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March 19, 2013

Have political parties lost their purpose?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Under the current campaign finance system, "it makes it very difficult for the parties to command both the ideological fervor and the money they rely on to deliver a reliable set of services," former DNC chairman Howard Dean said. He added that he could even foresee a day, somewhere down the line, where "the parties will dissolve."

The limits on party resources have also produced tension within the parties. Dean, for instance, had tried to pour money he had into a "50-state strategy" to build state political operations across the map in advance of the 2006 midterm elections. That sparked a feud with Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who wanted the money to go toward winning seats in swing congressional districts.

There remain, of course, some roles that only a national political party can play. Chief among them is running the process by which a presidential nominee is chosen. But even that has become harder to do.

In the 2012 campaign, for instance, Florida created havoc with the GOP campaign calendar by disregarding the national party dictates and moving its primary up into January.

More significantly, the bitter primary dragged on longer than it might have in earlier years. Billionaire benefactors kept the campaigns of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., on life support well after they would otherwise have folded.

"A long and blistering primary, where people are attacking one another and where the attacks sometimes are not on the mark but are creating an — you know, unfavorable impression — those things are not helpful," the ultimate GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, told Fox News this month.

It has become impossible to rein in those outside forces and the millions they spend, but the RNC is hoping to do a better job of coordinating them. Even that will be a tall order, given the current tensions in the party — for instance, between strategist Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads GPS, representing the establishment, and the insurgents of the tea party, along with single-issue groups such as Club for Growth.

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