This year’s campaign has exposed deep differences not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also within each party. After the election, both could have family fights. And family fights can get ugly.
The Republicans’ divisions are bitter, and they’re over President Trump. Many long-time Republicans have spoken out against Trump and even endorsed Joe Biden.
Democrats are less publicly divided, because they’re so united against Trump. Just wait. The divisions between Biden-Obama-Clinton-Pelosi moderates and Sanders-Warren-AOC liberals will rise again.
In North Carolina, former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr has been a vocal leader of anti-Trump Republicans. Former Republican Governor Jim Martin made scathing comments about Trump in a Charlotte Observer op-ed.
Martin criticized Trump for tweeting “his late-night demons,” called him “uncontrollably belligerent at the slightest provocation,” said “his verbal fireworks insult the intelligence of his supporters – I hope!” and added:
“His personal vendettas, his locker room disdain for women and minorities, his coarse attempts to bully anyone who disagrees, including our allies – these are not attributes of honorable leadership.”
But Trump’s personality isn’t the only thing dividing Republicans. They also face the rise of the racist, white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, QAnon, Proud Boys alt-right crowd.
Ever since white conservatives started migrating to the Republican Party over race in the 1960s, Chamber of Commerce Republicans have gone along with – and won elections thanks to – hardliners on race like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond.
Can they live in the same house with the new crowd?
Senator Thom Tillis’ campaign reflects the Republican split. A big reason he has trailed Cal Cunningham in polls is that he hasn’t consolidated the support of Trump’s base. They haven’t trusted him since he split with Trump on a couple of issues last year.
Democrats’ divisions aren’t as bitter, but they’re deep. Democrats are united on goals, but divided on means. They support racial, economic and social justice, but differ on how to get there and, specifically, on how big a role the federal government should play in getting there.
In 2016, supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fought openly. This year, Democrats’ universal disdain for Trump – more accurately, their fear and loathing – obscure the policy differences that were evident during the Democratic primary debates.
Look at September’s Senate primary in Massachusetts, where Ed Markey beat Joe Kennedy III. A Kennedy had never lost in Massachusetts, but Markey harnessed progressive ideas and young progressives’ energy. He co-sponsored the Green New Deal bill with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She endorsed Markey. Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Joe III.
The Green New Deal is the kind of issue where Democrats agree on big goals, but not on how far or how fast to go. There’s also health care, economic security, taxes, college debt, minimum wage, police reform and racial justice.
In the presidential debate, Biden distanced himself from what Trump called “the radical, socialist left.” Biden has positioned himself as a moderate, and he has made clear he intends to govern that way.
But if Biden wins and Democrats win both houses of Congress, the new President and his party will face a risk familiar to Democrats: scaring off centrists. That has happened to them three times in the last 50 years.
Young, aggressive liberals took over the party and nominated George McGovern in 1972. That led to the rise of the Republican Party, especially in the South, and eventually to President Ronald Reagan.
In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House, and Democrats tried to push through Hillary Clinton’s health care reform. That led to the 1994 Republican sweep, Speaker Newt Gingrich and eventually to President George W. Bush.
Democrats came back in 2008, electing President Obama and winning Congress. Then they passed Obamacare. That led to the Republican sweep in 2010 and to where we are today, with gerrymandering and President Trump.
Both parties face fundamental questions about their future.
Will the Jim Martins and Bob Orrs regain control of the GOP? Or will the Trump base remain in control, led by someone like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas or one of the Trump children?
If Democrats win the kind of sweep they sense is possible, will they govern in a way that keeps them in power or a way that quickly costs them power?
The answers could set the course of American politics for a generation or more.