to ensure that neither the people nor Congress would have a direct role in choosing the person responsible for faithfully executing the nation’s laws.  They intended for the College to choose men of national reputation who were both insulated from popular opinion and free of undue influence from the legislative branch.  In other words, it was devised as a check on democracy and with the separation of powers doctrine in mind.  But with the emergence of the national party system in the 1830s, the College no longer functioned this way, because electors ceased to be independent agents who voted in accordance with their preferences.  Each state began selecting electors who served in some official capacity for the party whose nominee won the popular vote in that state.  These electors had every incentive to do as their party instructed, not as their conscience dictated.  This is how the Electoral College works now.  It does not create a buffer between presidential candidates and the people and, as a result, does not prevent charismatic figures, practiced in the arts of demagoguery, from winning the highest office in the land.  

Though the Electoral College no longer serves as a check on democratic populism, it continues to give disproportionate influence to less populous states in presidential elections—and these states tend to be conservative strongholds.  The Republican Party has such an advantage in presidential elections that its nominee can lose the popular vote nationally but win a majority of the electoral votes.  This has happened twice in the last two decades—in 2000 and 2016—and we can expect that it might happen again whenever the election is close.  According to Michael Geruso, Dean Spears, and Ishaana Talesara, “Republicans should be expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote.”[33]  Demographic trends suggest that the Republican advantage will become even more pronounced in the future.  Just twenty years from now, 70 percent of Americans will live in the fifteen largest states, which means that the disproportionate influence of smaller, more conservative states in presidential elections will be even greater.

One can only imagine how different the country would be if Democrats had won seven of the last eight presidential elections.  In order to have a chance of winning more often, Republicans would have to moderate their message and adopt policy positions with more popular support.  As things stand, the GOP sees that it can win even if it runs to the right of the median American voter.  This built-in advantage has made it possible for Republicans to find a winning strategy not in broadening their appeal but in galvanizing their base to turn out to the polls.  The 2016 election illustrates how this strategy can amplify demagoguery and divisive politics—and put in the White House a person completely unsuited for the job.  Ironically, the Electoral College now encourages a style of politics that it was originally designed to mitigate.  Making the presidential selection system explicitly majoritarian—that is, requiring that the presidency goes to the winner of the national popular vote—would compel the GOP to rethink its strategy and recognize that it can only be competitive if it moves toward the center of American politics.  

Given the advantage that they enjoy, Republicans would never support a constitutional amendment that abolished the Electoral College.  But reformers have found hope in a possible workaround:  the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which fifteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted so far.  The compact stipulates that states must award their slate of electors to the candidate who won the national popular vote.  The states that have entered the agreement thus far comprise a total of 195 electoral votes.  If more states signed on to the agreement, bringing the total number of electoral votes to 270, the presidency would always be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote.  It doesn’t seem very likely that several more states representing 75 electoral votes will enter the compact anytime soon, and there would certainly be legal challenges if it did happen.  But it is a potential path forward.

The systematic bias in favor of Republicans is even stronger in the Senate.  Regardless of size, all states receive representation from two senators.  This helps the Republican Party considerably because, again, it tends to fare better in less populous states.  While 39.5 million Californians receive representation from two Democratic senators, just 579,000 Wyoming residents also have two Republican senators working on their behalf.  This means that each resident of Wyoming enjoys about 68 times more representation in the Senate than each Californian.  In 2021, the GOP held half of the seats in that chamber, but they represented states that contained 43 percent of the national population.  The Democrats in the Senate represented over 41 million more people than the Republicans did, yet the two parties had the same number of seats.[34]  In fact, Republican senators have not represented a majority of the American population since 1999, yet they held a majority in the Senate for nearly half that period—from 2003 to 2007 and, again, from 2015 to 2021.  

Everyone knows that Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote in 2016, but so did Democratic candidates running for the Senate.  Democratic candidates won 53 percent of the votes cast in Senate elections nationwide, ten million more than Republicans received, yet they picked up only two seats and remained in the minority.[35]  Staggered elections compound the anti-majoritarian tendencies of the Senate: When only a third of senate seats are up for election every two years, it is harder for a party that receives a groundswell of national support to take hold of the chamber.

