Two-party system disintegrating

Even with Rick Santorum’s three-state caucus sweep last Tuesday, it still does not seem likely that we will see what is often dreamt of by politicos everywhere: a brokered convention, where no candidate receives enough delegates at the national party convention to secure the nomination.

What Santorum’s improbable comeback does show, however, is the widening split in the Republican Party that threatens to shake our two-party system to its very core.

Party shifts and resurgences are nothing new. Every now and then, something comes along that is so unsolvable by the political ‘status quo’ that something has to change on a basic, elemental level. That is to say, the change cannot simply be a shift in power or in party leadership, but in the underlying system itself. Such a fundamental shift happened to the Republicans in the 1890s, as they championed big business over the northern working class; it happened to the Democrats during the Great Depression, when FDR and his advisers adopted Keynesian policies to alleviate economic disaster; and it happened again in the 1980s, as Ronald Reagan took office as the champion the ‘New Right.’

Once again, it has become abundantly clear that the status quo no longer works. In the shadow of unprecedented partisan gridlock, public unrest towards government, and perennial political mood swings, the stage has been set for yet another change in our venerable two-party system.

The imminent change is heralded largely by the Republican party, whose candidates have turned so radical that most are no longer electable: they are whiter, wealthier, and more religiously fanatic than a hefty portion of the American populace. If the party is to survive, it will have to come to grips with the idea that the majority of Americans do not want a national religion, do want freedom of choice and, yes, thank you very much, would like to retain their worker rights.

The rift is further evidenced by the fact that, a month into the primary season and after countless debates, the party’s various factions have still not chosen a candidate behind whom to coalesce in the coming election. Now, the Republican establishment has trouble keeping a lid on the various splinter groups that the party has formed — and while these splinter groups still label themselves as “Republicans,” they’ve deviated so far from the party line that it is difficult not to imagine a party split in the near future.

Yet perhaps the highest sign of change in the orthodox two-party system is the formation of Americans Elect, an organization looking to present an alternative to the two established parties in November. The idea is simple: Americans Elect will host an online caucus and convention, open to all, early this summer to determine a nominee; the nominee must then choose a running mate of a different party. Americans Elect then handles the nuts and bolts of organization and finance, with which third-party campaigns often struggle without the backing of an established party.

No matter what you think of its approach, Americans Elect promises to make things interesting this fall by providing a reality check to the out-to-lunch establishment. And who knows? Maybe it will exert the kind of shock needed to avert the complete and utter destruction of the two-party system.