LET'S PARTY IV
DIVORCE IS INEVITABLE: MULTIPLICATION BY DIVISION
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go…?
---- The Clash (1982)
DIVORCE REPUBLICAN STYLE: THE NEW REPUBLICAN PARTY
It is looking increasingly likely that Trump will lose the election. Whether he will retire from politics after the lights of the 2016 election are dimmed remains a question. One many Republicans are hoping will be answered in the affirmative.
This is not a man who takes defeat gracefully. More troubling is the fact that he surrounds himself with practicing sycophants. Beware of toadies, however, they are not always what they seem. Ailes and Bannon are not your usual panders and ass-kissers. No Katrina Pierson, Corey Lewandowski or Jeff Lord are they.
They are consummate Machiavellians. Others might refer to Donald as a billionaire businessman or an astute politician. Those who oppose him could describe him as a bigot and misogynist. For Ailes, Bannon and others like Alex Jones, Trump is a willing ventriloquist’s dummy. They will not lose him lightly.
Trump, at their bidding and with their complicity, has provided their particular brand of hate and demagoguery a retail outlet. From the shadows, extreme right groups from Klu Klux Klan to the Neo-Nazi Party have been brought into alignment with the Tea Party and the disaffected who blame a conspiracy of others for their condition.
They have in Trump a means to assume the mantle of an organized and respected political party. The Party of Lincoln is close to becoming the Party of Bannon/Ailes and the Alt-right. Although in recent days Ailes’ continuing role has come into question.
Recent reports are that he and Trump have parted ways. Depending on who you ask, Ailes was given his walking papers because he proved unhelpful in preparing the candidate for the debates with Clinton; or, Ailes had better things to do than deal with Donald’s short attention span and inability to take advice.
With or without his bestie, Trump will be relegated to the role of figurehead—a public personae—post an election loss. Why—with legitimacy before them—would Bannon and friends allow Donald to slip from public view? Ventriloquists need their dummy.
They already have him convinced that he—and the middle class—are victims of a rigged system. Trump has clearly lost any sense of perspective he might once have had. A leading Alt-Right leader has said it best:
It's not so much about policy – it's more about the emotions
that he evokes…. more important than facts. Trump sincerely
and genuinely cares about Americans, and white Americans
Trump sees himself as a modern day Joshua before the gates of Jericho. Whether out of delusion or duty, he will remain committed to his supporters.
Starting November 9th mainline conservative and moderate Republicans will likely attempt to take back their Party. Given enough time they may succeed. Victory will be neither easy nor quick. In the meantime, politics and the clock will move on. Can they afford to wait? Can they take the chance?
Rick Tyler, communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) presidential campaign acknowledged:
There is a civil war in the party…going on right now. The question is whether,
after the election, the party will be able to repair itself; or cease to exist; or
continue to exist in some diminished way.
John "Mac" Stepanovich agrees and thinks the Party is about:
…to enter a wilderness here in which we will wander for a decade
or more, and hopefully emerge. But if that’s the case, then we
need to wander. I personally don’t want to be in a party that is characterized
Many establishment Republicans think as Tyler does:
Why should I have a new party? I want to make the Republican
Party the conservative, free market, freedom party. That's
Tyler is right--it is the Party’s history. But can it ever again be its future—at what cost?
Tyler’s casting of the Republican brand is not shared by some prominent Trump supporters. Richard Spenser, president of the National Policy Institute and a leader of the Alt-Right holds the opinion:
…the Republican Party has won elections on the basis of implicit
nationalism and not on the basis of the Constitution, free-market
economics, vague Christian values and so on…The GOP is a white
person's populist party…[Unlike Trump, though, the party is]
embarrassed of itself.
In years past, it may have been appropriate to dismiss Spenser. In a year when party ranks are being filled by Trump supporters, such sentiments must be considered as part of the current Republican brand. Is this something establishment politicians and classic conservatives like Representatives Ryan (R-WI) and Kinzinger (R-IL), Senators McCain (R-AZ), Kirk (R-IL) and Alexander (R-TN) donors like the Koch Brothers, Whitman and Oberndorf and party elders like the Bush(es) and Romney really want to have to explain or defend?
