Can the Parties Save Themselves?
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I have a new piece up at Discourse offering the Democratic Party advice on the opportunity it could take advantage of to appeal to a broad majority. Yeah, I know. I’ve written a few pieces like this before, and while I got a call once from a moderate Democratic congressman who seemed interested, I don’t have a lot of illusions that these suggestions are going to become the new agenda of the DNC. But it can’t hurt to try.
My bigger point is about how the American system is supposed to work.
I used to complain about each party having a 50-plus-1 mentality, giving up on the big landslide wins that come from embracing widely popular causes and instead making the fewest compromises necessary to gain a bare majority. The ideal, in effect, is to get just one vote more than 50%. Now we’re looking at the politics of 50 minus 1—trying to figure out how to claim power without getting even that 50%-plus majority, by leveraging the electoral college, gerrymandering congressional districts and appealing to allies in the courts.
I don’t think such an approach is sustainable for a political party, and it is definitely not healthy for our system as a whole. This is what fuels the kind of insurrectionist and civil-war rhetoric that is growing louder, particularly on the right. We have a faction that wants to appeal only to a minority, to stoke the passions of the conservative base. But they still retain the ambition of wielding all the power they might have achieved if they had appealed to a majority.
I point specifically to the mischief that happens when a party collapses in one state in the union, removing all local checks on the craziest ideas from the other party. In this respect, I describe Florida as the mirror image of California. The worst trends in today’s politics come from states with one-party rule, and for everybody’s sake, the other party needs to be willing to adapt to become competitive.
In effect, as radical as I am in my own ideas for how American government should be run, I recognize that my radical ideas tend to be shared by a very small minority, so we’re better off being governed by a relatively broad consensus.
The big issue of today is preserving representative government and the American system. To do that, we need to preserve the spirit of it, and that will require political parties to start thinking of themselves as attempting to build and appeal to this kind of broad consensus.
The Republican Party isn’t going to do that anytime soon, so we need to appeal to Democrats to seize this opportunity and do it first.
I think I said back in 2016 that the party that can regain its sanity first is the one that will win.
This leads me to the presidential primaries for 2024. I haven’t really been covering this contest because there is no contest.
As Jonathan Last points out, we have now settled all of the “known unknowns” from January 6, 2021.
Would Trump be impeached a second time?
Would Trump be an active player in the 2022 elections?
Would Republicans retake Congress in 2022?
Would Trump run for president in 2024?
If so, would he face a serious Republican challenge?
Would Trump face criminal prosecutions for his actions?
We now have the answers to all of these questions. If any of these factors were going to cause Republicans to reject Trump, at long last, it would have happened by now.
Incidentally, one question people have been puzzling over is the question of what exactly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been doing. Most of the Republican candidates have avoided criticizing Donald Trump at all, and DeSantis has been particularly conspicuous in this regard, which seems strange if he is trying to set himself up as the leading candidate to unseat Trump. But I think it’s clear that DeSantis and most of the others are not running to beat Trump. Some, like Vivek Ramaswamy, are running for pure self-promotion. The rest are running to replace Trump if for any reason he would not be able to run in 2024. So they are unwilling to criticize Trump and risk alienating his most fanatical supporters.
Among Democrats, there is current a certain amount of panic right now about the need to replace Joe Biden. Certainly, Biden is not a popular president and is looking particularly old and frail these days. (I don’t buy the idea that Biden is senile because I’m not sure how you would differentiate that from his normal baseline of gaffes and foolishness.) Yet I don’t think Democrats are going to change leadership.
You can imagine the party’s wise men getting together to rally behind a new ticket with a moderate and charismatic younger candidate—my favorite is Colorado Governor Jared Polis. But they can’t do that without starting a giant fight over whether they also dump Vice President Kamala Harris, who is a much worse candidate than Biden. And any such attempt would be denounced as racist because this is just the standard operating procedure for a whole wing of the party. So the risk for Democrats in throwing over Joe Biden is that they end up with an even worse candidate—but after months of denouncing each other as racists. Yeah, that’s not a risk they’re going to take.
As I say in my Discourse piece, this is why a party needs to stay broadly competitive in many different states, because that’s how you cultivate a supply of successful politicians with broad national appeal who are under the age of 80.
And the panic among Democrats is probably unnecessary. Biden is down in the polls—but he’s about as far down, at this stage of his presidency, as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were.
More important, in my view, is the fact that Biden is luckiest SOB in the world, and once more he is up against an opponent who is even weaker than him. I point this out at the beginning of my Discourse article.
A new poll from the highly respected National Opinion Research Center delivers apocalyptic news for the Republican Party. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, 63%, say they would not support Donald Trump’s reelection in 2024. And that’s a pretty firm result: 53% of respondents said they would “definitely” not support him. The poll also shows the underlying reason for this result: Trump has failed to convince the public either that the 2020 election was stolen—about 70% reject that claim, up slightly from early 2021—or that he acted legally in all the many cases where he has now been indicted.
The central defining claim of Donald Trump’s campaign is that the 2020 election was stolen from him—but voters just aren’t buying it.
I don’t think anybody really wanted to see another round of Trump versus Biden, but here we are, and I don’t think it will produce any big surprises.
The interesting action in 2024 will, I suspect, be on the state and congressional level, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on that. In the shorter term, the surprise in our politics is going to be what happens with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has had two unmistakeable instances of freezing up mentally while speaking to the press. It’s clearly time for him to retire, but it’s not clear he can be convinced—people who get into political power tend to be the kind of people who have an unhealthy obsession with power—or who will replace him.
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