The two-party system endures through a combination of residual political loyalty, entropy and, most significantly, a set of legal and electoral structures that create extraordinary barriers for potential third parties or independent bids for office, rather than because it is a rational organization of political interests. Rules making ballot access for independent candidacies difficult, the challenges independent candidates face getting media coverage or even participating in debates and state and primary elections that are paid for, in substantial part, by the states rather than the parties all contribute to the dominance of the two party system. Blurring the line between state and party has been a problem of authoritarian regimes for decades. In the US, the phenomena is slightly different, but line between the state and the two major parties is frequently difficult to identify.
Karl Rove's latest attempt to make Hillary Clinton's health and age an issue in her campaign, or non-campaign, for president was buffoonish and embarrassing for Rove, but it was also probably not very effective. Although voters have a right to know these things about a candidate who would be 69 years old on inauguration day, and who had a head injury not that long ago, the corollary that it helps the Republicans to have Rove raise them in such a way, is not true. It also demonstrates that Clinton is a truly unusual, and increasingly lucky, politician.
The growing possibility of another Clinton-Bush race is also something that reflects significant problems with our democracy. In most other countries, the spouse of a former president running against the son and brother of another former president would be prima facie viewed as evidence of structural problems with the country and probably widespread corruption as well. This election will not be seen that way because, well Hillary Clinton is beloved by many Democrats, and Bush can become beloved by many Republicans if he is seen as the guy who can beat Clinton. It is probably, however, worth taking a closer a look about what a Clinton-Bush matchup tells us about about our democracy.
The difference between the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican Party is minor and more a matter of style than substance. This is not a division based on big picture policy differences in which, for example, the mainstream Republicans understand that seeking to slightly raise taxes on the wealthy does not make somebody a socialist or that income inequality should be a concern to all policy makers interested in stewarding the economy towards prosperity. Moreover, mainstream Republicans have been alarmingly reserved over the last five years in their reactions to the often offensive statements made by some in the Tea Party movement.
As the 2016 election approaches and the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton runs becomes an even bigger topic of discussion among the punditry, it is likely that we will also be told that having a clear nominee early in the process, rather than a hard fought, and potentially nasty, campaign for the nomination will be good for the party. This idea is intuitively appealing as contested primaries can make it hard to unite behind one candidate in the general election and can damage the eventual nominee. It is additionally something that we frequently hear from front-runners hoping to avoid a tough primary. This idea is intuitive and attractive, but it should be noted that it also completely false.