The Problem With A Two-Party System

What do you do in a 2-party system when one party goes off the rails?

Americans tend to view European multi-party systems with incomprehension, if not disdain; how do the representatives of different parties form coalitions to support particular policies? Isn’t the electoral competition of multiple parties an invitation to chaos? We Americans prefer our Manichean dualism, the “either/or” of “right or wrong” (or actually, the tribalism of “us versus them.”)

It’s time to recognize that two-party systems have considerable downsides, too. 

In reality, our two major parties have always been collections of not-necessarily-consistent factions. They haven’t always been really big tents, but each party has historically encompassed a variety of philosophies. When I was much younger, the complaint was that the tents were too commodious–that having to choose between Republican and Democrat didn’t really provide the voter with a way to declare a clear policy preference, the way a Brit voter for the Green Party could, for example.

As the GOP has become far, far more monolithic, we can see the downside of that once-desired clarity. For one thing, there’s currently no political home for sane, principled conservatives, many of whom are appalled by what has become of a once-traditional party. (Remember when many Republicans were “fiscal conservatives and social liberals”?) 

To the extent that some of those homeless conservatives have reluctantly become Democrats, the Democratic Party faces a huge challenge.

Democrats have always had a bigger tent than Republicans, and have accordingly  had trouble enforcing anything that looks like party discipline. (What was that old saying? I don’t belong to an organized political party–I’m a Democrat.) With the addition of disaffected former Republicans, Democratic strategists find themselves  trying to herd cats–trying to achieve something approaching consensus among legislators and voters who come from very different places on the political spectrum.

It’s one thing to note that the devolution of the GOP into a conspiracist cult is a huge headache for the Democrats. A much bigger worry is what that devolution means for American democracy. As Jennifer Rubin has written,

A new survey from Bright Line Watch, an organization that monitors democratic practices, provides some interesting insights but little solace about Republicans’ commitment to democracy. They might say they support democratic principles (e.g., “All adult citizens enjoy the same legal and political rights”), but they fail to embrace the most fundamental democratic principle: acceptance of election results and the peaceful transfer of power.

The most basic disconnect from reality (and democratic values) remains the 2020 presidential winner. The survey reports, “94% of Democrats say [President] Biden is the rightful winner compared to just 26% of Republicans — a split that has also remained remarkably stable since Biden took office.” As a result, only 42 percent of Republicans have confidence in the outcome of elections compared to 80 percent of Democrats. That raises a question that was so prominent throughout the Senate runoffs in Georgia: Why vote if you think the whole thing is rigged?

Rubin notes that political scientists “are especially alarmed” by the number of  GOP candidates who do not accept the results of the 2020 election–not just those running for Congress, but at least 10 GOP candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states. Putting partisans who endorse Trump’s “Big Lie”  in charge of administering elections  poses a huge threat to election integrity from within.

The transformation of one major party into an illiberal, authoritarian movement is the greatest threat to democracy we face. It manifests itself in the “anti-fraud” measures (when there is no fraud) to restrict access to the ballot and to put partisans in charge of election administration; in the GOP’s decision to rally around House members who spout virulent racism and depict violence against Democrats; and in the real potential that the John Eastman memo becomes the 2024 post-election game plan for Republicans.

Unless and until all 50 Democratic senators realize that “bipartisanship” on voting and democracy reforms is impossible with a party infected with anti-democratic impulses, they will fail to install the guardrails needed to protect the country from these authoritarian forces.

In multi-party systems, members of a Green Party can find common ground with legislators from a Labor Party or a Conservative party on a number of issues. In today’s U.S.,  however,”bipartisanship” requires lawmakers who are trying  to enact reasonable policies to work with people who are steeped in racist conspiracy theories and are clearly untethered to reality.

Research confirms that there are many more sane voters than the Trumpers who control today’s GOP, but they need to vote and those votes need to be accurately counted. When the Whigs disappeared, they hadn’t gerrymandered themselves into positions of power disproportionate to their numbers. Today’s Republicans have.


