How American Politics is Changing, and Why Outsiders are Doing So Well

By Published on September 30, 2015

So here’s a hypothesis — raw, incomplete, and potentially incorrect — for why politics has been so surprising this year: The tools that party insiders use to decide both electoral and legislative outcomes are being weakened by new technologies and changing media norms. And so models of American politics that assume the effectiveness of those tools — models that weight elite opinion heavily, and give outsiders and insurgents little chance — have been thrown off.

The kind of campaigning that happens on television and before crowds is a small fraction of what’s necessary to win a nomination, or lead a congressional delegation. The inside game — courting donors, winning endorsements, influencing the primary calendar, securing key committee assignments, luring top staffers, working with interest groups —makes up the bulk of politics.

Mastery of the inside game is hard to assess and so is frequently undervalued, but it’s also determinative — it’s why wooden campaigners like Mitt Romney and Al Gore win primaries, and why no current leader of either party’s congressional wing can deliver an exciting speech. The media often scratches its head over how such weak politicians prove so successful at politics, but the answer is they’re not weak politicians — they’re excellent politicians, but the part of politics they excel at is largely hidden.

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We Have Hope Again
Jennie Allen
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