Is a Realignment Coming?

Here are two articles to read together. The first is Jonathan Chait, I Have Seen the Future of a Republican Party That Is No Longer Insane. Please do read this all the way through; I found it fascinating. It begins,

This week, the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning Washington think tank, held a conference on the future of the Republican Party, called “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump.” In my one opportunity to offer a comment, I helpfully suggested that the Republican Party as currently constituted needed (this is a direct quote) “to die in a fire.” The surprising thing is that many of the attendees in the room, including people who work at the Niskanen Center itself, told me afterward that they agree.

The most encouraging part of this article is not just that this group has rejected the current Republican but has also challenged current libertarian orthodoxy. In particular, they realized by looking at real-world data and experience that the doctrine that free markets and less government regulation lead to greater personal freedom for everybody simply isn’t true. All that stuff leads to is income inequality, which in turn destroys democratic government and eats away at personal freedom for the not-rich.

Instead, they have tried to map out a program for maximizing human freedom that follows the facts. This week, following its conference, the Niskanen Center published its manifesto, signed by four of its senior staff. Titled “The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes,” it synthesizes two years of heresies into an impressively coherent approach to governing.

Unsurprisingly, what they end up with is something that looks a lot like where the “centrists” of the Democratic Party are now.

The Niskanen Center is not playing the influence game, jostling to bring a slogan or campaign plank to the attention of the next Republican candidate. It is operating from the starting point of what a well-functioning right-of-center party ought to stand for, rather than how the current one can be tweaked.

The pathological character of the Republican Party is the most important problem in American politics. It has taken decades to develop to its current deformed state, and will not be solved quickly. There is no way to imagine the current incarnation of the GOP getting to the place Niskanen envisions any time soon. Niskanen’s manifesto contains multiple points of overlap with the prevailing orientation of the Democratic Party, and almost none with the prevailing orientation of the Republican Party. One can imagine a future in which the Democrats move toward socialism, opening a void in the center for the ideas espoused by Niskanen to take hold in something that perhaps shares the name, but otherwise none of the important ideological traits, of today’s Republican Party.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are famously split between the “centrists” and the “progressives.” This takes us to the other piece, by Elizabeth Bruenig, My advice to progressives: Don’t back down.

When not absorbed in hopes of re-creating the Obama era, Democrats mainly seem intent on beating Trump, with little comment or insight, at least so far, on what they will do with power once they have it. (After I questioned in my last column whether O’Rourke has demonstrated serious commitment to progressive values, some readers responded by arguing they’re glad he hasn’t — that Democrats need to run an Obama-style centrist to win back conservatives who might otherwise favor Trump. “A too-progressive Democratic nominee in 2020,” one reader wrote, “would be a gift to President Trump.”) Likewise, at a recent event in New York, former FBI director James B. Comey implored Democrats to put aside their political projects in favor of an all-consuming focus on simply beating Trump . “I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,” Comey said, “but they have to win. They have to win.”

Presidential elections provide an opportunity for parties to identify and rally around their principles — and even to radically reshape them. If all the Democrats can manage is to hark back to the past and focus on winning for its own sake, they’re missing an opportunity to lay out a blueprint for the future. I don’t think that putting forth progressive priorities is incompatible with beating Trump; in fact, I think that having a clear and persuasive vision of what a better America can look like is likely to be more attractive to voters than promising them something vaguely like the past. One of the political lessons of recent years is that history is never over. The future is waiting, if we want to build it.

This lays bare the frustration a lot of us have had with the Democratic Party for many years. Going back to the heyday of Ronald Reagan, and arguably to George McGovern’s loss to Richard Nixon, they have adopted the strategy that they must water down or just plain ignore the policies pushed by their base in order to appeal to swing voters in the “center,” even as the “center” moves further and further Right. Now we’ve got a Democratic establishment that is pretty much in the same place that Eisenhower-era Republicans used to be. Meanwhile, the young folks especially are trying to push the party Left, to make it a party that is able to address real-world social and economic issues with big policies that, you know, do stuff.

So much of centrist-Democrat fantasizing about 2020 already seems aimed at repeating a golden past. Consider the groundswell of interest in Beto O’Rourke, the Texas congressman who narrowly lost his recent Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz. For Democrats excited about O’Rourke, his primary draw is his similarity to Barack Obama — both in form and content. O’Rourke has held conversations with the former president about a possible run, to build on a belief that O’Rourke, as my colleague Matt Viser described it, is “capable of the same kind of inspirational campaign that caught fire in the 2008 presidential election.”

But Obama’s2008 inspiration campaign caught fire because it promised a return to the can-do legacy of FDR and JFK. Yes we can! But in the end, Obama’s admnistration was much more cautious and way less audacious than the one he promised. He might very well have lost to Romney in 2012 had Romney not reminded too many people of their bosses.

And IMO the centrists are utterly and absolutely wrong that only more centrism can beat Trump, especially considering that it was a candidate who represented the center of centrism that lost to him. The centrists seem to think that because Trump beat the Mighty Hillary he must be some kind of invincible juggernaut, in spite of his consistently low approval ratings. The terrible irony is that Trump was a weak and unpopular candidate in 2016; he won mostly because the out-of-touch Dems brilliantly managed to nominate someone even weaker and even more unpopular.

And as far as government is concerned, we’ve got a majority party that can’t accomplish anything because most of its members are opposed to the idea of government, and an alternative party so afraid of sticking its neck out on bold policies nobody knows what it stands for. And they’re both too influenced by money, of course.

So the question is, is a realignment coming within a few years? If the extreme Right continues to self-destruct, could we be left with a realignment in which center-right Repubicans and “centrist” Democrats align on one side, and progressives/social democrats align on the other side?

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