Note: like most of you, I am watching–with fear and disbelief–the Russian assault on Ukraine. I have no foreign policy expertise, and there are numerous sources of genuinely informed news available, so I don’t intend (at this point, at least) to post about it. That said, I will make two observations: first, President Biden has spent much of  his career immersed in foreign policy, and I have confidence in his leadership at this very perilous moment; second, the Trump party’s reflexive support for Putin isn’t simply on the wrong side of history, it is reminiscent of the Americans who sided with Hitler and the Nazis at the outset of WWII.


  1. If anyone out there still had doubts about just how badly broken the Republican Party is, the support for Putin and Russia must erase them.

    My thoughts are with the Ukrainian people.

  2. Have to agree with John H.’s comment that the R’s are broken. Though I believe they are beyond broken, they have devolved into conspiracy theorists. So married to their own bias they have visions of grandeur with instincts toward a Dictatorship made up of Autocrats.

    I also am of the opinion we need multiple parties and ranked-choice voting.

    I, too, stand with Ukraine. I spoke with an old friend from Ukraine yesterday. I could feel the grief through the phone. Why are they still on S.W.I.F.T.? I think Biden should limit exports of U.S. gasoline and oil. I have to wonder why we didn’t invest more in Compressed Natural Gas. We never considered the issue of threats and blackmail by the Russians?

  3. Rick,

    Your concerns parallel mine. But you must remember that the broken Republicans had more to do with our current ills than any other entity. They are the go-to party for corporate greed. What happens when China, now siding with Russia in the attack on Ukraine, decides to stop sending us the pieces of our consumption economy? Uh oh. Since we no longer manufacture most things electronic, for example, our wonderful auto industry cannot send cars and trucks out of the factories. Uh oh.

    BTW, didn’t this Republican party evolve from something called the Whigs? Weren’t they, more or less, the same collection of corrupt idiots that we now see proudly making horse’s asses of themselves calling themselves Republicans? A third party invokes some fear among those clinging to their pearls. I think this is as seminal a moment, politically for our country, as the 1850s were. Never in my lifetime (80 years) have we teetered this close to civil war – even the Viet Nam era didn’t have this sort of tribal animosity spread over so large an arena.

    We’re in very big trouble as a democracy. I am strongly biased toward defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That means I am completely opposed to the Republican Party.

    My ancestry is Ukrainian. I grew up in that ethnic community in Cleveland, Ohio. Ukrainian history has always been one of independence and fighting the onslaught of Russia – more than once – Polish moguls, Scandinavian knights, Germans and now Russia again. The Ukrainians will fight, and Russia will lose – again. The loss of life will be great. Russia will end up, once again, being dirt poor and lacking the ability to find responsible government that actually works for the people rather than just power.

  4. There is a strong correlation between our broken country, authoritarianism, and the MICs foreign policy strategy. Mainly, it’s because we are an oligarchy pretending to be a democracy. This illusion of democracy is kept alive by oligarchy-owned media.

    With a grain of perceptive abilities and a critical mind, anybody can see through the daily bs printed or carried over the airways and served up as news.

    The connections between the MIC and Industry to all our so-called media and university presidents are also a farce to behold.

    The reaction by the media and Americans regarding Putin’s canceling the Fascist underbelly of Ukraine installed by US/NATO forces began in the American-funded coup in 2014 called Euromaidan. What’s sad is this historical event has already been whitewashed by the CIA on Wikipedia.

    Even though our citizens are intentionally kept clueless on these matters, Putin is former KGB and runs intelligence services. Don’t you think he knew what happened in Kyiv, who financed it, and why?

    Also, when you consider the US’s wars in the Middle East over the past twenty years based on lies, you’d think Americans have never witnessed illegal aggression by a military. LOL

    Some of the media bs (sensationalism) sounds like soundbites produced by Hollywood producers these past several days.

    Neither the democratic nor republican parties in the USA are remotely independent and do not represent the people. Naivety and ignorance with propaganda about American Exceptionalism keep the populace disillusioned.

    The populists on the right and left are getting closer to the truth. They will likely unify once the truth about the Federal Reserve is revealed and we get outplayed by superior-minded governments from China and Russia.

