Are Moderate Democrats the New Republicans?
Reacting to the asymmetrical polarization of the electorate.
Observing the wrangling over the latest COVID stimulus package, Brad Warthen concludes, “The role of Republicans is now filled by moderate Democrats.”
By “role” I mean “constructive role” or “traditional role.” The proper role of a loyal opposition, one that’s dedicated to contributing a point of view on the way to actually getting things done.
Which of course stands in sharp contrast to the embarrassing behavior we’ve seen exhibited in recent years by the loud, ranting, mentally dysfunctional remnants of the Trump-worshiping former GOP.
I noticed this frequently during the debate over the latest COVID relief bill. While people who wear the label of “Republican” sat on the sidelines making a shameful exhibition of themselves, moderate Democrats have steadily reshaped the bill, often in ways that normal, sane Republicans would have done back in the day.
Like me, he holds out faint hope that we will see a return of that particular species:
Maybe we could take these people — Joe Manchin and the others — and persuade some of the few, pitifully few nominal Republicans who still on rare occasion act like normal, thinking human beings (Mitt Romney, etc.) to join them. Get enough of them (a tall order), and then everyone could ignore the Trumpists, and we’d be back to the two-party system we once were used to — consisting of serious people with different viewpoints, constructively dealing with each other to shape legislation.
But of course, we’re nowhere near having a critical mass of them. Anyway, I’d hate to strip the Democrats of moderation that way. Do that, and the AOCs might actually start wielding the kind of influence among Democrats that the Trumpists like to pretend they do.
So for now, I’m sort of resigned to letting the bipartisanship go on between different kinds of Democrats. It’s not perfect. It would be nice for the Republicans to snap out of it and fill the position again themselves. But that’s not going to happen for awhile. The Götterdämmerung of the GOP is evidently going to be long, drawn-out, messy and painfully embarrassing to watch…
Given years of increasingly asymmetrical polarization, those of us with center-right sensibilities might well be better off, as Bill Kristol urges, fighting to steer the Democratic Party in our direction than engage in a futile effort to reclaim the GOP. And, considering that there’s a demonstrably better chance that the Democrats will nominate a Joe Biden than that the Republicans will nominate a Mitt Romney again, that’s the strategy I’ve pursued in the last couple of cycles.
While the Overton Window has decidedly moved in the direction of AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, it appears, for now, that that brand of Democrat is only electable in very Blue states and districts. Conversely, with few exceptions indeed, relatively moderate Republicans are all but shut out of the process because of the aforementioned asymmetry of polarization.
But that approach isn’t without consequence. If all the sane Republican voters leave for the other party, that leaves only the most rabid voters in charge. Instead of retaking the party being merely unlikely, it becomes impossible.
Given that the poles will occasionally align to give us Republican Presidents and Congressional majorities, that’s a problem. It is, however, not one for which I have a viable solution. (Getting rid of primaries and returning to elite candidate selection would likely work but there’s no prospect in sight of that happening.)