The two-party system crashes and burns

Update, June 8, 2016, 00:24: This post has been updated to reflect Hillary Clinton’s apparent victory in California.[1]

Update, June 8, 2016, 13:27: This post has been updated with more information on Clinton’s now-confirmed victory in California.


So I popped into Facebook after putting out a 3rd edition of yesterday’s (June 6, 2016) Daily Bullshit and quickly found three memes that seem to capture a mood (figures 1, 2, and 3):

Fig. 1. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.
Fig. 2. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.

Fig. 3. Meme found on Facebook, June 6, 2016, fair use.

To put it mildly, the two least popular major party presidential primary candidates in history[2] appear to have secured their respective nominations.[3] The situation is so bad that mainstream media are actually paying attention to the Libertarian Party, which has yet to reach the fifteen percent popularity threshold needed to qualify to participate in televised debates,[4] and neoconservatives have launched a serious but almost certainly doomed effort to find yet another candidate for a third-party or independent run.[5]

As if to underscore the crisis on the Republican side, presumptive nominee Donald Trump “has repeatedly accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel of bias in a case against Trump University because he is of Mexican descent.”[6] Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan labeled the criticism “the textbook definition of racist comments” and “indefensible”[7] but, awkwardly, “did not rescind his endorsement,”[8] suggesting that Trump’s racism was not as important as other considerations.

[Samantha] Bee pointed out that less than six months after saying Trump’s rhetoric was “not what this party stands for,” the congressman and former vice-presidential candidate endorsed the real estate mogul [Trump].

“He’s right — Trump isn’t what Republicans stand for,” she said. “He’s what they bend over for.”[9]

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald wrote of the Associated Press announcement of Hillary Clinton’s victory,

This is the perfect symbolic ending to the Democratic Party primary: The nomination is consecrated by a media organization, on a day when nobody voted, based on secret discussions with anonymous establishment insiders and donors whose identities the media organization — incredibly — conceals. The decisive edifice of superdelegates is itself anti-democratic and inherently corrupt: designed to prevent actual voters from making choices that the party establishment dislikes. But for a party run by insiders and funded by corporate interests, it’s only fitting that its nomination process ends with such an ignominious, awkward, and undemocratic sputter.[10]

If you think you might expect that from Greenwald, John Cassidy at the New Yorker, who thinks Clinton has earned her victory,[11] wrote,

in political terms, as the final sentence of the A.P.’s story indicated, the phrase “presumptive nominee” implies something more than “likely candidate.” It suggests that the race is already over, and that Clinton has already won. All she has to do is turn up in Philly and collect the prize.[12]

There can be little doubt that the story decreases the incentive for Democrats to vote[13] and the timing was suspicious, occurring on the eve of six primaries.[14] Even the White House was unwilling to wait for the outcome of those elections in suggesting the race was effectively over and other Democrats called upon Bernie Sanders to withdraw.[15] But the Clintons sought to spin themselves as the aggrieved parties:

The Clinton campaign, perhaps worried that the declarations from the news organizations would suppress turnout in today’s primaries, also reacted coolly. “We are on the brink of a historic moment, but we still have work to do. Let’s keep fighting for every vote,” Clinton tweeted. And Bill Clinton told reporters, “We can’t say the primary is over. Let people vote. Let them have their say.”[16]

One of those elections is in the country’s most populous state, California, where the venerable Field Poll, among others, had called the contest between Sanders and Clinton leading up to today’s primary a statistical tie; where, as he had done elsewhere, Sanders had apparently closed a double-digit deficit;[17] and at least the way I look at these things, it didn’t seem he had crested. Which is to suggest that it was Sanders who appeared to be the aggrieved party, partly because unelected and as yet anonymous superdelegates had supposedly sealed the deal, and partly for the very reasons that the Clintons had attempted to claim for themselves. By the very nature of a counterfactual, we cannot know what would really have happened in the absence of the A.P. claim, but in the event, Clinton appeared have swept large portions of the state (figure 4).[18]

Nate Cohn on Twitter, June 8, 2016, 10:40: “Clinton underperformed our estimates in a lot of white/Nader-type places , but beat them in more diverse areas”
Fig. 4. Nate Cohn on Twitter, June 8, 2016, 10:40: “Clinton underperformed our estimates in a lot of white/Nader-type places , but beat them in more diverse areas” fair use.

