In This Review

Crackup: The Republican Implosion and the Future of Presidential Politics
Crackup: The Republican Implosion and the Future of Presidential Politics
By Samuel L. Popkin
Oxford University Press, 2021, 368 pp

The first wave of books about now former President Donald Trump concerned the man. A second wave strove to understand his supporters. Now, a timely third wave takes on the broader political environment that led to his rise and supported his administration. Popkin looks at two crucial elements of a healthy democracy: strong political parties and a functioning legislature. Only political parties with “a past to honor and a future to protect” can create collective responsibility among elected officials. Without that, there can be no coherent legislative agenda and no way for voters to hold anyone responsible for policy success or failure. With a dysfunctional legislature, power shifts to the president, to rule via executive orders that can be instantly erased by his or her successor. In order to hold together a coalition of diverse interests, political parties must marshal more resources than do outside forces. Without that discipline, parties devolve into ad hoc collections of actors pursuing individual ambitions. Popkin convincingly places much of the blame for the deepening dysfunction of recent decades on campaign finance reform efforts that failed to reduce the skyrocketing totals of campaign spending or to bring unaccountable “dark” money into the sunlight. And both parties have failed to exercise the powers they still retain—for example, the power to shape the choice of presidential candidates. Democrats should take no comfort, Popkin warns, that the Republican Party has fractured first: they are equally vulnerable.