Our Time-Tested Parties Aren’t About to Fall Apart

Some days, the Republican Party seems on the verge of splitting up. Its congressional majorities couldn’t produce a health care bill and passed an omnibus spending bill its president regretted signing. Prominent never-Trumpers call for the creation of a new political party. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who carried seven counties outside his home state in the 2016 Republican primaries, hints at a 2020 independent candidacy.

In special elections, Republican candidates fail to win percentages above President Donald Trump’s approval ratings, which nationally is at 42 percent. That makes Republicans fear and Democrats hope that Democrats will capture the House of Representatives in November.

Away from the limelight, Democrats have their schisms, too. Bernie Sanders types bristle as Washington campaign committees tilt against outspoken anti-Trump primary candidates. Economic-redistributionist Democrats are complaining that identity-politics Democrats are hurting the party’s chances.

But the talk of the parties going away or being replaced is overstated, and not just because institutional factors — the Electoral College, single-member congressional and legislative districts — tend to boil down voters’ choices to two parties.

Something more fundamental is at work here. Consider the fact that our two major American parties are the oldest and third-oldest in the world. The Democratic Party was formed in 1832, to secure Andrew Jackson’s renomination and re-election, and the Republican Party came about in 1854, to prevent the spread of slavery into the territories.

They’ve existed for 186 and 164 years, respectively. Not counting churches, that’s longer than almost any other nongovernmental institution — longer than most businesses, volunteer organizations and local governments.

Over the years, they’ve changed positions on issues. For example, the Republicans were originally for high tariffs, the Democrats for free trade. For the past half-century, it’s mostly been the other way around.

And the Republicans were originally the big-government party — think Reconstruction in the South, railroad subsidies and passing the first billion-dollar budget — but since the New Deal, it’s been Republicans (sometimes) bucking the big-government trend.

Yet over the long haul, the character of each party’s electoral coalition has remained the same. The Republicans are formed around a core of people considered, by themselves and others, as typical Americans but who are never a majority — Northern Protestants in the 19th century, white married people now.

The Democrats have been a coalition of disparate groups seen as being somehow atypical Americans — white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, churchgoing blacks and highly educated gentry liberals now. They’re often at odds, but when they’ve stayed together, they’ve formed vigorous majorities.

The parties thus serve as the yin and yang, the two channels in which diverse cultural and moral views can find expression and efficacy, in a country that has always, contrary to current politically correct orthodoxy, been culturally diverse.


Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.