Unfortunately, the future looks even bleaker.  As mentioned earlier, 70 percent of Americans will live in the fifteen largest states by 2040, and this will further shift the electoral advantage to Republicans in future presidential elections.  But the Republican bias in the Senate will be even more dramatic.  Just two decades from now, 30 percent of Americans—disproportionately white, old, rural, and conservative—will get to elect 70 senators.[36]  This is an advantage that could theoretically give Republicans a filibuster-proof majority, even if they win a minority of the votes cast in Senate elections nationwide.  There is no genuine solution to this problem short of amending the Constitution or breaking up large states into several smaller ones.  But granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, two diverse and urban areas that are currently not represented in the Senate, would offer a modest corrective.

As if matters in the Senate could not get any worse, there is also the filibuster to consider.  Over the last decade, senators have used the filibuster at record levels, making it a requirement to pass anything even remotely controversial with a 60-vote supermajority.  For a period of over 50 years, from 1917 to 1970, the Senate tried to break the filibuster 49 times.  Today, the story is very different.  From 2013 to 2020, the Senate oversaw 807 cloture votes.[37]  The gross overuse of the filibuster exacerbates the anti-majoritarian bias of the Senate.  After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the Senate could not pass a modest bill that would have required universal background checks for gun sales.  Even with 86 percent of Americans supporting the measure, 46 senators who represented only 38 percent of the country were able to block it.[38]  While both parties have abused the filibuster over the last decade or so, Republicans have used it much more aggressively as a way to sabotage Democrats’ ability to govern when they are in power.  Given their hostility to government solutions to social problems, the filibuster serves the Republicans’ interest in promoting gridlock, denying the Democrats any legislative victories.

There is no mention of the filibuster in the Constitution, of course, but the procedure has been available for about two centuries, ever since Aaron Burr persuaded senators to abandon the previous question rule, which allows legislative bodies (including the House of Representatives) to end debate with approval from a simple majority.  Over time senators came to accept the filibuster as established precedent, a part of the unwritten constitution in which there is an expectation that debate in the Senate will continue until a supermajority votes to end it.  The Constitution also bears some culpability for not making it clear that the passage of legislation requires only simple majorities.  Some scholars argue that the filibuster is already unconstitutional, but the courts have never had an occasion to address that highly debatable question.[39]  Until it is repealed or reformed in some way as to limit its use, the filibuster will continue to compound the problem of minority rule in the Senate.

While the Senate was never intended to be a majoritarian body, the framers designed the House of Representatives to reflect the will of the people more directly.  Yet recent developments in the redistricting process have undermined that intention.  Over the last two decades Republicans have used redistricting as a way to inflate their representation in the House.  They made some headway in this regard after the 2000 Census, but 2010 proved to be a watershed.  Mindful that those who control redistricting can control Congress, Republican operatives devised REDMAP, the Redistricting Majority Project.  The strategy was simple:  Win majorities in as many state legislatures as possible, and then help those legislatures gerrymander districts to the advantage of Republican candidates.  REDMAP proved wildly successful.  The GOP financed state legislature campaigns throughout the country and, as a result of these efforts, gained almost 700 seats.  Of the fifteen states that were scheduled to lose or gain seats under reapportionment, Republicans won legislative majorities in ten, where they could draw districts as they saw fit.  According to National Public Radio, only 70 congressional districts nationwide were actually competitive, and Republican legislatures got to redraw 47 of them.  Overall, Republican-controlled legislatures were able to draw 193 districts on their own, while independent commissions controlled 88 districts and the Democrats had only 44.  There were 103 districts over which the two parties shared redistricting authority.  This gave the Republican Party a distinct advantage.  A party only needs to win 218 seats to attain a majority in the House.  Having the power to draw 193 safe districts for their candidates put Republicans just 25 seats shy of that goal.[40]

