Once upon a time, partisan politics was a simple business. There were two major parties, and they both had simple strategies for staying in power. The voters were attracted to either the Democrats or the Republicans based on their philosophy and the vision of their party leaders. Elections were won or lost based on the strength of the party machines and their loyal soldiers.
But the politics of yesterday have disappeared, and the parties will never look the same again. Both are currently split into two factions. If you’re a Republican at the national level, you’re either pro-Donald Trump or anti-Trump. And if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a traditional middle-of-the-road true believer or a so-called progressive. And regrettably, neither of the factions in either party is prepared to work with the other side.
The next important election will take place in 2022. The final tallies will determine which party will control the House and the Senate. President Biden needs a Democratic Party victory to help him get his programs through Congress. The Republicans want to regain power so they can be better positioned to retake the White House in 2024. But the GOP pro-Trump wing and the Democratic progressives are not on the same playing field as the parties’ two traditional wings.
The pro-Trump Republicans are prepared to take on the favored party candidates because the former president is looking to punish any candidates who voted to impeach him. The progressive Democrats are anxious to gain power and influence and have no loyalty to the party. A case in point illustrating the Republicans’ challenge is Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a loyal party member who occasionally casts a vote with the Democrats on an issue of conscience. She gets a 98 percent rating on voting with her fellow Republicans, but her vote to impeach President Trump put her in the Trump doghouse, and she is now threatened with a primary challenge.
Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans have pledged to support Murkowski and provide funds for her contest if she decides to run for re-election. She will not be easy to beat under any circumstances. She is the second-most-senior woman in the Senate. She won one of her elections as a write-in candidate after losing the party nomination. Her father was governor of Alaska. But despite her strong credentials, the former president has vowed to challenge her.
Incumbent Democrats aren’t having any easier time with their progressive wing. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York has been a well-respected member of Congress since 1993. She has been the sponsor of numerous bills that have advanced women’s causes, and chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Members on both sides of the aisle describe her as fair and progressive.
But that isn’t enough for the group known as the Justice Democrats. They have selected a candidate to oppose her, claiming that she must be defeated because she is part of the “establishment.” For the past 50-plus years, it has been very rare for any Democrat from New York to have enough seniority to hold a key House chairmanship, but Maloney’s status doesn’t dissuade the progressive Democrats.
In recent years, they have won a number of contests, starting with the election of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. She has become nationally known because of her constant media presence, and was able to defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in the primary for the 2018 midterm election, primarily because Crowley treated the contest lightly. Even though he spent over $3 million in his effort to get re-elected, his failure to campaign actively cost him his seat in the House.
Last year, the progressive group managed to unseat Rep. Eliot Engel, mostly because Engel failed to pay attention to his district, especially during the coronavirus crisis.
In the months ahead, the Republican pro-Trump faction and the Democratic progressives will give the two party establishments plenty of heartaches. It will be a test of whether there is any life left in the traditional party structure, but the odds aren’t very good.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.