The rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the dust it has kicked up in Democratic ranks spotlights the true meaning of 2020 for a party struggling to define in itself in any way beyond knee-jerk opposition to President Trump. The landscape is in many ways strikingly similar to that trod by Republicans in 2016. A played-out party center was blown away by a populist insurgent it could not contain and an old way of doing business for Swamp insiders was shattered.
GOP outsider Trump rode his momentum from that victory all the way to the White House. A scuffling Democratic Party plagued by weak candidates will be hard-pressed to pull off that same feat in 2020 but its internal challengers may very well succeed in their true main objective; forced-smile public talking points on unity and the need to oust Trump notwithstanding. The party establishment is tottering and, as with the GOP four years ago, it is increasingly clear that if pushed hard enough, the center will not hold.
Different Players, Familiar Game
There are so many intriguing parallels with 2016 Republican politics. Aged former vice president Joe Biden is Jeb Bush, the old establishment warhorse who thinks he can just be trotted out there and win on his networking power alone. As with Jeb, it’s already likely, before a single vote has been cast, that this is not going to happen. At first it was shaping up to be South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg but now Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is emerging as this year’s Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the younger backup plan in case that old establishment warhorse dies on the track. As with Rubio, Klobuchar is constantly puffed up by the big box media despite a notable lack of a genuine base of supporters or any authentic enthusiasm for her as a candidate.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the wannabe change agent with more insider credentials than you would suspect, but who was eclipsed by a surging rival that out-outsidered him. She is a certainly distasteful but more palatable rebel to the center. As Cruz discovered four years ago, this is not turning out to be a recipe for success.
In 2016 the cart-toppling disruptive change force that was Trump could not be held back by a Republican Old Guard that had no real message to offer the American people. Today, Bernie and his young progressive female Squad supporters are hoping to show that their attempts to overturn the status quo in the party cannot be held in check either. The ever-imperial Hillary Clinton has seamlessly assumed the role of all those GOP elders (John McCain, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), George Will) who constantly warned that Trump would mean the end of the Republican Party in a transparent effort to keep their old act together. Hillary calling Sanders a divider who cannot win is textbook establishment politics circa 1988-2014, a bizarre political era in which voters were urged to support the appointed party candidate no matter what policy positions they actually held lest the dreaded other side win.
Party at a Crossroads
Republican voters were simply not going to swallow that toxic pill again in 2016 and all the denunciations and “disqualifications” uttered by the Old Guard weren’t going to change a thing. It very much seems that progressives have similarly had their fill in 2020. If so, the likes of a finger-wagging Hillary will prove ludicrously ineffective in holding them back and her slow slide to a Bush-family status of political irrelevance will finally be complete.
All of this surely will not help Democrats capture the White House. Trump’s 2016 America First appeal crossed over on a national scale with undeclared and even working class Democrat voters, while strident progressives appeal to a particularist Blue agenda. An insurgent progressive candidate will not add anything to the party’s already narrowly defined national coalition: He or she would only attract those who would have voted Democrat, regardless, if they vote at all.
The mutineers will win a larger battle – one greater than taking down the hated Trump. The Democratic center is disorganized and bereft of ideas. It is ripe for a fall. It’s fascinating to ponder the wider implications of a collapse: They would undoubtedly extend to Capitol Hill and the comfortable, spider-webbed bailiwicks of veteran party leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
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