U.S. on Verge of Multi-Party System?

This article was originally posted on RealClearPolitics.

The surging popularity of Ted Cruz and the persistent support for Bernie Sanders illustrate that both the Republican and Democratic parties are facing an existential crisis. Indeed, both parties may be headed for a divorce, ushering in a new era of multi-party politics.

The Republican Party consists of two major factions: businesspeople and social conservatives. Yet, other than a shared dislike of President Obama and lefties in general, there is very little to unite these two major groups.

On the one hand, the business faction is pro-free trade, opposed to regulation, eager to embrace globalization, disinterested in social issues, and religiously agnostic. They find common ground with both moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans because, as one might expect of businesspeople, they are pragmatic and instinctively centrist.

Social conservatives, on the other hand, are ideologically inflexible, being primarily animated by issues that businesspeople care very little about, such as gay marriage and abortion. Even worse, many social conservatives — particularly those who come from blue-collar backgrounds — are adamantly opposed to free trade and “Big Business” in general. They are reflexively protectionist and distrustful of Wall Street. In those ways, social conservatives have more in common with labor unions and Bernie Sanders than they do with fellow Republicans.

Cruz is a staunch social conservative. He rails against Big Business and crony capitalism. He was opposed to the bipartisan bank bailouts, even though they prevented the Great Recession from becoming the Second Great Depression. He is opposed to the “philosopher-kings” at the Federal Reserve who control monetary policy and bizarrely advocates a return to the gold standard. This latter belief betrays a revisionist view of American history and an underlying economic illiteracy that is at substantial odds with the business community.

If, as many still expect, Donald Trump’s campaign collapses, Cruz would be in an excellent position to capture the billionaire’s supporters. And if that happens, it very well could hasten the end of the Republican Party.

Democrats’ prospects are just as bleak. Like Republicans, what unites them more than anything is a shared hatred of their political opponents.

The Democrats constitute an uncomfortable coalition of aggrieved groups. The party’s support stems largely from those members of our society who hold grudges against other members of our society. Democratic leaders, from President Obama to Vice President Biden, have energized their base by stoking anger over racial and economic injustice, both real and imagined. Biden’s warning in 2012 that Republicans want to put black people back in chains is just one example of the party’s divisive and toxic rhetoric toward fellow Americans.

This unhappy union of the perpetually outraged cannot last. Sanders’ supporters, who rail against economic injustice while sipping cappuccinos in their Ivy League dormitories, have little in common with hard-working, Catholic Hispanics and socially conservative African-Americans. Sanders’ rallies are as lily white as Norway.

Both political parties have strayed far from their roots. The Republicans are turning their backs on business, and the Democrats are turning theirs on labor. No wonder so many Americans feel disenfranchised.

A major political realignment seems imminent. A party for the economic far left, another for right-wing social conservatives, another for blue-collar workers, and another for businesspeople may be in our not-too-distant future.

That might be good thing. Change can be refreshing and invigorating. So, perhaps it is time that the United States gives the multi-party system a shot. It surely couldn’t be any more dysfunctional than what we have now.