The Republican Party cannot win fair elections. Everyone knows this. Most especially Republican strategists. Which is why they are so practiced in voter suppression and gerrymandering. Which is why they are developing strategies for political dominance by way of the non-representative majorities baked constitutionally into the Senate and judicial branches.
Republicans also know that they can win by other means as well. One method involves the Democratic Party engaging in losing strategies and/or failing to fight effectively for victories actually won. Like Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Or John Kerry’s in 2004. Or Al Gore’s in 2000.
Another method is to create and exacerbate chaos within the Democratic Party. As Rick Perlstein chronicled in his classic Nixonland, Nixon’s ’68 and ’72 campaigns illustrate how this can be accomplished with just a handful of committed spooks, goons and bagmen. Perlstein’s story reminds us that Nixon might have gotten away with all of this had it not been for his deep paranoia and little bad luck. Next time, Republican burglars and ratfuckers will be wiser.
But the most plausible for 2020 seems to be this: splitting the Democratic Party into two or more parties, neither of which would be strong enough to compete against the Republicans.
Lots of commentators have already spoken about how creating a three-party system will only benefit the Trump in particular and Republicans in general. They’re right—but how might a splitting of the party begin?
In 2019, it might begin by way of self-identified centrists dismayed by the social democratic values of younger activists. It might begin with billionaires—who may or may not be Democrats at all—launching third-party candidacies that promise to continue the neoliberal policies of the Obama-Clinton wing without serious reform or revision. It might begin with the donor class threatening that they will not allow the party to engage in substantive critique, let alone reform, of the financial sector.
The accusations will be multiple, but many of them will be generational in nature, with the olds acting like olds as they denounce the identity politics of the whippersnappers, and with concerned seniors worrying about how SJWs are polluting the discourse with intolerant calls to deplatform. Brocialists will be the hilarious butt of jokes, as they were in 2016. Commentators will express their alarm about the hypocrisy of prominent social democrats, about the clothes they wear and the cut of their jib.
While there are already Koch-sponsored projects designed to peel “Home Depot” Dems from the party, most of these efforts will come from inside the right wing of the Democratic Party itself. Expect familiar figures to lead the charge, basing their attacks on the conviction that they stand at the left edge of acceptable American politics. They will be aided by phantom, principled conservatives who never fail to weigh in with their concerns about the direction the Democratic Party is headed. (h/t to Citations Needed for noticing that pattern.)
Instead of arguments and debates, there will be blanket dismissals and presentations of self-evident truths. There will be hand-wringing about going too fast or too far, and worries about whether the American public is ready for change at all. Again, the Republicans need not do much at all, since most of this will come from inside the party establishment.
There will be lots of consensus proclamations in favor of maintaining moldy alliances and dirty arrangements and bloody policies. Thought-leaders, influencers and entrepreneurialism evangelicals will threaten IMF austerity plans on any young-un’ who tries to embarrass the party with talk of universal health care or free college. ‘Serious’ commentators and other adults-in-the-room will talk about NATO or Saudi Arabia as if these relations were sacred bonds of matrimony. Already one group of Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet on Israel, demanding that the party continue to support Israeli apartheid no matter how much it conflicts with liberal values.
There will be lines in the sand regarding the necessity of remaining ‘engaged’ with the world, which entails, natch, leaning forward in Syria and Venezuela. Mention of empire will be grounds for removal. Disagreements about unrestrained interventionism will be treated with lectures on what it means to be grown up.
You might as well hear it here if you haven’t already, there will be lots of AIPAC interference (abetted by Republican allies) and false accusations of anti-Semitism. Get ready for one long, negative adze campaign that will peel off the right wing of the party purely on this issue.
As segments of the old guard get upset and lose, they will leave the dinner table in a huff. At that moment, they will mimic their favorite imaginary friends, those reasonable Republicans who say: I didn’t leave the party, it left me. Or, alternatively, they will refuse to relinquish their posts in party leadership and drive out everyone else.
The only fun part of this will be watching the centrist exiles consummate their steamy romance with never-Trumpers. David Frum might just get some after all. Ross Douthat, Thomas Friedman, Bari Weiss and David Brooks will celebrate that day, along with the donor class, which has always been the base of the centrists. Corporate media and the liberal think-tanks will celebrate the wedding day as the start of a new era, or a return to how things used to be, back when civility reigned and everything was so bipartisan that we didn’t need a special word for it.
And when all this is over, Brookings and the Atlantic Council will sigh, glad to have weathered the storm, and it’ll all make sense again. Whether the emboldened centrists strengthen their grip on the Democratic party and expel their leftist foes, or whether they leave and join Howard Schultz in something new, liberals will get to have their imperial politics, their austerity economics, and their conviction that they alone are experts and realists. They will go back to praying at the high temple of wonk, singing the same old nostrums about access and opportunity. And the Republicans will laugh all the way to power again.
Republicans know that splitting wood warms you twice: once when you chop it, and once again when you burn it. And they also know that today’s Democratic Party, with its various interest groups and constituencies, will be easier to split than a cord of seasoned birch. And it will burn even hotter.
Hear that chunking sound? The chopping has already started. Even Michael Bloomberg is bothered by it.
Don’t expect these lumberjacks to stack the logs neatly by the back door when they’re done.
That’s not their job. Never was.