To say the two-party system has failed would be an understatement. Both major party establishments were accused and almost certainly guilty of favoritism. Here, the Democrats appear to have succeeded, denying Sanders,[19] and the Republicans (including both functionalist conservatives and neoconservatives) appear to have spectacularly failed,[20] with Trump securing enough delegates to win the G.O.P. nomination on the first ballot.[21]

There are many reasons for this failure, but I would argue at minimum that the United States is simply too large and too diverse to be well-served by a two-party system. I actually think the country is too large and too diverse to be well-served by any single governmental structure; that it needs to be broken up into more manageable chunks. But never mind that. We’ll just muddle on in a patriotic fog.

  1. [1]Alex Roarty, “Sanders’ State Not So Golden,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, June 8, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/sanders-state-not-golden/
  2. [2]Dan Balz and Scott Clement, “Poll: Election 2016 shapes up as a contest of negatives,” Washington Post, May 21, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/poll-election-2016-shapes-up-as-a-contest-of-negatives/2016/05/21/8d4ccfd6-1ed3-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html; Lauren McCauley, “‘Rigged’ 2016 Election Has Voters Feeling Helpless, Unheard, and Ashamed,” Common Dreams, May 31, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/05/31/rigged-2016-election-has-voters-feeling-helpless-unheard-and-ashamed; Patrick O’Connor, “Poll Finds Lack of Enthusiasm for Clinton and Trump,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/poll-finds-lack-of-enthusiasm-for-clinton-and-trump-1464037289; Byron Tau, “More Americans Consider Third-Party Options,” Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2016, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/05/24/more-americans-consider-third-party-options/; Matthew Yglesias, “Hillary Clinton will be the most-disliked nominee ever — except for Donald Trump,” Vox, May 2, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/5/2/11565194/clinton-trump-unfavorable
  3. [3]Jesse Byrnes, “Trump clinches GOP nomination,” Hill, May 26, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/281350-ap-trump-clinches-gopination; Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, “Clinton Hits Magic Number, AP says,” June 6, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/clinton-hits-magic-number-ap-says; Lisa Hagen, “AP: Clinton secures delegates needed for nomination,” Hill, June 6, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/282432-clinton-secures-delegates-need-forination
  4. [4]William Douglas, “Libertarian Gary Johnson: This could be year for third party,” McClatchy, May 31, 2016, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article80949742.html?rh=1; Shane Goldmacher, “Can Libertarian nominees Gary Johnson and Bill Weld siphon votes from Trump?” Politico, May 29, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/libertarians-johnson-weld-trump-gary-william-223703; Jessie Hellmann, “Gary Johnson wins Libertarian nomination,” Hill, May 29, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/281642-johnson-wins-libertarianination; Jessie Hellmann, “Weld wins Libertarian nomination for VP,” Hill, May 29, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/281652-weld-wins-libertarianination-for-vice-president; Dara Lind, “The Libertarian Party tries to seize its Trump-sized opportunity,” Vox, May 24, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/5/24/11740210/libertarian-party-2016; Rebecca Savransky, “Libertarian nominee: ‘I don’t think I’m going to be a spoiler,'” Hill, June 5, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/282255-libertarianinee-i-dont-think-im-going-to-be-a-spoiler
  5. [5]Alexander Bolton, “Conservatives rebuff Kristol’s third-party pick,” Hill, June 1, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/281903-conservatives-rebuff-kristols-third-party-pick; David French, “I’m Not Running for President,” National Review, June 5, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436222/david-french-not-running-president; Jonah Goldberg, “A Four-Way Race for President Is Possible,” National Review, May 25, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/435791/bernie-sanders-donald-trump-four-way-race; Samuel Smith, “National Review Writer David French ‘Planning for’ Independent Presidential Bid, Sources Say,” Christian Post, June 1, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/national-review-david-french-planning-independent-presidential-bid-164722/
