Realism can mean many things in political theory. This article focuses on “common-sense realism,” an approach to decision making under uncertainty characterized by its posture toward risk. Common-sense realist arguments have become popular in recent democratic theory. One prominent example is found in debates over the responsible party institutional model (RPIM). RPIM’s main features are two-party competition for full control of government and party organizations that empower officeholders, not activists. Proponents of RPIM defend it in realist terms. They claim that efforts to pursue more ambitious democratic ideals jeopardize goods that RPIM can readily secure. In this article I articulate a realist approach to institutional evaluation that assesses proposals on three dimensions: robustness, feasibility, and stability. Using this approach, I demonstrate that the realist argument for RPIM is weaker than it initially appears. The debate over RPIM is not a debate between realism and idealism but between competing democratic ideals.