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A vast swath of the electorate, and a great many serving in the government itself, have come to misguidedly view America’s system through a parliamentary lens: they see political parties as more than the primary actors within the governmental structure; they see the parties as the government. Thus, too many people of all political stripes have come to perceive America’s constitutional structure as a set of mechanisms to control and utilize for one party’s political ends, rather than a set of institutions for the parties to operate within, and conflict with, each other.
America’s political parties have permeated government for so long that Americans long ago adopted as conventional wisdom that redistricting is somehow the proper responsibility of political parties – and that gerrymandering is but a corrupted form of that responsibility. Though this has been a practical reality for multiple generations, the assumption itself is a misconception; it is a reflection of the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties have permeated government for so long, Americans today make little distinction between the parties themselves and the governmental institutions within which they operate. The persistence of that conventional wisdom serves as a false premise when it comes to debates over issues such as redistricting reform.
I argue that gerrymandering, though furtively embraced by many in each party because it preserves electoral stability, actually exacerbates internecine party tensions and undermines the institutional function of Congress when it is coupled with prolonged legislative gridlock. Leaders in both parties are so focused on the party's immediate electoral success that they fail to realize the harm gerrymandering causes. Candidates who only promise to agitate for the purest forms of party doctrine and eschew compromise (in a legislature specifically built to achieve it), are elected in ever greater numbers by frustrated constituencies that have outsized power precisely because their districts are artificially constructed.
If there is one thing upon which people of every political persuasion agree, it is that Congress does not function according to its purpose. Yet, paradoxically, many today also hold the hardline view that political compromise is tantamount to capitulation — and that only the opposing party should do it. Such thinking cascades from congressional leaders' attitudes toward the institution of Congress itself to each party's caucus and constituencies. The Framers' purposefully complex design fundamentally depends upon the assumption that legislators would always seek to achieve political progress on issues and would therefore ultimately work together to overcome differences. That assumption, unfortunately, has in many ways been turned on its head in recent decades by the actions of party leaders in Congress.
Despite numerous potential impediments, redistricting reform has a clear truth on its side: While America’s parties should always be in the business of winning elections, they should never be in the business of engineering their own constituencies. Neutral redistricting would force the parties to work for the electorate, rather than for themselves.
When the nation's elected leaders allow major issues to remain unmanaged and unresolved for so long, many voters' perceptions tend to move toward the extreme, and to ossify there. What’s more, many proponents and adherents of such “pure” positions begin to see such views as the political center. As long as political progress remains absent, this intensification of divisions will persist and metastasize. Congress risks fomenting public disillusionment with the system itself. Gridlock, though lamented in the abstract, has come to be celebrated as the prevention of the other party’s goals on many-a-specific issue. When this occurs, and persists, gridlock becomes institutional dysfunction. That is dangerous.
During the Republicans' "Repeal and Replace" effort to overturn the ACA, I argued that many conservatives focused upon the ACA's internal inefficiencies but offered a solution that would actually exacerbate many of its problems. They tended to confuse, or perhaps conflate, the sort of market efficiencies that typically produce exclusive markets with the sort of internal market efficiencies that can make a regulated market function better. There is a fundamental difference.
In this essay, I argue that the parties’ concerted efforts in Congress to avoid compromise rather than achieve it over the course of the last few decades have fostered a growing belief within the electorate that only purely partisan solutions to ongoing problems are acceptable -- and feasible.
The premise of the article is that if the Republicans’ and Democrats’ primary election systems were reversed, Donald Trump would likely have not garnered the Republican nomination. Bernie Sanders has essentially called for a more democratic, more bottom-up primary process to reflect the collective will Democratic voters during primary elections. However, the Republicans have a system that closely reflects Sanders' desire--and they possessed no mechanism to stultify Donald Trump's momentum during the primary process even though many in the party desperately wanted to. Political parties, as private organizations, may be wise to retain some say in their primary nomination processes.