The Republican Party has certainly reaped the benefits of their efforts.  They did a masterful job of gerrymandering, using state-of-the-art computer software to draw lines that optimized their political advantage, and the results were devastating for Democrats.  David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report estimated at the time that “Democrats would need to win the national popular vote by between six and seven points in order to win the barest possible House majority.”[41]   In 2012, Democrats got to witness firsthand the toll that REDMAP would take.  Democratic candidates received 1.4 million more votes in House races throughout the country, yet Republicans still maintained a majority, ending up with an advantage of 33 seats.  When Democrats finally recaptured the House in 2018, they won nearly ten million more House votes than the Republicans did, beating them by a whopping 8.6 percentage points.[42]  Unfortunately, the 2020 elections at the state level did not enable Democrats to reverse much of the damage done ten years earlier.  Democrats failed to retake a single state legislature in 2020, which means that Republicans controlled the redistricting of many more districts than the Democrats did.  While Republicans got to draw the lines of 188 congressional seats (43 percent of the entire House), Democrats exercised this authority for only 73 seats (17 percent).[43]  

Many scholars caution that we must not overstate the impact of gerrymandering.[44]  Republicans devoted resources to REDMAP for a clear reason, but the extent to which their redistricting efforts confer an advantage remains unclear.  After all, the percentage of House votes that Democrats won in 2018 mapped very closely to the percentage of seats that they won.  That was also the case in the 2022 midterms, in which Republican candidates won 50.7% of the national vote and 51% of the seats in the House.  

The disproportionate representation enjoyed by Republicans in the House—often but not always—may have more to do with the way Americans are sorting themselves geographically.  According to Bill Bishop, Democratic voters are packing themselves into densely populated areas, living in congressional districts where Republican candidates consistently lose by huge margins.  As they choose to inhabit these homogeneous bastions of progressivism, Democrats waste more votes than Republicans do.[45]  That said, as Dave Daley argues, Republican control over redistricting has magnified their advantage in the House and increased the likelihood that they will maintain a majority in the House despite losing the national popular vote.[46]  

The creation of independent redistricting commissions in all fifty states is an obvious solution to the problem of partisan manipulation.  Though hardly a panacea, independent commissions would create more competitive districts and eliminate egregiously undemocratic gerrymandering—the kind, for example, that ensured Republican control of thirteen out of eighteen Pennsylvania House seats in 2012, even after the GOP lost the popular vote statewide.  The United States is the only democracy in the world that allows political parties to play a hand in the drawing of districts.  The dangers of disproportionate representation are all too clear.

Where Our Parties and Elections Go Wrong

Hoping to build on the electoral advantages conferred upon it by the peculiarities of the American political system, the GOP has focused its efforts on suppressing voter turnout.  This is an eminently rational strategy, for Republicans’ homogeneous base is dwindling in numbers.  There are two ways for the Republican Party to stay competitive in the future: either broaden its appeal by moderating its message or build on the advantages that it currently enjoys by creating an entrenched system of minority rule.  The Republican Party has clearly chosen the latter course of action, at least for now, because it makes sense to do so.  The former strategy would be far more disruptive to the party internally.  It would require expanding its coalition and possibly alienating those people who constitute the core of its base, white working-class voters in particular.  Finding ways to disenfranchise people who are likely to vote Democratic is a decidedly more elegant solution.

Republicans have been innovative in their attempts to restrict voting, and they have intensified their efforts since the 2020 election.  In a time when elections are often decided by razor-thin margins, almost anything can tip the balance.  So state governments controlled by the Republican Party have launched a massive campaign of voter suppression.  For over a decade they have passed measures that limit access to the vote.  Restrictive laws include requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, complicating voter registration procedures, shortening early voting periods, making mail-in voting more difficult and cumbersome, purging names from voter rolls, and barring felons from voting.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of October 6, 2022, twenty-one states have passed at least 42 new laws that restrict voting access since the beginning of 2021.[47]  Though the ostensible rationale for these measures is that they address the problem of voter fraud, the actual motives are plain to see.  Sometimes, Republican officials reveal the truth unwittingly. In 2012, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives boasted about his party’s accomplishments at a Republican State Committee meeting.  “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” he said.[48]  

