We were told that the disaster of Donald Trump’s nomination for the presidency would cause a “civil war” in the Republican Party...after he lost by an embarrassing margin, of course. Well, that didn’t happen...inside the GOP, that is:
Liberals are seething over the election and talking about launching a Tea Party-style revolt. They say it’s the only way to keep Washington Democrats connected to the grassroots and to avoid a repeat of the 2016 electoral disaster, which blindsided party elites.
Progressives believe the Democratic establishment is responsible for inflicting Donald Trump upon the nation, blaming a staid corporate wing of the party for nominating Hillary Clinton and ignoring the Working Class voters that propelled Trump to victory.
Liberals interviewed by The Hill want to see establishment Democrats targeted in primaries, and the “Clinton-corporate wing” of the party rooted out for good.
There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in this. On the one hand, Trump’s Electoral College edge was significant – 306 EC votes to Clinton’s 232 – which does call Democratic strategists’ heavily urban approach to political outreach into question. On the other, the popular vote for president was split almost exactly down the middle, with Hillary Clinton having a slight edge. So the notion that the Democrats exhibited bad judgment in nominating “establishment candidate” Clinton isn’t well supported by the tally. But how does one challenge the judgment of the party leaders in choosing a candidate whose approach did obtain a majority?
Ultimately, the contradiction involved won’t matter. Political parties are about the acquisition, maintenance, and expansion of power. Power is the one and only metric by which they measure success. And the Democrats are as close to being completely out of power as they’ve been since the Coolidge Administration.
So the finger-pointing and jockeying for advantage has begun. It won’t end bloodlessly; careers will end and some among the mighty will be laid low. But that’s all to be expected. As usual, the buried ironies are worthy of attention.
First, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton was essentially inevitable, given the popularity of Bill Clinton. Clinton, after all, was the first Democrat to be elected to two terms in the Oval Office since FDR. That made him the Democrats’ political leader de facto, even though the hard-left Kennedy / Obama wing of the party had the top elective spot. The male Clinton was as eager to be back in the White House as his wife, for reasons better imagined than described.
Second, despite Barack Hussein Obama’s victory in his 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination, there was no way he could have won the presidency without the energetic support of the Clinton camp. However, he wasn’t about to get that without cutting a deal with the Clintons to support Hillary’s candidacy in 2016. That, of course, included keeping her in a position of nominal power for at least the first of his terms in office. That suggests that much of what the public was told to hold against her as Secretary of State was in fact dictated to her by Obama White House...though, given Obama’s attitude toward the Clintons and toward his position generally, we should have expected nothing else.
What follows from Campaign 2016 will be instructive. The Republican power establishment is already adjusting to the triumph of “maverick” candidate Trump, who appears to have taken the reins in a firm and confident hand. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have “climbed on board the Trump train,” which speaks well of their political percipience. Whether the nation’s Republican governors and state legislators will do so as willingly remains to be seen, though I consider it far more likely than not.
On the Left, the disarray inside the Democrat Party is mirrored in the “street protests” occurring within Democrat-controlled cities. The Clinton wing of the party has always been closer to the political center than the Kennedy / Obama wing, despite Hillary’s preference for a large, activist federal government. The “protestors” in the cities, supposedly in opposition to the incoming administration, have no chance whatsoever to affect that aspect of the elections. However, depending upon their persistence and their underlying support, they might succeed in displacing the Clintons and their allegiants from significant power within the Democrat Party. That would make room for the ascendancy of Elizabeth Warren and like-minded socialists.
The Democrats’ intraparty war is already at high tempo. How long it will run is anyone’s guess. But its potential impact upon the American political scene is guaranteed to be serious. Such wars only end when one side is too exhausted to continue, which will raise the victors to the heights of their party for a long time to come. Stay tuned.