We’re watching the Republican Party crack up. I expect it to survive, but the party that emerges from the current implosion will likely not be exactly the same one we’ve been dealing with in recent years. A realignment will happen on the Right. I don’t expect “movement conservatism” and the influence of phonies like Paul Ryan to completely go away, but I do think, if Trump loses as badly as I think he will, the surviving Republican Party will be eager to sever any ties to teabaggerism. I also suspect that what emerges will be prepared to downplay social conservatism and “religious right” issues in favor of economic and foreign policies. That would be a “best case” for the GOP, though, and I’ll come back to this in a bit.
Meanwhile, let’s look at the Democrats. Thomas Frank wrote in exasperation about self-satisfied, complacent Democrats. Bow howdy, does he have them pegged. Party insiders and loyalists apparently think the Democratic Party has found the winning formula for glory and doesn’t have to change a thing.
For example, Rick Perlstein wrote in The Nation,
What are the prospects for a realignment of American politics? On the Democratic side, practically nil. The presidential front-runner—the one with the endorsements of 15 out of 18 sitting Democratic governors, 40 out of 44 senators, and 161 out of 188 House members—is running a campaign explicitly opposed to fundamental transformation. Her signature campaign promise—no new taxes on households making $250,000 or less—renders serious change impossible.
Note that Perlstein appears to see nothing wrong with this.
The chance for her opponent to win the nomination approaches mathematical impossibility. He is running as a “revolutionary.” But governing is a team sport. If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history.
One side promises competence. The other promises the impossible. This is the Democratic Party in 2016.
The pathetic truth is that even if a miracle were to occur and Sanders won the nomination and the White House, he wouldn’t face obstruction just from Republicans. Most Democrats would probably try to destroy his administration also, to see to it that he accomplishes nothing and has only one term. Never forget that the Clintons own the DNC.
Perlstein’s comments were part of an article in which three people offered opinions on a potential political re-alignment of the two major parties. The first individual wrote about how cute it was that young people can organize using those social media things, although of course none of this will ever have any impact on the two major parties, in which the grown ups do stuff. The second comments were Perlstein’s, and the third guy, named Daniel Schlozman, apparently thinks that the future will lumber along about like the recent past.
Democrats and republicans will likely spend the coming decades as they have the last eight: fighting over the legacy of the New Deal, respectively defending and assailing its commitments to a robust welfare state and a mixed economy. …
… With their own house largely in order, the New Dealers’ proverbial grandchildren watch with both fascination and horror the lurid spectacle of a Republican Party whose contradictions have, in the unlikely figure of Donald Trump, finally come to the fore.
According to Schlozman, then, the Democrats’ house is largely in order, and they are watching the Republicans crack up from a safe and secure distance.
Here’s the thing — first, all these complacent Democrats apparently are determined to overlook the fact that their darling candidate, queen of complacency and competence, has still failed to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates and will probably need the superdelegates at the convention to close the deal. And her only rival is an elderly socialist who was not a nationally recognized figure until recently and not formally part of the Democratic Party until last year.
The degree of their determination to not see the implications of this fact rivals that of General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge. Never have so many eyes been so avowedly glued shut.
Since she does own the DNC, and the convention is the DNC’s party, there’s little question Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. And in Donald Trump, Hillary has hit the opponent lottery. He is tailor-made for her long-practiced shtick of feigning martyred feminist victimhood while promising testosterone-on-steroids toughness, especially on foreign policy. Even better, if his crude bigotries become the center of the fall campaign she can look principled and serious without having to defend her own record on anything. Win/win!
And, as far as the complacency crowd goes, winning the November election will be vindication that those Sanders people were just wrong about everything and need to learn their place. Which is, like, nowhere, as far as they’re concerned.
My sense of things is that the Clintonistas have persuaded themselves that opposition to Clinton is based on sexism and the many spurious charges of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Once the election is over, they think, that opposition will fade away. Obviously I disagree, but a lot depends on keeping the young folks from getting too discouraged by what’s about to happen over the next few months.
But let’s go back to the Republicans. And the Democrats. It’s obvious to me that both parties have been in locked into extreme reactive mode for some time. This is particularly obvious with congressional Republicans. They’ve devolved to the point of having no cohesive idea how to do anything; their only function is to stop the Democrats from doing anything.
And the state Republican governments are no better. They do little but think up new ways to stop abortions or react to the conservative outrage du jour, currently transsexuals in public restrooms. Kansas has gotten so bad that even the Republican legislature is in revolt against more tax and budget cuts. That’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse, I think.
Movement conservatism as we know it very much took shape as a reaction to the New Deal and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. McCarthyism and John Birch-ism are part of its DNA as well, of course. But for the past several decades “conservatism” in America has been in a long arc of being more and more reactionary, until it’s finally reached the point of being utterly dysfunctional.
We may not yet have hit the Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” moment, but with the Trump nomination we’re damn close to it, I think.
But the Democrats, too, have fallen into their own reactionary pattern. Especially since the ascension of the Clintons, the Democratic Party has been locked into the mode of reacting to the Republican Party. Everything they do — or don’t do — seems calculated with the Right in mind, one way or another.
Even as the Right is imploding, we’re lectured by Democrats that nothing can be done because of the Right, but Clinton is our best hope of getting nothing done competently. She promises little on the domestic front except to keep things from getting worse. (Supreme Court; protecting Obamacare; etc.) As Rick Pearlstein said, what little she has promised makes serious change impossible. And the current Democratic Party considers this to be a model of success.
And yet it doesn’t occur to the Democrats that if the Republican Party changes, they will have to change also.
But how? A lot depends on how the Republicans change, and how quickly.
Best case, for the GOP, would be if a large part of them disavowed the bigots and baggers, stepped back from the extreme-right precipice, and got serious about governing. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible they could revert to a being a mostly pro-business party as in the old days –Dick Nixon’s “cloth-coat Republicans” from the Checkers speech, but without the red-baiting. The culture wars would be put on the back burner, if not taken completely off the stove. They’d still fight for tax cuts and against regulations, but only within realistic limits.
That may sound farfetched, but if the donors who keep the GOP going decide that’s their best option after Trump, that could happen. In which case, how would they be much different from the neoliberal Clinton Democratic Party?
In fact, sometime down the road I could see a realignment putting neoliberal Republicans and Democrats on the Right, and democratic socialist progressives on the Left. That would be more like the political alignments one sees elsewhere on the planet.
I’ve also seen it suggested that the GOP could evolve into an isolationist and anti-globalization party that would peel anti-neoliberal pacifists away from the Democrats, but I think that’s less likely. The point is, though, that whatever happens to the Republicans will force the Democrats to make adjustments, at the very least.
It would be good for all of us if Trump loses big, and if the GOP loses control of the Senate and ends up with fewer seats in the House. This would be good for all of us even if it means watching Clinton win in a landslide and assume a mandate. The bigger the loss for the GOP, the bigger the realignment. The bigger the realignment on the Right, the more pressure on the Dems to change as well.
Or, if the GOP implodes entirely, that leaves room for a new national party. And there’s no rule that says that party can’t form on the Left..