- anti-immigrant, fundamentalist Christian, economically populist, “fair trade,” isolationist, angry racist Baby Boomers and disillusioned Generation Xers, working class, under-educated, white nationalist, “no compromise” party of Trump-Cruz vs.
- a pro–immigration, middle or upper middle class, mainline Protestant and Catholics, “free trade,” college-educated, business owners and Wall Street party of internationist compromisers like Bush and Kasich, dominated by moderately successful millenials, Generation Xers, Baby Boomers.
- democratic socialists, working class, younger labor and civil rights activists, anti-Wall Street (investment class), “fair traders,” dominated by Millenial and Baby Boomer generations, secular, Christian and Jewish left, isolationist party of “no compromise” idealistic Sanders’ activists and disappointed Obama supporters vs.
- free trade, older labor and civil rights activists, mainline Protestant, Catholics and Jews, internationalist party of “compromising” Wall Street sympathizers and investors, aspiring politicians and office-holders, compromisers, dominated by Baby Boomers, Gen X, “establishment” realist Clinton and Obama supporters.
You’d think the moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats could join together to create a majority governing coalition of pro-immigration internationalists, Wall Street sympathizers/investors or at least those who favor fewer, more moderate regulations of business.
And that left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans could join together on such things as breaking up the “too big to fail” banks, curbing the influence of the wealthy in politics, and cutting or at least keeping a lid on defense spending.
But they seem to irrationally hate each other too much to look for common ground.
Historically, the Democratic Party has been, as political scientists Matthew Grossman and David Hopkins put it, a “coalition of social groups,” ranging from Planned Parenthood to teachers’ unions, while the Republican Party has been far more ideological:
The Republican Party is primarily the agent of an ideological movement whose supporters prize doctrinal purity, while the Democratic Party is better understood as a coalition of social groups seeking concrete government action. This asymmetry is reinforced by American public opinion, which favors left-of-center positions on most specific policy issues yet simultaneously shares the general conservative preference for smaller and less active government. Each party therefore faces a distinctive governing challenge in balancing the unique demands of its base with the need to maintain broad popular support. This foundational difference between the parties also explains why the rise of the Tea Party movement among Republicans in recent years has not been accompanied by an equivalent ideological insurgency among Democrats.
This has proven shockingly and paradoxically untrue in 2016. A substantial chunk of the Republican Party base has embraced a doctrinally impure candidate, Donald Trump, full of inconsistencies. And the Democratic Party, in Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, is producing a left-wing version of the no-compromise Tea Party.
The 2016 election is changing both political parties, writes John Judis, soon to be author of “The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics,” due out in November 2016. He cites three classic analysis of political party transformations:
- a paper by Harvard political scientist V.O. Key in 1955. Key demonstrated that the Democratic realignment of 1932 had been anticipated by the “critical” 1928 presidential election.
- a paper by MIT political scientist Dean Burnham in 1967, “Party Systems and the Political Process,” in which he laid out a new theory of realignments, suggesting that they’re cyclical and strike every 30 to 40 years and are “America’s substitute for revolution.”
- a book by Nixon advisor Kevin Phillips in 1970, called “The Emerging Republican Majority,” anticipating the shift in the solidly Democratic South to become solidly Republican due primarily to racial issues.
He suggests American political parties are ripe for great changes in 2016. It will be fascinating to see which party wins or loses, enlarges or shrinks its coalitions.