The voter ID law in Pennsylvania may not have helped Romney in 2012, but such laws can be effective.  Take Wisconsin, for example.  Because of the strict voter ID law passed there in 2014, about 300,000 registered voters were unable to vote in 2016.  Not surprisingly, turnout decreased considerably.  In Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s black population lives, there was a thirteen percent decrease in turnout, which translates to about 41,000 votes.  The election was so close—indeed, Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in Wisconsin—that it is quite likely that the photo ID law denied Hillary Clinton ten electoral votes.  Felon disenfranchisement can also play a decisive role in battleground states.  In Florida, where Trump won by a little over 100,000 votes, 21 percent of the African-American population was disqualified from voting because of a past felony conviction.[49]  

It is impossible to calculate precisely the electoral impact of the various methods of disenfranchisement that Republican-led state governments have enacted over the years.  But taken together, they deny millions of Americans a voice in our democracy and, undoubtedly, produce election results that exaggerate the amount of support for the Republican Party.  The best way to counteract voter suppression in one fell swoop is for Congress to pass a comprehensive law that would ban various methods of disenfranchisement and make access to the ballot easier.  The passage of H.R. 1 (The For the People Act) would have been an historic step toward making America a more inclusive democracy—and, accordingly, would have compelled the Republican Party to move to the center.  Of course, that is why the GOP filibustered the bill in the Senate.  Perhaps the holy grail of inclusion is to be found in Australia, where voting is mandatory.  More than any other reform, requiring all adults to vote would dramatically alter how Republicans campaign and govern.  Continuing to appeal primarily to older working-class white people would mean immediate political oblivion.

Strengthening party organizations could also improve the health of American democracy.  As Julia Azari astutely points out, we live in a time when partisanship is strong but the parties themselves are weak, and this is a dangerous combination.  Parties are weak organizationally in large part because they have very little hold over their candidates and officeholders.  Party leaders do not have the power to nominate candidates for office, and they are not able to exercise much financial leverage either.  We can largely blame primary elections and campaign finance laws for the parties’ loss of control over their politicians.   Charismatic candidates who can stir up support among the rank and file in the party, often using heated and ideologically charged rhetoric, and who also have a talent for raising money, do well in the current political climate.  

Politicians do not have an incentive to show a concrete allegiance to the party as an organization.  Instead, they express an unwavering loyalty to the abstract ideas that it represents.  Party affiliation, then, becomes more symbolic and ideological than programmatic, and this is cause for concern.  “Partisan identity tells us who shares our beliefs, and it helps to make political meaning, conveying important truths about the world through symbols,” says Azari.  “It is in these cracks of abstraction that truly pathological politics grows.”  When party identification becomes more abstract, “more resentment can fester against people who you do not know or encounter,” and it makes it easier for partisans “to ignore the full implications of their views—and to neglect to consider other citizens.”[50]  The politics of abstraction has become especially toxic in the Republican Party because of its homogeneous base. 

Reforms that make parties stronger and more inclusive could mitigate many of the pathologies that currently infect the Republican Party.  Though eliminating primary elections is not within the realm of possibility, there are ways in which party elites could exercise subtler forms of influence over nominations.  Jonathan Rauch and Raymond La Raja recommend giving party officials some kind of vetting authority over the nomination process.  For example, someone who wants to get on the ballot in a primary election could be required to get a certain number of signatures or endorsements from party officials.[51]  Parties could also be strengthened if campaign finance laws were changed, allowing them to make much larger direct contributions to political campaigns than interest groups and individual donors can.  This reform wouldn’t solve the problem of uncoordinated spending by SuperPACs, but it would raise the status and leveraging power of parties in the political process.  With more party control over nominations and campaign funding, officeholders and seekers would have concrete ties to their party and its programmatic agenda.  Seeing the party as an institution to which they have longstanding attachments and obligations would attenuate their tendencies toward ideological extremism.[52]  

Making parties more inclusive would also have a mitigating effect.  Mann and Ornstein argue in favor of primary reforms that “increase the number of moderate voters and candidates participating in the nomination process.”  They are especially critical of closed primaries which tend to give the nominating power to a relatively small number of ideologically-charged partisans.  Instead, they endorse top-two vote-getter (TTVG) primaries in which all voters can participate.  Then, in the general election, the first- and second-place vote receivers, even if affiliated with the same party, face each other in the general election.  There is also some evidence suggesting that open primary elections with ranked-choice voting (RCV)—which is more inclusive because it doesn’t allow for “wasted” votes—is more likely to lead to the nomination of more moderate candidates who have support from a majority of voters.  Especially when there is a large field of candidates vying for the nomination, an extreme candidate may have a greater chance of winning when voters can only make one choice.  But with RCV, a divisive candidate who receives intense support from a plurality but is reviled by most others is more likely to lose to one of the more moderate candidates who garners many second- and third-choice votes.[53]