  6. [6]Scott Wong, “Ryan: Trump’s comments about judge are ‘textbook’ racism,” Hill, June 7, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/house/282463-ryan-trump-comments-textbook-racism
  7. [7]Paul Ryan, quoted in Scott Wong, “Ryan: Trump’s comments about judge are ‘textbook’ racism,” Hill, June 7, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/house/282463-ryan-trump-comments-textbook-racism
  8. [8]Scott Wong, “Ryan: Trump’s comments about judge are ‘textbook’ racism,” Hill, June 7, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/house/282463-ryan-trump-comments-textbook-racism
  9. [9]Arturo Garcia, “Samantha Bee shreds Paul Ryan: Trump isn’t what the GOP stands for — ‘he’s what they bend over for,’” Raw Story, June 7, 2016, http://www.rawstory.com/2016/06/samantha-bee-shreds-paul-ryan-trump-isnt-what-the-gop-stands-for-hes-what-they-bend-over-for/
  10. [10]Glenn Greenwald, “Perfect End to Democratic Primary: Anonymous Superdelegates Declare Winner Through Media,” Intercept, June 7, 2016, https://theintercept.com/2016/06/07/perfect-end-to-democratic-primary-anonymous-super-delegates-declare-winner-through-media/
  11. [11]John Cassidy, “The Media Called the Democratic Race a Day Early,” New Yorker, June 7, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-media-called-the-democratic-race-a-day-early
  12. [12]John Cassidy, “The Media Called the Democratic Race a Day Early,” New Yorker, June 7, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-media-called-the-democratic-race-a-day-early
  13. [13]Sarah D. Wire, “After AP calls nomination for Clinton, will voters still turn out Tuesday?” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-essential-politics-will-voters-still-turn-out-1465264465-htmlstory.html
  14. [14]Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, “Clinton Hits Magic Number, AP says,” June 6, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/clinton-hits-magic-number-ap-says; Lisa Hagen, “AP: Clinton secures delegates needed for nomination,” Hill, June 6, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/282432-clinton-secures-delegates-need-forination
  15. [15]Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes, “Curtain falling on Sanders bid?” Hill, June 7, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/282431-curtain-falling-on-sanders-campaign
  16. [16]John Cassidy, “The Media Called the Democratic Race a Day Early,” New Yorker, June 7, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-media-called-the-democratic-race-a-day-early
  17. [17]Peter Fimrite, “Field Poll finds Clinton’s California lead down to tiny margin,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 2, 2016, http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Field-Poll-finds-Clinton-s-California-lead-down-7958398.php
  18. [18]Alex Roarty, “Sanders’ State Not So Golden,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, June 8, 2016, http://www.rollcall.com/sanders-state-not-golden/
  19. [19]Ryan Cooper, “Hillary Clinton and the awful risk of winning ugly,” Week, December 21, 2015, http://theweek.com/articles/595141/hillary-clinton-awful-risk-winning-ugly; Christian Drake, “New Information Shows DNC Violated Its Own Rules When It Shut Down Sanders Campaign Data Access,” Addicting Info, December 19, 2015, http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/12/19/new-information-shows-dnc-violated-its-own-rules-when-it-shut-down-sanders-campaign-data-access/; Nick Gass, “Clinton press secretary: Superdelegates can help Clinton clinch nomination by early June,” Politico, April 14, 2016, http://www.politico.com/blogs/2016-gop-primary-live-updates-and-results/2016/04/hillary-clinton-needs-superdelegates-221943; Lauren McCauley, “Thumb on the Scale? DNC Backs Off Bernie But Questions of Neutrality Linger,” Common Dreams, December 19, 2015, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/12/19/thumb-scale-dnc-backs-bernie-questions-neutrality-linger; Michael Sainato, “The Countless Failings of the DNC,” Observer, March 27, 2016, http://observer.com/2016/03/the-countless-failings-of-the-dnc/; Daniel Strauss, “Bernie’s backers rage against Democratic machine,” Politico, April 13, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/04/bernie-sanders-supporters-democrats-221842; Caitlin Yilek, “Ex-Obama adviser: DNC ‘putting finger on scale’ for Hillary,” Hill, December 18, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/263792-ex-obama-adviser-on-sanders-scandal-dnc-putting-finger-on
