It’s a timeless maxim of politics: Holding power masks a party’s internal divisions and conflicts. It’s a lesson that Republicans learned all too well during the Obama administration, with restless tea-party activists challenging the sclerotic party establishment—capped by several high-profile members falling in primaries to unlikely insurgents. And it’s a lesson that Democrats are learning all too painfully now, as the party is splintering, with progressive officials (such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison) urging the party to move even further left, while more-pragmatic voices (such as Tim Ryan) beg the party to retool its message so it can better appeal to working-class whites.
What’s remarkable is that the establishment-vs.-tea-party fights that divided the GOP for the past seven years have dissipated since the polarizing Donald Trump was elected president. Even intransigent conservative members are inclined to fall in line behind the president-elect. The Freedom Caucus, which routinely held establishment Republicans to task for compromising conservative principles, now sounds willing to embrace Trump’s big-spending proposals for infrastructure. After threatening Paul Ryan with a leadership challenge before the election, Freedom Caucus members quickly rallied behind the House speaker after Trump’s victory. The populist energy they channeled when out of power is now in Trump’s hands, and if they challenged the president-elect, it would turn against them.
Consider Sen. Orrin Hatch’s renewed interest in seeking reelection. Conservative groups tried to challenge Hatch in the 2012 primary, and to placate the opposition, he suggested that he would retire at the end of his term. Now, Hatch is specifically citing Trump’s victory as reason why he should seek an eighth term in office.
And it’s not just Hatch. Ted Cruz can breathe easier. Rep. Mike McCaul, who considered challenging him in a primary, is now focused on the possibility of joining the Trump cabinet. Sen. Bob Corker, as establishment as Republicans come, has gotten a political boost back home in Tennessee after being mentioned as a possible secretary of State.
Democrats will now be experiencing the intraparty hostility that dogged Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received an early warning sign when 63 of her colleagues voted against her in a surprisingly competitive leadership fight against Tim Ryan. The battle for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship is already divisive, with the early front-runner (Ellison) turning off Jewish groups and some labor unions with his far-left record.
There’s one big difference between the two parties’ predicaments, however. Republican leaders have always been more pragmatic and less conservative than their voters, a dynamic that made it difficult to resolve their internal differences. As the post-2012 Republican National Committee autopsy report showed, party officials truly wanted to move to the middle on issues such as immigration, but their core voters held them to a hard line. By contrast, most Democratic leaders —from the White House on down—bought into the belief that liberals were ascendant thanks to the growing influence of the Obama coalition. Now Democrats are in denial, having trouble even recognizing how far outside the mainstream they’ve moved in the first place.
1. Two red-state Senate Democrats have been rumored as possible Trump Cabinet selections: North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Heitkamp is the more serious possibility, given that she visited Trump Tower on Friday and was conspicuously low-key during the presidential campaign. Manchin holds the most conservative voting record among Senate Democrats, and has been rumored as a party-switching possibility in the past.
From a strictly political perspective, Heitkamp makes more sense. If she is chosen, GOP governor Jack Dalrymple would pick a temporary Republican replacement. That would give the GOP an additional Senate seat, for a total of 53 (assuming they win a Louisiana runoff this month). In addition, Heitkamp would add diversity, both gender and ideological.
If Manchin were chosen, newly-elected Democratic Gov. Jim Justice would pick his replacement—who would likely be another conservative-minded Democrat. That would not only allow Democrats to hang onto the red-state Senate seat, but also give them a fighting chance to win in an upcoming 2018 special election.
2. There’s been a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking lately, dissecting the reasons why Clinton lost the presidential election. The impact of Green Party nominee Jill Stein can’t be overlooked. Clinton’s margin of defeat in all three “blue wall” states—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—was smaller than the number of votes Stein received.
To be sure, that’s a consequence of Trump’s very narrow statewide victories more than Stein’s political standing. Stein only won 1 percent of the vote in Wisconsin and Michigan, and less than that in Pennsylvania. But you can bet that as Clinton operatives play the blame game as the narrowness of their defeat sets in, Stein will be on the receiving end of some Democratic blowback.