The survival of the American body politic depends on breaking the fever that has driven the Republican Party into a state of delirium.  It is not clear what can be done about the poisonous media environment in which we find ourselves, and we cannot count on Republican leaders to heed the better angels of their nature when all of the incentives direct them toward the politics of fear, mendacity, and exclusion.  Our last best hope of keeping our republic can be found in reforming our political institutions.  Taking this step requires that we acknowledge foremost the shortcomings of the Constitution, along with the party and electoral systems which have grown out of it.  It is a flawed and outdated document that fails to address the problem of faction.  Conceding this fact should not bring shame to the Constitution, for one can hardly expect any document that lays out the framework of a political system to work well two-hundred years after it was written.  Since the late eighteenth century the United States has changed beyond recognition, and the framers could never have anticipated every historical contingency and development when they devised a republican system of government that was unlike anything the world had ever seen before.  We need not undergo a complete overhaul of the Constitution, but significant changes—many of which are outlined in this article—are needed.

Progressives at the turn of the last century criticized the founders for creating a counter-majoritarian system of government that prevented elected officials from enacting laws in the public interest.  They saw a system plagued by the stench of corruption—a system of minority rule in which business interests bought politicians and made policymaking a farce.  Progressives wanted to clean up politics, bring an end to minority rule, and make the United States a more representative democracy.  The means by which they proposed to accomplish this goal may have been misguided, but they accurately identified the problem and the objective.  

We face a different set of circumstances today, where there is still the threat of minority rule but by a group consumed with ideological zeal.  We must now contend with a principled faction that refuses to see politics as a transactional enterprise, a process of give and take—that regards compromise as the handwork of the devil.  This was precisely the kind of faction about which Madison was especially concerned.  In Federalist 10, he promised that the new republic would filter the most dangerous whims and passions with which the people were apt to become enraptured.  But the republic he played such a critical role in designing does not keep such heated factions at bay any longer, even with the supplement of the two-party system.  The putsch on January 6 should awaken us to this truth.  

If we want to rescue our republic, we must find a way to implement institutional changes that will bring civility and sober deliberation to our politics and push the paranoid style to the margins of American life once again.  Contrary to what the founders thought, our republic now needs more democracy—and desperately so.  Making the system more inclusive, bringing together the entire range of voices and perspectives that make up who we are as a country—this is the only way to drown out the sirens of extremism and restore moderation to our politics.  Instead of the Federalist Papers, we might find guidance in the sagacious but often overlooked words of Alexis de Tocqueville: “Thus it is, in the vast complication of human laws, that extreme liberty sometimes corrects the abuses of liberty, and that extreme democracy obviates the dangers of democracy.”[54]

Robert J. Lacey teaches political science at Iona University.  A similar version of this article will appear in a book to be published later this year by Amherst College Press. 

[1] Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), 3.

[2] Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 72-73.

[3] Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style, 7.

[4] Ibid., 29-30.

[5] Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System, 71-73.

[6] See Robert J. Lacey, Pragmatic Conservatism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 10-11.

[7] Eisenhower quoted in John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), 41-42.

[8] Dewey and Nixon quoted in Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized (New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020), 4-5.

[9] Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System: A Report of the Committee on Political Parties (Washington, D.C.:  American Political Science Association, 1950).

[10] Quoted in Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized, 6.

[11] Quoted in E.J. Dionne, Why the Right Went Wrong (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 443.

[12] Quoted in Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized, 7.

[13] Ibid., 30.

[14] See Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969).

[15] George F. Will, “The Cheerful Malcontent,” The Washington Post, May 31, 1998.

[16] Bryce Covert, “The Myth of the Welfare Queen,” The New Republic, July 2, 2019.

[17] E.J. Dionne, Why the Right Went Wrong, 85.