Are far-right principles even something with which they want to be associated? The growing presence of populist reactionaries in the Republican Party is already causing problems for candidates and supporters not ready to disassociate themselves from Trump’s candidacy.
Classic conservatives like Ryan and McCain attempting to straddle the line have only succeeded in making themselves disrespected by both regular and far-right Republicans. They are now labelled as “expedients” by both sides. Over time they could be branded as “untouchables.”
The choice boils down to the classic question: fight or flight? Ask any general, two front wars are expensive and difficult to conduct. To fight a long-running internal battle, while simultaneously trying to get candidates for local, state and federal offices elected every two years and a president every four, would either have disastrous results or so sap monetary and emotional resources there would be very little left with which to govern.
Trump and his puppeteers are not hurting for cash. Neither are they at a loss for committed and enthusiastic foot soldiers. Trump’s 35-40 percent of support are with him for the duration. A recent Bloomberg poll found that 51 percent of likely voters who are or lean Republican picked Trump over Ryan as most representative of the Republican brand. Although only 38 percent indicated they would stick with him should he lose the election, it is clear that he has a strong foundation upon which to continue in Party politics.
Fanatics fighting a holy war: do not go gentle into that good night. They rage…against the dying of the light.
Face it, the Republican brand is tarnished; and, it could take decades to burnish it back to historic brightness. In an age of social media, re-branding mainstream moderate and conservative members as the New Republican Party is more than just possible.
The new party will have most of the resources of the old: recognized politicians; experience at the federal, state and local levels; financial backing; and, an expansive media reach through commentators like Kristol, Will, Brooks and any Fox News personalities not jumping over to the rumored new Trump network. Other cable and communications networks will certainly continue coverage.
The new message is the old message: we are the conservative, free market, freedom party. The name is changing—not our purpose or principles; we remain the Party of Lincoln and Reagan.
New party organizers must not appear petulant or vindictive. Whether this means that the #NeverTrump(ers) like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney will be required to stay in the background will have to be determined. There is a deep pool of respected and talented leaders to draw from, including retired patriarchs of the Grand Old Party like Senators Warner (R-VA) and Lugar (R-IN) and could join with sitting senators like Rubio and Flake (R-AZ) and governors Kasich (R-OH) and Haley (R-SC).
Whether Trump wins or loses will of course make a difference. So too will the vote spread and any collateral Congressional damage that might occur, i.e. loss of majority standing in either the House or Senate.
A Trump victory will change the dynamic not obviate the need. Candidate Donald has already carried out Bannon’s directive to oppose Ryan and establishment Republicans both in the 2016 campaign and in the 115th Congress. A President Donald will simply have an easier go of it.
Effective governance requires some compromise. For the Trump/Bannon/Ailes forces there is a point to prove—and, prove it they will. In their world governance takes a back seat to philosophical purity.
Should Trump fail his new line of party hats will sport the phrases: THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED-- WE WERE RIGHT--CHAOS OVER COMPRIMISE!
WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS: THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The Democrat’s divorce will be much less acrimonious. Democrats are historically more accepting of philosophical and issue diversity. The liberal label is fairly what it suggests—liberal. There are, however, limits to that liberality—not the least of which is established by the expectation of loyalty.
The 2016 presidential campaign illustrates the capacity of the Democratic Party to allow and even embrace diversity within the party structure. Sanders, for example, was never excoriated for his persistence in the primaries.
This is not to say that party leaders were thrilled with his presence—particularly after Clinton seemed to secure the requisite number
of delegates for nomination. Neither is it to say that party leaders like Debbie Wasserman Schultz were indifferent to Sanders’ candidacy.
Recognizing the value of the Sanders forces to the party in the 2016 elections, the Democrats were wisely solicitous of the candidate and recognized the need of his supporters to feel they were not only heard but successful. Incorporation of a number of the progressive policy positions, e.g. free tuition to public colleges and universities, the $15 minimum hourly wage and commitment to a 50% renewable energy economy within the next decade, testifies to both the power of the progressive message and the practicality of the Democratic establishment.