    While not condemning the US for endless wars since WW2, those condemning Russia have to step back and ask themselves why.

    Also, let’s compare civilian body counts in Ukraine to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine. Then we can make informed statements about “ruthless murderers.”

    I know where I’ll place my betting money. 😉

  5. We have a FOUR party system and have had for a number of years; the fact that Green and Libertarian parties are smaller and tunnel visioned in their campaign foundations do not make either of them less than a political party. I view them as problematic as people I know voted for Green party rather than Trump or Clinton; by opting to vote for one of the two major parties would/could have changed the outcome of the Electoral College vote which gave the election to Trump who had fewer popular votes than Clinton. Write-ins and lesser party candidates have no chance to win the presidential election.

    If we find a third party which could be considered a major party, will elections be decided by a simple majority of votes or would it require more than 50% of votes? In 2020 both major parties had far too many candidates; confusing not only their foundations but bringing in too many issues to support. Didn’t anyone learn from the 2016 presidential election when the RNC count of their many candidates, without throwing their full support, gave Trump 20% which left 80% against him. He became the candidate with the majority of the Republican party against him and went on to be handed the presidency with the majority of the popular vote going to Clinton.

    “In multi-party systems, members of a Green Party can find common ground with legislators from a Labor Party or a Conservative party on a number of issues.”

    Yes; the Green Party could find common ground with other parties; so could the Libertarians; but they don’t and won’t. Nor will they combine their party foundations or find common ground with either of the two major parties. Too many of the common voters pay no attention till election day and vote for familiar names with no idea WHAT they voted for. They are more familiar with Trump’s face than President Biden’s; he is louder and happy with his unending public appearances. Since 2015 we have seen Trump’s face and his rants as he endlessly applauds himself with but a brief hiatus of a few months; he is now back full force. I don’t believe Putin would have invaded Ukraine without believing the weakening of U.S. government and international diplomacy by Trump, who has thrown his full support for the Russians in the Ukraine war, would weaken NATO and EU intervention. President Biden’s actions and attempts to return to democracy, Rule of Law and support of the Constitution are hampered by having to drag Trump’s remains along like an incomplete abortion. The stench is growing stronger.

  6. Any mention of fiscally conservative and socially liberal politicians should include Blue Dog Democrats like Sen. Joe Donnelly, Sen. & Gov. Evan Bayh and all the way back to Rep. Andy Jacobs, the grandfather of BD Dems. As for me, I’m more of a bleeding-heart libertarian, a more radical version of a BDD and one who doesn’t really feel at home in any American political party and never has.

    BLL’s are remnants of the 1960-70’s hippie movement that embraced freedom and peace with a side of hedonism (for many it was the main dish and not a side). We generally believe that a democratic capitalism is the best way to organize a society but understand that markets do not always solve all our problems. And when they fail completely (health care) or become dysfunctional or corrupted by oligarchs (Media and esp social media) public policy should regulate or modify the market in such a way to alleviate the social ill. Solutions that are more local than state or federal and do not require the creation of monolithic bureaucracies are always preferred. So the Child Tax Credit is a very BLL idea….it requires money and a software change at the US Treasury Dept to administer.

    It’s anything but a movement, but if you ask any 10 Hoosiers on the street, 5-6 of them will tell you Trump won the 202 election and most of the remaining 4-5 will describe their positions in ways that are consistent with BDD’s or BLL’s.

    ☮️ #standwithukraine

  7. Actually, there are quite a lot of Republicans who are condemning Putin and expressing support for Ukraine, John H. I’m actually pleasantly surprised that the anti-Russian GOP contingent is as large as it is. It is the hardcore Trumpers who have no problem with the Russian invasion. It’s good to see the split. I do love how the Trumpers are described as “isolationists.” No, they don’t have a philosophy except that the Democrats are evil. The sanctions Biden is imposing due to the invasion are opposed by Trumpers, but if a President Trump had done sanctions, they would support them. There is no “isolationist” philosophy behind their position.

