A return to ‘normalcy’ after the US presidential election is unlikely. Many of us are tired of the campaign, tired of the endless opining, surveys, and tweets. Tired of the candidates themselves and the unpleasant prospects they embody, we long for the closure of election day. Election Day! What then?
Underneath the candidates is an undeniable weakness in both the parties. Over a hundred GOP leaders have said they will not support their party’s nominee. Yet Mr Trump was chosen through a much-contested primary, in which voters failed to coalesce around any of the numerous alternatives, rejecting both moderates and conservatives. Moreover, disgruntled Republicans subsequently failed to rally around an alternative, despite a protracted explicit attempt led by Mitt Romney, the party’s choice in 2012. Leading Republicans know what they are against. But what are they for?
The Republican problem isn’t a lack of talent. It is a lack of a unifying, majoritarian ideology. This is why disaffected Republicans have proved unable to bolt (as they did for example in 1912 when the Progressives disaffected with President Taft broke away to support Teddy Roosevelt’s effort to retake the presidency). Republicans are no longer certain what they stand for, after many years of being the party of ‘no.’ As I once suggested, leaders who can’t govern their party are unlikely to be able to govern the country.
Less remarked on is the disturbing weakness of the Democratic party. In an election cycle playing out as an epic battle of personality, the idea that the Democrats are just as beleaguered as the Republicans is inadmissible. But the Democrats are arguably more ideologically benighted than Republicans are. They bank too much on identity politics, while relying on a concept of the role of government that has scarcely been updated since in the 1960s.
Besides the staleness of their ideology, Democrats are turning people off with their record of poor governance in many states and cities. In Chicago, Illinois, corruption and egregious mismanagement are synonymous with Democratic rule. Many voters at the state level are turning away from the Democrats who have repeatedly betrayed their trust.
At the national level, Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile want citizens to think that the practices of the DNC and the Clinton Foundation are nothing to be concerned about; yet this is the very attitude that voters find unacceptable and disillusioning. Who believes that, if elected, Hillary Clinton will ‘run a tight ship’? The Obama Administration has been a model of probity; but a Hillary Clinton White House will likely end up looking more like Grant’s.
Besides winking at corruption and coasting along on raft of outdated and expensive ideas, the Democrats suffer from a striking dearth of junior leadership and grass-roots organization. When will their next generation of leaders appear? It’s appalling to consider that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rahm Emanuel were, until lately, their brightest stars. The most admirable and powerful figures in the party are all senior citizens, which augurs well from the point of view of experience but presages a bumpy leaderless period immediately ahead.
Thus, despite the all-but-extinguished condition of the Republican party, few expect the Democrats to gain control of the Senate, let alone the House.
The systematic weaknesses plaguing both major parties indicate that the nation is heading into, but scarcely concluding, a period of partisan re-alignment. The ugly factionalism that is so distressing for citizens to witness and that poses a grave threat to stable federal governance is likely to continue for some time. When major parties die, it can take a painfully long time. In the short-term, the parties’ problems will cause widespread anxiety and confusion. Ultimately, reorganization awaits the emergence of clean new leaders with viable modern ideas.
Image: “Walk the Walk” (DNC 2016).
Screenshot by Susan Barsy.