Parties by Design: Pluralist Party Reform in a Polarized Era
Bruce E. Cain, Cody Gray
While the debate over the role of political parties is longstanding and not completely resolved amongst scholars, most reform groups are skeptical that stronger parties are the solution to contemporary problems in the American political system. Looking at the effects of past reforms and related court rulings, we maintain that many of them strengthened the hand of party activists, independently financed candidates, and donors in the nomination process at the expense of elected officials and national party officials. This has not only fueled partisan polarization due to pres- sures from party activists and donors, but it also removed any ability of the party to conduct what some have termed “peer review.” Instead of focusing on reversing past party reforms, however, we propose taking a different tack. We ask what changes might make the political parties more effective umbrella organizations that promote coalition building and better governance in this period of high polarization. Toward that end, we propose some changes that might incentivize American political parties to serve that function better. The parties themselves would have to adopt some of these reforms. Others might require that reform groups and the courts be willing to give political parties a more privileged role in campaign finance.