As the country goes through another political realignment, the two parties are engaged in civil wars that could reshape them both. On the Republican side, the war seems to be over. Trump and the populists won. On the Democratic side, the battle is still raging. This election cycle might clear up who is winning.
The division in the GOP began with Obama’s victory and the rise of the Tea Party. Establishment Republicans were content to let the Tea Partiers rage as long as their ire focused on Democrats. Unfortunately for them, they turned on the establishment after Romney lost to Obama in 2012. They swelled their numbers with racially divisive language and anti-immigrant sentiment. While some Republicans blanched, Trump embraced and encouraged the rhetoric and the new rebels behind it.
Today, the Party of Reagan has morphed into the party of Trump. Gone are the values of fiscal conservativism, free-trade and moral integrity. Instead, anti-immigration buffered by white nationalism are core values. Isolationism has replaced interventionism. The party looks little like the one that emerged from the Reagan Revolution and, since dissent isn’t tolerated, no moderating faction has emerged to challenge Trump. The only pushback comes from Democrats.
And now, the Democrats are engaged in their own blood battle. The left flank of the party is trying to rewrite the history of the Obama administration to paint a portrait of a president who missed opportunities and failed to shift the country dramatically to the left. In their telling, Obama should have forced through a single-payer health care system, broken up the big banks, doubled the size of the stimulus and restructured the tax system.
To fix Obama’s failures, they believe, we need a Bernie Sanders in the White House. His revolution will further erode the norms that have supported a broken status quo. Ending the filibuster will allow for Medicare for All, free college, affordable housing and an end to our endless wars. Stacking the court will offset the massive number of judges Mitch McConnell is putting on the bench.
The Sanders people point to polls that show Bernie as competitive as Biden with Trump. What they miss is the attacks we haven’t seen. While there’s been back-and-forth on social media, we haven’t seen a sustained attack on Sanders like we’d see if he was the nominee. His policies would be defined as stripping away health insurance in favor of an unknown system. They would be characterized as massive tax increases. He would need to explain why he tolerated authoritarianism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe when it was behind the Iron Curtain. Sanders’ own words would be used against him to scare the daylights out of middle Americans who might not like Trump but also think things are going a little better than Bernie portrays them.
The Sanders revolutionaries will inevitably reshape the Democratic Party. Their ideas appeal to the next generation of Democrats more than the ones who hold much of the power today. However, the question is whether or not they’ll take it over like Tea Party and Trumpists did the GOP. Much of the battle will play out this primary season. 2020 could be the year we see what the future of our parties looks like.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >