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How to Break the Two-Party System

Abolish primaries to save the Republic.

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(pryzmat/Shutterstock)

George Washington was not a party man. 

In his Farewell Address, he warned that the political parties are “truly the worst enemy” of popular government. They are a “frightful despotism” built on the “ruins of popular liberty." They are animated by a “spirit of revenge." They are “baneful." Worst of all, the party system “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption.” 

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Two hundred years later, Washington has been vindicated, and then some. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, less than 30 percent of Americans are happy with the two-party system. (Even that seems remarkably high.)  Meanwhile, 27 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of both the Democrats and Republicans, up from 6 percent in 1994.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Abolishing the two-party system would be easier than legalizing pot. Just follow these two little steps.

Step one: abolish primary elections.

Think about it. The whole point of a primary is to decide which candidate will represent each party in a general election. All the Democratic voters get together and choose the official Democratic candidate. All the Republican voters get together and choose the official Republican candidate. And so on. 

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But why should there be an “official” candidate for either party?  After all, political parties are (technically) private organizations. So, why should the government play any part in deciding who gets to put an R or a D next to his name?

Several states already have what are called “nonpartisan primaries." In the first round of voting, every single candidate for a particular office runs against each other. The top two vote-getters then face each other in a general election. Usually it’s one Democrat and one Republican, but that’s not a given. And, believe it or not, the voters figure it out. 

California is one of four states with nonpartisan primaries. Last year, during the gubernatorial recall election, those who voted to oust Gavin Newsom were then asked to vote for a replacement. Forty-six candidates were listed on the ballot. In addition to their names, the ballot also listed their profession and “party preference”. It didn’t matter if there was one Democrat or thirty. All who collected their signatures and paid their filing fees appeared on the ballot together. 

Of those who voted to recall Newsom, 48 percent also voted to replace him with talk-show host Larry Elder (R). Coming in second was a YouTuber named Kevin Paffrath (D) with 10 percent. Despite his celebrity status—and the absurd amount of attention paid to his campaign by Fox News hosts—Caitlyn Jenner (R) secured just 1 percent of the vote. The system works remarkably well.

But primaries themselves are part of the problem. Progressives and conservatives both know that. They both hate the system, though not always for the same reason.

Progressives believe the threat of being “primaried” is forcing congressional Republicans to toe the Trumpist line, particularly on this stolen-election business. 

Just last month, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost the GOP primary by a whopping 37 points. As a legislator, Cheney voted with Trump 93 percent of the time. Yet she also voted to impeach him in 2021 and served as vice-chair of the infamous January 6 Committee. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is one of the few anti-Trump Republicans with a chance of winning re-election. That’s because Alaska also uses the nonpartisan primary system. In the general election, Murkowski is squaring off against another Republican: a Trump-endorsed challenger named Kelly Tshibaka.

Granted, Cheney probably still would have lost, even if Wyoming had a nonpartisan primary. But if Alaska had a partisan primary, Murkowski wouldn’t stand a chance. The nonpartisan primary rewards politicians who try to govern from the center.

Now, if I was a conservative from Alaska, that might sound like a bum deal. But if I was a conservative in (say) Michigan, I might appreciate a system that encourages my elected officials to represent all their constituents, not just the Democratic Party’s left-wing fringe. 

Granted, that might be a hard sell for my fellow Republicans. We don’t get as worked up about this stuff, because Democrats aren’t radicalized by the primary system. (That’s what Twitter is for.)  Yet, after the midterm cycle, that might begin to change. Because liberal millionaires are figuring out how to hack our primaries. 

Here in New Hampshire, left-wing PACs spent millions of dollars helping “ultra-MAGA” candidates win the Republican nomination. They ran television ads calling Chuck Morse, president of our state senate, the choice of “Mitch McConnell’s Washington establishment” and “another sleazy politician." The ads were trying to boost Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who went on to beat Morse by fewer than 2,000 votes. 

The thing is, Bolduc wasn’t the more right-wing candidate. Morse has a 100 percent rating from Cornerstone Action, our state’s affiliate of Focus on the Family. Bolduc has no record, because he’s never held office before. What sets him apart is his strong support for (a) Trump’s 2020 election narrative and (b) total war with Russia.

Right or wrong, the point is this: Democrats boosted Bolduc in the primary because they think he’ll be easier to beat. The incumbent, Maggie Hassan, won her last election by just over 1,000 votes. Flipping her seat is a top priority for Republicans if they’re going to take back the Senate. And both parties know that, with Bolduc as the nominee, that’s going to be much harder.

Now, those seem to me like pretty good reasons for abolishing the partisan primary. But I’d go further still.

Step two: remove all references to parties from the ballot.

Seriously, why do we list party affiliations in the first place?  

At best, it’s to help stupid people vote. We stick an R or a D next to a candidate’s name so that a willfully uninformed electorate can know which candidates are vaguely left-wing and which are vaguely right-wing. (Even that system is faulty. We had a transsexual Satanist win the GOP nomination for sheriff of Cheshire County back in 2020 with the slogan “F—k the Police." Earlier this month he pleaded guilty to illegally selling $1.5 million in Bitcoin.)

At worst, it’s to prop up the Big Two. When we put that R next to one candidate’s name, and the D next to another, we’re basically saying to the voter, “You can check whichever box you want, of course. It’s a free country. But it’s really between these guys—Team R and Team D.” 

So, just ditch the letters. Make voters go out and research the candidates before they go to the polls. Who knows?  They might learn something.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to ban political parties outright. But if they want to field “official” candidates, let them host their own primaries—and foot the bill. But there’s no reason to get the government involved. None whatsoever.

Now, some might complain that it would be difficult to know which candidates are endorsed by the party. To that I say, “Who cares?”

Dear reader, imagine a world where the words democrat and republican are never used as proper nouns. “Blue Wave” is a cocktail at a Chinese restaurant. “Red Tide” is what you get when you order scallops in September. Nobody’s ever heard of Ronna McDaniel or Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Reince Priebus is just a story parents made up to scare their kids.

This can be our world, friends. Let’s make it happen.

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