    One of my problems with Trumpers is that to them positions on issues are simply a means to an end. They view themselves as good and Democrats as the worst evil imaginable, even worse than murderous dictators like Putin. Whatever position on issues they have to take to be on the opposite side of those evil Democrats, they’re going to do it.

    Unfortunately, some people on here seem to take the position that Republicans are not just wrong on the issues, but they are rather evil. They don’t want to work with Republicans on areas of agreement. They seem to want the GOP eradicated and the US to be a one party state. That is exactly the approach Trumpers take. It’s just as wrong when it’s coming from the left as from the right.

    And then you have a poster on here who is pushing the Kremlin’s “both sides do bad things” talking point. (Which is ironically a Kremlin talking point Trump uses.) Yeah, get back to me when the United States deliberately targets civilian populations like Russia is doing in Ukraine. And get back to me when US politicians have their critics killed like Putin does. No, the United States and its NATO allies are not every bit as bad as Russia.

  8. Gentle reminder….~4M mostly young people voted for 3rd/4th parties in the 2016 election, giving us….guess who?

    The problem isn’t the parties, it’s the people in them who do not put the country/the people first; rather: The Party, ideology, their power/money, special interests. Folks, elect servant leaders and the concerns about “party” will fade.

  9. Last weekend, a man in our group asked whether a one-party system might be better, because it would end all the division and people would have to cooperate within the one party. It was a real, honest question.

    Another man added that he thought the government would do a better job of leading people, rather than the other way around.

    These are real comments from real Hoosiers. I’m reaching out to each of these guys to further the conversation. I hope I can make the connection.

  10. First, the GQP does NOT share a commitment to democracy. They might say they support democratic principles,
    (e.g., “All adult citizens enjoy the same legal and political rights”) but their voting rights history is much more
    than a slap in the face to such principles.
    Except for gerrymandering, and their voter fraud (read “suppression”)the GQP would have collapsed by now.
    Despite the awfulness of Putin’s war, perhaps he did us a favor, by making it still clearer that the GQP is a band
    of fools.

  11. I have often suggested that we go to a parliamentary multi-party system, but the day that happens (if ever) is far away considering the monied interests of status quo exponents. I have therefore concluded that a two-party system is the best we can do while awaiting changes in how we (by fits and starts) reorganize our society. We could start by a recognition of Lockean principles whereby we the people yield our sovereignty to politicians to govern us in return for our consent to be governed. Gerrymandering and other roadblocks (PAC funding by special interests etc.) have done great damage to both Locke’s social contract and the Athenian principle of majority rule and should be legislatively corrected, and quickly, if democratic idealism is to survive.

    The foregoing, I think, states the fundamental problem we have at the moment, while much of what is written allude only to symptoms of the problem and, unfortunately, given the lust for power of the greedy among us, I am not sure that a switch from a two-party system to any other form of governing protocols would immunize us from such greedhogs, though public financing of political campaigns would be a good start to needed reform.

    I see by the morning news that we have offered to rescue Zelenskyy from Ukraine. I presume this would be accomplished by special forces and would not amount to trespass of Russian territory since it is Ukrainian territory. However, he may prefer to be remembered as a patriotic martyr in history – his choice. I am otherwise pleased to see thousands of ordinary antiwar Russians in the streets demanding an end to the war, as I would be if we invaded Canada on orders of some psychotic president such as a Trump or (possibly) a DeSantis.

  12. How dare the Russians engage in such gauche behavior. Who do they think they are,America? How dare they attack Caucasians!! Military excursions should be against defenseless brown people. Russia isn’t exceptional as we in the United States . Moreover military incursions are the exclusive provenance of our great nation and its industrial complex. I hope this is not a trend.

    This is the fault of Jack Kennedy–a Democrat. This wouldn’t be happening if Kennedy had not acquiesced to Khrushchev to remove our missiles from Turkey. That was an obvious show of weakness. I too,have total faith in the brain-trust of the Biden administration. Thankfully Biden is no Jack Kennedy. Biden handled the Afghanistan withdrawal with total aplomb. It’s good that we have the grownups and their think tanks coming up with an appropriate response. The response must be we must go to war against Russia. THIS IS OUR MANIFEST DESTINY— according to our truthful media enterprises. Anything less than a military response toward Russia on behalf of Ukraine will only leave our media outcry nothing more than an impotent “Blonde Girl Alert”.

