This blog will be devoted to taking a relatively brief but critical look at the state of play within out two major political parties. Spoiler alert: This won’t be pretty.
The party is in search of both a standout leader and a unifying message. As to the former, there is a fierce competition doing on for the Chair’s position of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Right now, the two leading candidates are Tom Perez, Obama’s Secretary of Labor, and House member Keith Ellison. Perez represents the Establishment or more centrist faction within the party, while Ellison is, in the mold of Senator Bernie Sanders, a champion of the party’s left wing. Perez believes that he has the votes of a sufficient number of delegates to snare the chairmanship even though Ellison has on his side, the likes of the aforementioned Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, both fellow progressives.
While Perez’ projection may be spot-on, it would not be surprising if no clear winner emerged in the contest between him and Ellison. In that case, delegates could turn to a relatively unknown outside the party to be its leader. That person would then have to embrace the formidable task of pulling together, the disparate factions within the party as a whole.
And those “factions” are what? There is most certainly a women’s movement as was evidenced by the “Women’s Marches” that have taken place nationwide in the last several days. Then there’s a populist group devoted to winning back to the party, those disaffected older white voters who shifted their allegiance to Trump. Finally, there are the centrists and left-of-centrists who have, for years, been the core of the Democratic Party, even as the party has drifted leftward. There is a tremendous amount of energy and engagement that cuts across all of these groups. The trick will be to harness and organize both so as to produce a massive turnout for the 2018 midterm election. Then, the challenge for the Democrats will be twofold: Protect over twenty incumbent senators from being unseated while winning back more seats in the House.
Can the new DNC leader, whoever that might be, pull off the trifecta of unifying the party, protecting those Senate seats and gaining more in the House? Here’s an optimistic albeit highly speculative answer: It can be done, especially if past and more recent histories are any guides. In that regard, let’s first remember that Bill Clinton with his “new Democrat” trope pulled the party together after it wondered in the wilderness during the twelve years of Reagan/GHW Bush. Then, there’s the 2.8 popular vote margin that Hillary enjoyed in spite of her loss to Trump. Add to that the fact that in the last election, the Dem’s gained two Senate seats and six in the House. Clearly, there is something to build on. What is likely to become a counterweight to these positives, is the party’s left-wing that is demanding a strong move in its’ populist direction. That will have to be tempered so that it is more “populist-lite”, something that the hard leftists may accept grudgingly or reject out-of-hand. The new leader must find a way to bring them on board.
Even as the Republicans hold control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, they are a party with a host of internal tensions and conflicts, not to mention finding ways to deal with and covering for Trump, their erratic, serial lying leader. What follows is a rundown of some of those problems.
Repeal and replace/repair Obamacare
House Republicans have cleaved into three factions: those who want to jettison the ACA altogether, those who would build around its most attractive parts, and those who want to put forward something very different. These divides must be bridged if the GOP is to keep its “repeal and replace/repair” promise to voters that both they and Trump have repeatedly made. To date, the party’s House leadership has failed to find a way to do that.
The House controls the government’s purse strings and will be looking for ways to fund what Trump has assured voters he will do: Build the wall along the US/Mexican border, undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure, generate tax cuts for the middle class, and rebuild our military. To get all that done is going to require deficit spending, a conservative bugaboo. Fiscal hawks in the House will demand that all this be paid for. However to accomplish that, there will have to be sizeable cuts elsewhere in the budget; say in entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Of course, any such reductions would run headlong into Trump’s repeated campaign promise not to touch those parts of the social safety net. Something or someone is going to have to give.
If an infrastructure bill is funded and passed, that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But those are, by their nature, temporary; i.e. once the road repairs are completed, you are out of work. That aside, Trump has promised to bring back well-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, in part by walking away from such trade agreements as the TPP and NAFTA, and by strong-arming companies to move out-of-country plants back to the US.
Keeping this latter promise is going to be difficult and probably impossible. That is because the bulk of manufacturing jobs have been lost, not due to bad trade pacts, but because of how dependent manufacturing has become on robotics and other forms of automation (1). Then too, companies who remain committed to their own bottom line, will be resistant to coming back here to pay an American worker say $35 an hour when an equivalent laborer in another country will do that same job for $15.
The “Protection Racket”
This topic has been covered in two previous blogs and need not be dwelt on at length here. Suffice it to say that Republicans in both houses are finding it increasingly difficult to cover for Trump’s lies and unpredictability. His assault on the free press has made matters even worse. Yet, cover they must because to turn on the president is tantamount to turning on his most zealous, cult-like followers who, you can be assured, will show up at the polls in 2018 to punish any members of Congress they view as turncoats.That same story-line would also play itself out if it were to come to pass that Trump’s entanglements with Russia are so bad as to warrant his impeachment. Even though removing Trump from office would leave the country with VP Pence in charge, the president’s supporters would be furious and ready to take revenge on those Republicans in Congress who participate in impeachment proceedings.
During the next 1.5 years, you might choose to use all of the foregoing as guideposts to what is happening within our two major political parties. For example, who becomes Chair of the DNC and what sort of unifying message does he bring to the party’s members? How do congressional Republicans help Trump keep his campaign promises without breaking the bank, and how do they deal with the manifold problems his behavior creates?
Stay tuned and by all means, stay engaged !!!
- There is joke making the rounds, and while apocryphal, contains a strong element of truth: The manufacturing plant of the future will be staffed by a man and a watch dog. The man’s job will be to feed the dog, and the dog’s job will be to keep the man from messing with the robotics.