[18] Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, October 27, 1964, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/reagans/ronald-reagan/time-choosing-speech-october-27-1964 (Accessed August 22, 2021).

[19] E.J. Dionne, Why the Right Went Wrong, 85.

[20] James Baker, “Closing the Deal,” Texas Bar Journal, June 2016.

[21] Clinton quoted in E.J. Dionne, Why the Right Went Wrong, 112.

[22] Lyndon B. Johnson, “Great Society Speech,” delivered at the University of Michigan commencement, May 22, 1964.

[23] Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 33.

[24] Ibid., 42-43.

[25] Ibid., 56-57.  

[26] Ibid. xxiv.

[27] Ibid., xv.

[28] Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized, 37.

[29] Hannah Gilberstadt and Andrew Daniller, “Liberals Make Up the Largest Share of Democratic Voters, but Their Growth Has Slowed in Recent Years,” Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/17/liberals-make-up-largest-share-of-democratic-voters/).

[30] The 2020 exit polling data reported in this paragraph comes from The New York Times and CNN websites.  Both sources draw from the same national survey conducted by Edison Research.

[31] Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized, 230-231.

[32] Ronald Brownstein, “The Most Complete Picture Yet of America’s Changing Electorate,” The Atlantic, July 1, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/07/2020-voter-demographics/619337/ (Accessed August 20, 2021).

[33] Quoted in Ezra Klein, “Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t,” The New York Times, January 24, 2020.

[34] See Ari Berman, “The Insurrection Was Put Down.  The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On,” Mother Jones, March-April 2021.

[35] See Ibid.; Ian Millhiser, “America’s Anti-Democratic Senate, in One Number,” Vox, January 6, 2021.

[36] Ari Berman, “The Insurrection Was Put Down.  The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On.”

[37] Official U.S. Senate website: https://www.senate.gov/legislative/cloture/clotureCounts.htm (Accessed August 20, 2021).

[38] Ari Berman, “The Insurrection Was Put Down.  The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On.”

[39] On the history and constitutionality of the filibuster, see Robert J. Lacey, “The Filibuster and the Ghost of Calhoun,” Logos 19:1 (Spring 2020).

[40] See Dave Daley, Ratf**ked (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2017), xviii-xxi.

[41] Ibid., xxi.

[42] U.S. House of Representatives: Election Statistics, https://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/ (Accessed August 25, 2021).

[43] Nathaniel Rakich and Elena Mejia, “Republicans Won Almost Every Election Where Redistricting Was at Stake,” FiveThirtyEight, November 18, 2020, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-won-almost-every-election-where-redistricting-was-at-stake/ (Accessed August 25, 2021).

[44] See, for example, Mann and Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, 46.

[45] See Bill Bishop, The Big Sort (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).

[46] Dave Daley, Ratf**ked, xxiii.

[47] “Voting Laws Roundup: October 2022,” The Brennan Center for Justice, October 6, 2022, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-october-2022 (Accessed January 19, 2023).

[48] Mike Turzai quoted in E.J. Dionne, Why the Right Went Wrong, 369.

[49] Liz Kennedy, “Voter Suppression Laws Cost Americans Their Voices at the Polls,” Center for American Progress, November 11, 2016, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2016/11/11/292322/voter-suppression-laws-cost-americans-their-voices-at-the-polls/ (Accessed August 25, 2021).  Nationwide, one out of every thirteen African-Americans lost the right to vote because they were convicted felons.

[50] Julia Azari, “Weak Parties and Strong Partisanship Are a Bad Combination,” Vox, November 3, 2016, https://www.vox.com/mischiefs-of-faction/2016/11/3/13512362/weak-parties-strong-partisanship-bad-combination (Accessed August 25, 2021).

[51] Jonathan Rauch and Raymond La Raja, “Too Much Democracy Is Bad for Democracy,” The Atlantic, December 2019.  While the authors chiefly talk about presidential nominations, their argument applies equally well to those seeking lower offices.

[52] See also Raymond J. La Raja and Brian F. Schaffner, Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2015).

[53] For more on the virtues of RCV, see “Ranked Choice Voting: The Solution to the Presidential Primary Predicament,” Unite America Institute, June 2020.

[54] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Signet Classics, 2010).


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1