  13. Kennedy also was responsible for removal of Russian missiles located in Cuba, no mean feat in an era where schoolchildren were taught to hide under their desks in the event of atomic attack, and no to your recommendation that we initiate a war with Russia since there is a lot of policy room maneuvering for responses short of war that we haven’t tried yet. The energy and enthusiasm for war should instead be directed toward potential avenues for peace – without appeasement. War represents a last choice and a failure of policy – and we are not near that point today.

  14. “Me” vs “we” is like most human attributes a spectrum between two extremes where we can guess that all of us are normally distributed. The pervasive bell curve. While there are many alpha authoritarian extremists, up until now I would have nominated Kim Jong Un as the alpha extreme authoritarian, but he’s now been superseded by Vlad the Bad. There is no amount of human suffering too great to exceed in importance to himself what Vladimir needs for a legacy.

    Perhaps the Dalai Lama has superseded Mother Theresa as an alpha liberal.

    What makes Putin so dangerous is his singular focus on himself no matter the cost to anyone else. His position has alpha oligarch as well as alpha national ruler are both world class. He has put everything on the line in the Ukraine to double down on his success.

    Why are people surprised that he is Trump’s hero or the de facto leader of Republicans?

  15. Pete,

    “What makes Putin so dangerous is his singular focus on himself no matter the cost to anyone else. His position has alpha oligarch as well as alpha national ruler are both world class. He has put everything on the line in the Ukraine to double down on his success.” Just replace Putin in your sentence with Trump and Ukraine with winning in ’24…

  16. I’ll add this later, but Paul is either intentionally using a blind spot or should be working at the Magic Kingdom where magical thinking is required for this comment:

    “Yeah, get back to me when the United States deliberately targets civilian populations like Russia is doing in Ukraine. And get back to me when US politicians have their critics killed as Putin does.”

    That sounds like all of my democratic friends on Facebook this past few days.

    We’ve been wiping out socialist leaders and installing puppet regimes since the beginning of time. We even wipe out presidents who don’t want to take orders from the MIC – not to mention civil rights leaders.

    Good grief, Paul, you might try reading a book that hasn’t been whitewashed by the CIA. 😉

  17. Back in the day, when I took a comparative political systems course, it was apparent that multi-party systems only functioned when there were two major coalitions. Without that, you had endless gridlock. Of course, Moscow Mitch tried to ensure that as well.

    The two-party system has its flaws and we are seeing them now. Instead of two large, partially overlapping tents (remember Rockefeller Republicans). The Republicans have been drifting to the right for years until they have been mostly taken over by the John Birch types (Barry Goldwater wanted nothing to do with them).

    As I have said before, the remaining Republican voters that aren’t Trumpsters are abetting the Trumpsters by continuing to keep the Trumpster Republican politicians in power. Youngkin may have sounded “nice” to some, but did all of the people who voted for him realize that he would go full-Trump?

    The Republicans either need to get trounced, so that the adults can retake the party, or they have to go the way of the Whigs and be replaced by a better second party.

    Of course, that is just my opinion.

    A note on Ukraine – I saw an interview with a Ukrainian opposition MP. She disagreed with Zelinsky, but praised him and supported him through the crisis. Too many congressional (and talking head) Republicans support Putin — sad. More sad is that we have to stop and note the number of Republicans that don’t support Putin. We should never have to do that. It should go without saying that all Americans, Democrat and Republican, oppose autocratic, murderous dictators.

    Observation – Ukraine elected a TV personality/comedian to be President and he became presidential.
    In 2016, the US elected a TV personality (some thought comedian) to be President. He became the opposite of presidential.

  18. Who knew there was so much support for the Azov Battalion and Banderites among this blog.

Comments are closed.