Given the willingness of party regulars to accommodate portions of the progressive agenda, why wouldn’t Sanders and his supporters simply continue their efforts to move the Party to the left?
Somewhat ironically, the willingness of establishment Democrats to accommodate the progressive agenda may be less after a Clinton victory. Not only will the immediate need for Sanders supporters be less acute, but as the party of the President, there will undoubtedly be a desire to maintain alignment with a more moderate agenda in an effort to work with Republicans in Congress.
Divisions within their party could compromise the standing of a sitting president. Party discipline is essential to a successful negotiation. Whether Speaker of the House or leader of the free world, a negotiator without the internal standing to make good on a commitment, is just making idle conversation.
Position conflicts between Clinton and Sanders democrats are inevitable. The recent Wikileaks of emails provides an illustration
of a difference in perspective. Clinton was quoted as saying in a speech to the North America's Building Trades Unions:
…my view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and
building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking
under the right circumstances.
Clinton also disparaged environmental advocates before the same audience when saying:
They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the
rest of it," Clinton said. "They say, 'Will you promise never to take
any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again? No. I won't promise that.
Get a life, you know.
Although the Democratic platform was closer to the anti-fracking forces, Clinton’s predisposition is what she told the Building Trades Unions. Equally, it is the position of the audience she was speaking to—which are on the record against the AFL-CIO’s collaboration with Tom Steyer over this very issue. President Clinton will have reason and position to walk back the more strident fracking/pipeline position.
WikiLeaks is proving fodder for progressive concerns—as more emails are released. Disparaging remarks about Sanders’ indicating the Paris agreement did not go far enough have done nothing to unruffle feathers.
Articles are also beginning to appear suggesting progressive critics are getting ready to pressure Clinton more now that Trump’s campaign appears to be collapsing in on itself.
Climate change would serve as the new party’s foundational issue—for good reason. What is more inflammatory to the right, more galvanizing on the left and more serious than the sustainability of life on Earth than climate change? It is the issue where the clearest distinction between Sanders’ supporters and the established party can be made and a proven preference of donors, e.g. Steyer.
Climate sustainability would not, however, be the new party’s only policy priority. Environmentalists are legitimate and recognized advocates for social justice. As such, an environmental agenda speaks to the issues of health care, education, fairness, diminished control by established and often wealthy politicians. Yes, Steyer and his allies are rich and powerful. However, as Trump has shown, even the wealthy can be leaders of the anti-establishment.
The continued engagement of Sanders supporters, particularly millennials, is essential to the future of the progressive agenda. Formation of a Social or Green Democratic Party would provide these activists a “home of their own.”
Unlike its conservative counterpart, a new progressive party is most less likely not to run a presidential candidate in 2020—focusing instead on down-ballot contests for Congress and state and local offices. Sanders has already voiced his preference for targeting Congressional, state and local elections.
Following Tip O'Neill's maxim that all politics are local, starting at the grassroots level plays to the progressives’ strengths and allows for a situational social agenda. Such a strategy also conforms and builds upon what Our Revolution, the Sanders Institute and donor groups/political action committees like Steyer’s NextGen.
Success in getting down-ballot candidates elected allows the party to grow naturally and comes with clear benefits, including:
The one element that remains is a leadership/candidate pool of recognized, respected and politically practical individuals. The failure of past third party attempts have failed for the absence of electable candidates. Parties and candidates residing at the margins simply do not bear serious consideration—much less a majority of votes.
The most obvious exception was Teddy Roosevelt. Ross Perot, in his first run for the presidency, was nearly an exception; his business acumen and success seemed a surrogate for experience as a public servant. History may someday paint a caricature of Trump and the GOP as the party that Got Out of Politics because it was taken over by the Alt-Right.
It will be interesting to see how the 100 or so candidates for office currently on the Our Revolution website fare in November. A topic for future investigation.
This is the second of the last three installments of the Let's Party series. The third installment will be posted on 10/25.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.