What happens when a national party badly splinters? In 1992 Bill Clinton collected 45 million votes, convincingly retiring an incumbent president garnering only 39 million votes and 168 Electoral votes. Ross Perot, an outsider, independent/libertarian, hurt Bush I not by winning a state but 20 million votes, denting the right. But Perot the outside spoiler is a pauper compared to Donald Dumpster the Impaler’s rampage to destroy what he can’t play with or manipulate.
In 2000, Gore’s defeat (thanks to running a miserable campaign) was hardly Nader’s doing, but the dilettante maverick caused enough havoc for Bush II to wrench out a Florida win and the presidency. Mayhem subverted the popular favorite (Gore’s plurality was 500K) rather than a major outsider like Perot. With no such distraction this year, Status Quo Joe easily beat a dismal, self-sabotaging incumbent hellbent on losing. Biden the old shoe offered old talk and anything but systemic reform, let alone charisma,. Had the decision depended on one or two states, Trump’s bellowing about phantom voter fraud would have jeopardized the result vs. the autocratic arm waving by a spoiled brat.
But what happens when Trump slices and dices his own party, whether he runs or not (which I doubt)? That sabotages another election or two as 2020’s relatively unified Rethugs had no paths to win the popular vote, let alone the Electoral College, against a sane, competent campaigner like Biden. Conclusion: a divided rightwing pack of hooligans jeopardizes hard-won, ruthless GOP domination for years to come.
Progressives still face a mine field
But—and more relevant for this site: what happens to the now far more visible, world-critical progressive agenda for systemic reforms? Note, though Trump was trashed, Republicans plodded ahead, keeping state houses and, short of a double Georgia miracle, the Senate. Yes, most here pray that both Dems win in GA, but that’s hardly in the bag. I project the fear-mongered GA electorate will elect one of each party, thus sustaining the dubious proposition that divided government checks how much “damage government can do.” If both Dems do win, that would remove a major excuse why Biden can’t propose serious reforms for a myriad of broken systems (electoral, economic, job training, tax, health, judicial – you name it). But a continued, split Congress will force Biden into more painful compromises, then provide him excuses why his noble agenda was blocked.
I have argued of late that Trump is carpet bombing the Rethuglican Party—getting away with it because many rightwingers think being Trumpian gets them re-elected, or more visibility, or saves them from even greater nutcase primary foes. We can more readily predict a rightwing schism than say a huge electoral surge for progressives in 2022. Craven Trumpers like Ted Cruz have little to gain by thwarting the Dumpster in his final, utterly dismal weeks.
But that doesn’t mean that Trumpism won’t decimate the GOP. Go for it, because that guarantees a split minority party for the upcoming decade or two. Do-nothing Trump mayhem of hating government, minorities, democracy and elections – plus alignment with foreign oligarchs – is a party shrinker. Thus I predict Trump continues his rampage, the cancer from within the left cheers on to disrupt the right. Even the Horrendous Hustler can’t sell incoherent, irrational nonsense without alienating millions, many already exiled from a base of greedy billionaires, aggrieved, underemployed, racist whites and/or backward evangelicals who can’t imagine anyone but Jesus will solve the climate dilemmas, if they exist.
Bad news for progressives?
From this perspective, if the rightwing splinters, that serves up a softball for centrist Status Quo Joe Democrats. If established Dems can grab even 10% of Republican voters in key states, that drives a generation-shifting dominance. The rattled right struggles now to win any national election even if nothing changes—so fragmentation confirms Biden as the paler-faced version of Obama-nation. Biden will even resurrect the cosmic delusion he can do business with the seditious crew of crazies condoning the crudest, attempted theft of a presidential election ever.
It’s no easy call whether the combination of a splintered right and two centrist Democratic senators from Georgia helps or hurts the progressive cause. Maybe a Democratic senate does more against racism, climate change and environment devastation, but Biden (or Harris) won’t then need progressive votes in two or four years as they did this year. What then pushes Biden away from worn-out, self-defeating, neoliberal foreign belligerence—or doing anything serious to equalize wealth, assets, health care or lift up poor people? With Democratic Senate control, progressives will have more control in some areas but less in other, even forced in the crunch to seek alliances with disgruntled centrist or Never Trump Republicans (as Nader dubiously proposed some years ago).
Yes, a sharp GOP schism (and a do-nothing McConnell senate) will leave millions of voters at sea, and some may link up with progressives against big business-friendly, neoliberal Democrats AND against residual mental case Trumpers as he lurches into Steve Bannonland swamp fevers. So, while I favor anything that disrupts the take-no-prisoners right, I am not oblivious to the tricky trade-offs. What the Obama-Clinton-Biden brigade doesn’t need is more reason for Status Quo Joe to rebuff Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. One only wonders what progressive gains Sanders thought he made with Biden (for his endorsement) because, with few exceptions, Biden’s appointments are solidly status quo joe, vintage 2012.
Hope springs eternal
That quandary will (again) test the progressive movement’s ability to sustain our commitments and vigilance. That mandates much more non-stop, grassroots consciousness-raising, so far a considerable success. But visibility, even policy acceptance by a majority (universal health care, police reform, and positive climate responses) differs from hard nose political power. That demands a bigger progressive House caucus and half a dozen truly like-minded senators, the kind of reformers that used to exist.
Second problem: who are the nationally-effective, progressive leaders after Sanders and Warren? Who else can command a truly national audience when pushing progressive ideas? Who are the younger, charismatic systemic reformers capable of strengthening America’s most enlightened political minority? Could it be AOC or other House activists? Maybe, but who in the Senate will take on the Democratic leadership and the noxious status quo? I like half a dozen, left-leaning senators, but I don’t see enough new, solid, movement leaders. Change my mind, please.
We may have to live through four dreary years, seasoned with regression but perhaps some progress. However disappointing most of his nominations, Biden will still make Trump time look like the insane asylum it’s been. All along a Biden has been an interim figure but he could (especially if he falls far short) promote a progressive stronger voice to challenge him or Harris in 2024. We still have the Sanders-Warren forces in the House and Senate—capable of reversing some state houses in four years and offset the most grievous gerrymandering. Biden isn’t the cure, but there’s already great pressure for the Democratic Party to pitch lost, blue-collar Trump voters, even push for more systemic reforms than mouthed by the winning candidate.