  20. [20]Haley Britzky, Luke Barr, and Andrew Dunn, “25 Republicans who won’t back Trump as nominee,” Hill, March 3, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/271578-22-republicans-who-wont-back-trump-asinee; Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, “Republican Leaders Map a Strategy to Derail Donald Trump,” New York Times, March 19, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/us/politics/donald-trump-republican-party.html; Stephen Dinan, “Donald Trump endorsers derided as ‘sellouts,’ ‘traitors’ and worse — by fellow Republicans,” Washington Times, March 3, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-endorsers-derided-as-sellouts-traitor/; Stephen Dinan and Seth McLaughlin, “Divide-and-conquer strategy to derail Trump’s march to nomination falters,” Washington Times, March 13, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/13/ted-cruz-marco-rubio-john-kasich-try-divide-and-co/; Kerry Eleveld, “The Kochs try to bottle up Trump’s candidacy,” Daily Kos, July 29, 2015, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/07/29/1406895/-The-Kochs-try-to-bottle-up-Trump-s-candidacy; Conor Friedersdorf, “Standing Athwart History Yelling, ‘Stop Donald Trump!’” Atlantic, January 22, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/standing-athwart-history-yelling-stop-donald-trump/426504/; Jim Geraghty, “‘Mental.’ ‘Utterly Stupid.’ ‘Trump Only Cares About Trump,’” National Review, March 30, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/433432/mental-utterly-stupid-trump-only-cares-about-trump; Hadas Gold, “National Review’s gut check: Can we tolerate Trump?” Politico, May 27, 2016, http://www.politico.com/media/story/2016/05/national-reviews-gut-check-can-we-tolerate-trump-004552; Matea Gold and Robert Costa, “Plan A for GOP donors: Wait for Trump to fall. (There is no Plan B.)” Washington Post, November 25, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/plan-a-for-gop-donors-wait-for-trump-to-fall-there-is-no-plan-b/2015/11/25/91436a00-92dd-11e5-8aa0-5d0946560a97_story.html; Alex Isenstadt, “Worried GOP scrambles to adjust odds against Trump,” Politico, March 8, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/donald-trump-gop-convention-scramble-220469; Jenna Johnson and Ed O’Keefe, “It’s on: Tensions between Trump and the GOP escalate in public fight,” Washington Post, April 15, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/its-on-tensions-between-trump-and-the-gop-escalate-in-public-fight/2016/04/15/2949b1c6-031b-11e6-9d36-33d198ea26c5_story.html; Ben Kamisar, “How the GOP could stop Trump at the convention,” Hill, March 5, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/271877-how-the-gop-could-stop-trump-at-the-convention; Caitlin MacNeal, “If Trump Gets GOP Nod, Kristol Says He’ll Back A Third-Party Candidate,” Talking Points Memo, September 15, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/bill-kristol-donald-trump-no-support; Jonathan Martin, “Wary of Donald Trump, G.O.P. Leaders Are Caught in a Standoff,” New York Times, December 1, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/02/us/politics/wary-of-donald-trump-gop-leaders-are-caught-in-a-standoff.html; Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel, “Some conservatives are still plotting to stop Trump at the GOP convention,” Washington Post, May 16, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/some-conservatives-are-still-plotting-to-stop-trump-at-the-gop-convention/2016/05/16/117166ee-1954-11e6-9e16-2e5a123aac62_story.html; Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Inside the GOP effort to draft an independent candidate to derail Trump,” Washington Post, May 14, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-the-gop-effort-to-draft-an-independent-candidate-to-derail-trump/2016/05/14/1b04682e-1877-11e6-924d-838753295f9a_story.html; Niall Stanage, “GOP in panic over Trump,” Hill, November 27, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/261252-gop-in-panic-over-trump; Kenneth P. Vogel and Cate Martel, “The Kochs freeze out Donald Trump,” Politico, July 29, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/kochs-freeze-out-trump-120752.html; Matthew Yglesias, “Republicans are trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking and it’s not working,” Vox, December 15, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/12/15/10270608/trump-won-debate; Byron York, “Panicked establishment gets ready for war against Trump,” Washington Examiner, October 19, 2015, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/panicked-establishment-gets-ready-for-war-against-trump/article/2574454
  21. [21]Jesse Byrnes, “Trump clinches GOP nomination,” Hill, May 26, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/281350-ap-trump-clinches-gopination

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