Before the election, some pundits predicted that a Trump defeat would cause the Republican Party to split into at least two discrete new parties… one representing the old GOP’s business establishment, the other for the populist firebrands of the Tea Party. As the fight over gutting Obamacare reveals, those factions are in an uncomfortable marriage. However, a full-fledged rupture doesn’t appear imminent. A bigger story, one the corporate political writers don’t focus on, is on the left. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Democratic Party split in two.
In my imagined scenario, the liberal Democratic base currently represented by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would file for divorce from the party’s centre-right corporatist leadership caste. What’s next? Led by Sanders/Warren or not (probably not), prepare to see a major new “third” party close to or equal in size to a rump Democratic one. I even have a name for this new 99 Percenter-focused entity… the New Progressive Party, or simply the Progressive Party. Since this is ahistorical America, no one remembers the Bull Moosers. Today’s Democratic Party is evenly divided between the Bernie Sanders progressives who focus on class issues and the Hillary Clinton urban liberals who care more about identity politics (gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on). In the short run, a Democratic-Progressive schism would benefit the GOP. In a three-way national contest I guesstimate that Republicans could count on the roughly 45 percent of the electorate who still approve of Trump after two months of hard-right rule. That leaves the new Progressives and the old Democrats with roughly 27.5 percent each… hardly a positive outlook for the left in the first few post-schism elections. Yet, as the cereal box warning goes, some settling may… in this case will… occur… and sooner than you’d think.
First, some “Republicans” in the Trump coalition… those Obama and Sanders voters who switched to Trump… will migrate left, attracted to a Progressive left-nationalist economic message that puts working-class Americans first, minus the racism and nativism of the anti-NAFTA Trump right. Doesn’t feel like it this second, but bigotry is finding fewer adherents. Second, demographic trends favour any left-of-the-Democrats party. Slightly more than half of Americans aged 18-to-29 oppose capitalism in its current form. Some Millennials would move right over time, John Adams style… but most won’t, mainly because the capitalist economy isn’t likely to reward them with better-paying jobs as they age. A strong Progressive Party… and 27.5 percent of the vote is strong, guaranteeing access all the way down the ballot to minor races and a spot on the national presidential debate stage… would be the natural home for America’s long-disenfranchised political left. Third, the Progressives would attract sustained media attention. Excitement generates enthusiasm. Finally, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that some mainstream Republicans disgusted by a Trump/Tea Party-dominated Republican Party might scoot over to the old Democrats… whose current politics are Republican Party circa 1980, so it isn’t like it’d be an uncomfortable fit… adding to their numbers.
Granted, this is all very back of the envelope. However, my instincts tell me we’d probably wind up with three surprisingly evenly matched parties before too long. To be clear, a Democratic split isn’t inevitable. It may not even be more likely than not, not in the next few years anyway. Nevertheless, what about 10 or 20 years out? The further you extend the timeline, I’d bet a tidy sum that the left would finally hear what the Democratic Party leadership has told them for half a century… we don’t need you, we don’t owe you, we won’t do anything for you… and walk.
Why am I so convinced that today’s Dems will go the way of the Whigs? Still controlled by centre-right Clintonistas, the Democratic National Committee continues to snub progressives and leftists despite the fact that Bernie could’ve beaten Trump. Throughout the campaign, polls showed Bernie would outperform Hillary in the fall. Still, the DNC cheated on her behalf. Moreover, they sleazily lined up the superdelegates for her. She never considered him for Veep. She didn’t even promise to appoint him to the cabinet… big mistake. She didn’t adopt any of his signature platform planks. After the debacle, Democratic leaders blamed everyone but themselves… WikiLeaks, Russia, the FBI, the media, even Bernie voters. They didn’t think they did anything wrong. In the race for DNC chair and thus for the soul of the party, they picked the establishment choice over the progressive. If you’re a Bernie Sanders Democrat, you have to be a complete idiot to believe that the Democratic Party learnt the lesson of 2016… lean left or go home. Even after it became clear that Trump was putting together the most right-wing administration in American history, Democrats still voted in favour of Republican appointees.
I can’t predict how the great split-up of the former Democratic Party will play out. However, given the escalating rage of the party’s progressive base in the Age of Trump and the absolute refusal of the DNC leadership to grant them concessions, it’s hard to imagine this restive crowd staying calm and keeping Democratic. The tsunami is coming. Lefties have a choice… get washed away or grab a surfboard.
15 March 2017