2016: Last hurrah for the two-party system?

Democrats managed to survive the first day of their national convention, but not without doing serious damage to their planned adults-in-the-room narrative. After snickering at the dissension and sniping at last week’s Republican convention, Democrats set a high bar for party unity — and then utterly failed to even come close to the GOP’s mark on that score. Despite recovering later in the program, Politico Playbook’s assessment of the day as a “disaster” was spot-on:

Whatever you thought of Sanders, Warren or Obama, Day One was mostly a disaster. The heckling was loud and distracting for the party. During her speech, Warren’s supporters chanted “we trusted you,” and even some of the Sanders faithful filed out when he voiced support for Clinton. At times, the crowd broke out into spurts of “lock her up!” The first lady was the only speaker who was not interrupted — she mesmerized the crowd, summing up the Democrats’ position as, “when they go low, we go high.”

Attendees are not pleased about Philly, either. The city is spread out. It takes too long to get from the security perimeter to the arena. Protesters caused massive traffic jams, making it tough to get across town, and from Center City, where most people are staying, to the arena. And a massive rainstorm swept through Philly in the evening, forcing the evacuation of media tents.

The media began complaining early and often yesterday, and not just about the accommodations. The DNC didn’t bother to supply speech excerpts as would normally be done, allowing the reporters on site to focus on the official events rather than anything else happening around the convention. “I’ll write about the DNC e-mail story instead,” a reporter from Raw Story tweeted in frustration.

However, the accommodations were the main problem. Who didn’t foresee that tents would be a disaster if rain came, especially given all of the expensive electrical equipment that outlets need? The RNC made the wise choice to house the media centers in actual buildings, apparently having some familiarity with the needs and equipment of reporters when making those decisions.

After a humiliating start to last night’s program, DNC officials finally got a modicum of control over the Sanders delegates and the booing became much less frequent. Sanders got some credit for that, but as delegate Angie Aker wrote in several Facebook posts, it also had something to do with intimidation by DNC officials. She slapped tape over her mouth with the word “SILENCED” on it, and became enough of a media sensation that Aker claimed DNC officials told her to remove it — and then encouraged Hillary delegates to silence her by blocking media access to her.

That didn’t work out so well:

D’oh! But Republicans shouldn’t take too much schadenfreude-licious delight in this debacle. The deep divisions running within both parties at what are supposed to be unity-fests suggest that the wheels may be coming off the much-derided two-party system. As I write in my column for The Week, the pull of factions and purity could spell an end to the grand-coalition model:

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s observation on weather, everyone complains about the two-party system — but nobody does anything about it. That has long seemed true of routine complaints about the binary nature of America’s national politics, which have been stable for more than 150 years. In 2016, however, the appeal of factional politics appears to have caught up with the Republican and Democratic parties — and at just the precise moment when both seemingly have lost the competence needed to stage a simple, scripted convention. …

The lesson from both the Republican convention and the disastrous start of the Democratic convention may well be that the much-predicted end of the two-party system has all but arrived. Both parties have traditionally acted as so-called big tents, where factions have always contended for primacy. In the end, though, party regulars — the agents of representative democracy — understood that unity after a primary boosted everyone’s access to influence and power, and held populist passions in check to ensure the best possible broad front for general elections, both for the White House and for Congress.

Now, however, the populists — agents for direct democracy — in both parties may be ready to break those ties and remain independent factions rather than yoke together for a common goal.

The fact that the two major parties managed to nominate the most disliked general-election candidates in modern history makes for a pretty good argument that the value of the two-party system has been exhausted, too. That’s why there will be few mourners at its wake.