by Stan Cutler
The ways the Republican and Democratic Parties are being reshaped in this election year are different. The Republicans, unable to coalesce around a candidate, are splintering. Were Democrats not terrified by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, the policy battles now being fought over party platform language might have a similarly disastrous effect on their party. Trump is fracturing the Republicans even as he’s forcing the Democrats to bond.
The Republican restructuring is well underway. The refusal of either ex-President Bush to vote for candidate Trump in the general election was given significantly more intellectual weight last week when syndicated columnist George Will declared that he would henceforth be unaffiliated, that his message to conservatives this election season is “to make sure he (Trump) loses,” adding, “Grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”
He quoted Ronald Reagan when he was asked why he’d defected from the Democratic Party in the 1950s. Said Will, “I didn’t leave the (Republican) Party, the Party left me.”
Will is no ordinary pundit. He’s been a kind of Bill Buckley for this generation of Republicans, providing a philosophical framework on which party policies have hung since the 1980s. By urging conservatives to vote for a Democrat, a woman whose philosophies he has scorned for two decades, it means that the Republican Party as we’ve known it is pretty much dead – at least for the 2016 general election.
It means that many so-called “Business Republicans,” approximately 15 percent of the electorate, will either stay home on election day or vote for a Democrat. The evaporation of that essential base of voter and financial support means that Trump’s only chance for victory is to attract most of the Bernie Sanders voters, also about 15 percent of the electorate.
“I’m gonna go out, and I’m gonna get millions of people from the Democrats,” said Trump recently. “I’m gonna get Bernie people to vote, because they like me.”
The Democrats are undergoing a realignment of their own, but in a very different way. Our attention is focused on the 15-member Party Platform Drafting Committee. Six of the panel members were named by Clinton and five by Sanders. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee and a Clintonite, named the remaining four. Unlike the Republican tantrums of disunity, the committee is engaged in articulate debate. Members have agreed on compromise language on many issues, but remain far apart on others. Because there are ten establishment members of the committee and only five leftists, extreme policy shifts are being voted down.
The major disagreements so far have been over climate change and Palestinian legitimacy. The left wants a carbon tax and moratoria on fracking and drilling on public lands. In the Middle East, two of the five leftists, Cornel West and James Zogby, want the platform to declare “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” Instead the committee approved language calling for a two-state solution solution that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”
The left wants the platform to declare the party’s commitment to a guaranteed $15 minimum hourly wage and to adjust it by law to the cost of living. The majority language says only that the party calls for a $15 minimum, stopping well short of entitlement language.
The two wings disagree over the trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Left wants no part of it; The establishment endorses it. On this issue, the politics are fraught, since Clinton herself, responding to both Trump and Sanders during the primary campaign, declared her opposition to the pact. Sanders is diplomatically suggesting that Clinton is two-faced on the issue, saying he’s baffled by the distance between her stated policy and the platform language.
The left has won a major platform victory over banking regulations. Language has been unanimously approved that calls for regulation of overlapping financial arrangements, banking practices that had been prohibited by the New Deal Glass-Steagall Act, controls that were removed in the mid-1990s. This language is aimed squarely at one of Sanders’ favorite targets, the “too big to fail” banks.
The committee has yet to tackle the most important issues in terms of voter turnout. Many new voters were energized by Sanders’s demand for free college and universal health care. The question remains as to whether the party establishment can keep these new voters in the party fold with acceptable platform language. If Sanders and his committee appointees cannot be satisfied on these matters, many young voters may be lost.
Not only will these platform planks influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election, they will tell us whether the Democratic Party is capable of realigning with the electorate. The Republicans are changing – painfully. Can the Democrats accomplish the necessary realignment through more civilized means? We’ll know soon enough.