Here’s the scenario I consider most likely:
The new political speech restrictions and the rise of the Internet both encourage the formation of relatively ad hoc political organizations at the national level. Such groups will exert an increasing amount of influence on national politics. The two major parties will continue to exist and frame national political contests, although their platforms may become far more volatile.
Is this really different from what’s gone before? It seems to me that we’re just moving back to a more retail level of politics. Is Howard Dean’s organization so much different than the Sierra Club or the Teamsters? It may seem that Dean has an organization, but I think that it’s more that the organization has Dean. It’s like superheated water - it requires some nucleation side to boil but the real energy is from the pent up state. In the same way I think Dean is just a catalyst for the anger of a political ideology that’s dieing, rather than Dean creating a politcal movement.
It’s difficult for me to see how this is fundamentally different than the kind of endorsement that various organizations have given candidates since the early days of the republic. We haven’t seen it for a while because of the scale of national politics. As webloging harkens back to the pamphlateers of the early republic, the Dean phenomenon is similar to things like the Free Soil party. My prediction is that future candidates will be expected to be able to bootstrap themselves in to the running via this kind of catalyzed organization. Candidates that don’t will simply be unable to compete effectively. Moreover, this kind of organizational / machine politics will render primaries less and less relevant. In effect, the active voters (the only ones who vote in primaries anyway) will “vote” by joining such organizations. Again, this isn’t really new - rather, it is primaries that are relatively recent invention that is outliving it usefulness1. In effect, what used to be done in the party conventions will be done over a longer period of time before the primaries by organizational competition among the candidates.
We can expect to see the beginnings of this for the Republican Party in 2008. I suggest any serious candidate call Patrick Ruffini now before someone else does.
1 Not only are primaries threatened by the changes described here, but the “we can have a primary earlier than you” effect has not be healthy for them either.