Why The Two-Party System Is Effing Up U.S. Democracy

“in the U.S., one party has become a major illiberal outlier: The Republican Party. Scholars at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been monitoring and evaluating political parties around the world. And one big area of study for them is liberalism and illiberalism, or a party’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democratic norms prior to elections. And as the chart below shows, of conservative, right-leaning parties across the globe, the Republican Party has more in common with the dangerously authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey than it does with conservative parties in the U.K. or Germany.”

“People in countries with majoritarian(ish) democracies, or two very dominant parties dominating its politics like in the U.S. — think Canada, Britain, Australia — have displayed more unfavorable feelings toward the political opposition.”

“another team of scholars, Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne, shows that citizens in majoritarian democracies with less proportional representation dislike both their own parties and opposing parties more than citizens in multiparty democracies with more proportional representation.1”

“This pattern may have something to do with the shifting politics of coalition formation in proportional democracies, where few political enemies are ever permanent (e.g., the unlikely new governing coalition in Israel). This also echoes something social psychologists have found in running experiments on group behavior: Breaking people into three groups instead of two leads to less animosity. Something, in other words, appears to be unique about the binary condition, or in this case, the two-party system, that triggers the kind of good-vs-evil, dark-vs-light, us-against-them thinking that is particularly pronounced in the U.S.”

How Much Do Americans Really Care About Bipartisanship?

“voters like bipartisanship more in theory than in practice. But that doesn’t mean bipartisan support isn’t still important politically. Voters may prefer more partisan policy results, but their stated desire for bipartisanship means that politicians can still benefit by at least trying to work together.”

Why Joe Manchin Is So Willing And Able To Block His Party’s Goals

“Because voters increasingly back the same party in congressional and presidential races, only six of the 100 currently serving senators are from a different party than the one their state backed in the 2020 presidential election.1 Even among that group, Manchin stands apart. Hillary Clinton and Biden were completely trounced by Donald Trump in West Virginia in 2016 (42 percentage points) and 2020 (39 points), respectively. But in 2018, Manchin won in West Virginia (by 3 points) despite an aggressive GOP effort to defeat him.

In fact, considering the extreme GOP lean in West Virginia, Manchin’s 2012 and 2018 victories are two of the most impressive wins of any American politician in the 21st century.”

“However he is doing it, though, Manchin’s winning a very red state gives him incredible power. He is a lifelong Democrat and seems committed to the party. But he doesn’t really owe Biden, his fellow Senate Democrats or the formal Democratic Party much of anything — his political brand is really separate from theirs.”

“it’s not clear that Manchin’s behavior is totally, or even mostly, electorally driven. First, we’re not positive that Manchin will run again. The West Virginian will be 74 in August. So, if he seeks another term — he’s up for reelection in 2024 — he would essentially be planning to remain in the Senate until he is 83.”

“even if Manchin is running and thinks he can win, it’s not totally clear that his moves right now to limit Biden’s agenda are that electorally helpful. Manchin no doubt benefits electorally from keeping some distance from the Democratic Party. At the same time, can Manchin really earn a lot of votes by pushing Democrats to offer people $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits instead of $400, as he did during the stimulus negotiations? Will West Virginia swing voters in 2024 remember and appreciate that Manchin wouldn’t go along with Biden’s nominee to run OMB? On both questions the answer is probably not. In fact, on the most-high-profile issues (the stimulus package, Trump’s impeachments), Manchin tends to vote with his party.”

” the West Virginia senator seems to sincerely disagree with the dominant view among Democrats that the GOP is totally unwilling to work with Democrats when a Democratic president is in office. Manchin argues that there is real potential for bills pushed by Biden and Democrats to get support from at least a few GOP lawmakers if Democrats really try to work with the GOP. He is balking at changing the filibuster rules in part because he thinks that bipartisanship is possible but neither party is trying hard enough.”

“The evidence is considerable that the overwhelming majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t going to support any major policy initiatives backed by a Democratic president. So Manchin’s view of his GOP colleagues seems somewhat untethered from reality. But his optimism about the potential for bipartisanship makes sense from his perspective. After all, Manchin is friendly with a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill, most notably Collins. He and a bipartisan group of lawmakers were key figures in passing a COVID-19 relief bill in December.”

“Manchin may not see the contentious issues of the day — in particular, the filibuster and voting rights — in the extremely high-stakes, democracy-in-peril, “Jim Crow in new clothes” way that other Democrats do. West Virginia is not Georgia, which has a Republican coalition dominated by white people trying to hold on to power by any means necessary against a growing Democratic coalition in which people of color are the majority. West Virginia’s non-Hispanic white population is 92 percent, much higher than the nation overall (60 percent). I’m not suggesting that Manchin doesn’t care about Black voting rights, but he doesn’t have a huge Black constituency pressing him on this issue, as only 4 percent of West Virginians are Black (compared with 13 percent in the nation overall).”

” it’s entirely possible that Manchin really cares about voting rights but thinks that getting rid of the filibuster and passing election-reform legislation on party-line votes is bad electorally for the broader Democratic Party (not just for him) and worse than Democrats trying to win elections even after some of these GOP-backed voting laws are in place. Manchin, as I noted earlier, seems deeply committed to the Democratic Party. But he might disagree with the dominant electoral thinking in the party. After all, emphasizing bipartisanship is Manchin’s strategy, and he’s the one winning in a super-Republican state.”

“Manchin seems to be ideologically to the right of most congressional Democrats, electoral considerations aside. In a Democratic Party that is increasingly organized around pushing for economic and racial equality, Manchin and the party’s more liberal members are essentially from different planets. There is little evidence that Manchin got into politics to implement his deeply held vision for changing the American economy (like Sen. Elizabeth Warren) or its racial policies (Sen. Raphael Warnock). Manchin is more an old-style politician. He grew up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia (Farmington), where his father and grandfather had both been mayor. In 1982, at age 35, he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates and climbed the ladder from there — state senator, secretary of state, governor, U.S. senator.
“Joe Manchin was always a center to center-right Democrat,””

“Put all that together and the Democratic Party’s fate is in the hands of a man who doesn’t owe the party anything, can’t support some of its agenda for electoral reasons and probably just disagrees with some of that agenda anyway. Much of the Democratic Party believes that the biggest problem in politics is that the GOP is becoming anti-democratic and that this anti-democratic drift is an emergency for the country. Manchin sees the Republican Party as including people he can work with and seems to think that the biggest problem in politics is that elected officials on both sides aren’t being bipartisan enough. This difference in views between Manchin and much of the rest of the party may be irreconcilable. But if they aren’t reconciled, Manchin’s view will win out, because he has a deciding vote and seems very much willing to use it.”

The Rise of the Biden Republicans

“For four decades now, that historic upheaval and the quest for the support of Reagan Democrats has defined American politics, from the rise of Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats”—which Greenberg, as Clinton’s pollster, had a central role in crafting—to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” to Barack Obama’s poll-tested evisceration of Mitt Romney’s venture capital experience, to Donald Trump’s white-grievance mongering and tirades against NAFTA. After Obama won Macomb in 2008 and 2012, Trump captured it in 2016 and 2020.

Then something important happened: In leaning too hard into white identity politics—and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted—Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats.

Call them the Biden Republicans.

Like the Reagan Democrats, they’re heavily white and live in suburbs. But where the Reagan Dems are blue-collar and culturally conservative, Greenberg sees the Biden Republicans as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and “owning the libs” than about child-care payments and college tuition. They don’t consider themselves Democrats—at least not yet—but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the past century to defeat an incumbent president.”