Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Disunited Democrats Myth

One of the most beloved tropes of the punditoisie is the "both sides do it!" story. Republicans are extreme. But so are the Democrats! Republicans are disunited. But so are the Democrats!
On one level, such stories are bound to contain at least a grain of truth. There are certainly some extremists in the Democratic Party and there is some disunity among Democrats. In that very weak sense, the trope is true; both sides do do it.
But the problem is that such stories are generally pitched to make both sides look kind of equal in their sins or problems. This is not right. Today's Republican Party is way, way more extreme and disunited than the Democrats. And that is what is truly interesting about today's politics, rather than the fact--guaranteed to be true at all times and places--that both parties contain some extremists and some tendencies toward disunity.
Nowhere is the silliness of the "both sides do it" trope more evident than in the spate of stories about fights between moderates and progressives, Clintonites and Sanderistas,, etc in the Democratic Party. True there are some fights but that does not make the situation within the Democratic Party remotely similar to the ongoing brawl within the Republican Party between Trump supporters, establishment Republicans, Tea Party supporters, Trump himself, the Freedom Caucus and Congressional leaders like Ryan and McConnell. This is a huge mess that tracks into every aspect of Republican politics today, and not in a good way.
One of the best takedowns of the disunited Democrats myth just got published on the Brookings website by Elaine Kamarck, Alexander Podkui and Nicholas Zeppos.
"The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, most recently associated with the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders, is providing a boost of activism and energy to the Democrats. For instance, take a look at the following graph. In a year where we are seeing a large increase in the total number of Democratic candidates we are also seeing a very large increase in the percentage of self-identified progressive Democrats running in primaries.
Compared to 2016 and 2014, the number of progressive candidates—many of them endorsed by political action groups that have sprung up in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—has increased sharply in all of the states that have had primaries so far, with the exception of West Virginia.
Another piece of good news for Democrats is that by and large these candidates are not engaging in a civil war inside the Democratic Party. In order to take control of the House of Representatives, Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats. If the newly energized progressive candidates were challenging Democrats in safe seats, their actions would probably not lose the seat for the Democrats but they could weaken the incumbent and prompt the need to put more resources into what was a safe district. Of even more concern was that progressives would challenge Democrats in Democratic-leaning districts on the grounds that they were insufficiently liberal. This kind of challenge could cost Democrats seats in a year when they should be gaining seats.
Instead of forming a circular firing squad and endangering Democratic incumbents, thus far progressive challengers have tended to run in districts where there are Republican incumbents or open seats where Republican incumbents have retired. Only eight progressive challengers have run against a sitting Democratic incumbent, compared to over sixty who have entered a primary for the opportunity to take on a Republican representative this fall."
Got it? Yes, more progressive candidates are running. No, this is not leading to Democratic disunity. The Tea Party, this isn't.
Also see:
Sahil Kapur in Bloomberg on "The Democrats Are Moving Left Without Self-Destructing"
Emily Singer in Mic on "Democratic candidates are focused on issues such as health care, despite what pundits say"
So far, progressive candidates are choosing to run mainly against Republicans rather than Democratic incumbents.
BROOKINGS.EDU

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