Belmont Club

The Two-Party System in Crisis

President Donald Trump hands copies of his speech to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The immediate question facing the Democratic Party is what to do now that the Russian collusion investigation and the impeachment of Donald Trump both failed. Should they enter into another high stakes confrontation or should they lower the stakes? Each defeat, however subjectively glorious, exacts a price. A sufficiently long losing streak can bankrupt any party no matter how much political capital they have.

The Democrat centrist wing is already broke, according to a New York Times op-ed by Elizabeth Breunig. “The center cannot hold.
Bernie Sanders’s strong showing in Iowa is a turning point in the battle between the party’s establishment and the left wing.”

It is fair to conclude that the Democratic Party’s center is panicking, and it is now fair to conclude that it has good cause: With 62 percent of Iowa caucus results in, Mr. Sanders leads the popular vote … the greater Iowa upset is that heir apparent Vice President Joe Biden is a distant fourth. With Mr. Biden’s front-runner status compromised, Mr. Sanders emerges from Iowa as a formidable candidate — without establishment imprimatur.

Statistician Nate Silver thinks Joe Biden’s campaign is now dead in the water after his poor performance in the Iowa caucus. “Biden’s chances of a majority fell in half, from 43 percent to 21 percent. Everyone else benefited from that. Sanders is now the most likely nominee at 37 percent.”

Each failed Democratic attack fueled more left-wing despair until it left activists in search of some change of fortune at the end of the radical rainbow. Mueller and the impeachment, intended to hobble Trump, have by their collapse fueled the rise of Sanders.

With the center broken, the party risks losing them to the other side. Trump can nail the Democratic Party colors to the socialist mast with Sanders providing the hammer — and the sickle — and pick up those who flee in disgust. There can be few ironies greater than nominating Bernie Sanders after spending two years of accusing Trump of being too friendly with the Russians. The NYT op-ed describes the possibility of a radical and divided party:

Shortly before the caucuses, Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University and co-editor of the left-leaning journal Dissent, told me that a Sanders nomination would be very significant. “He’d be the most radical candidate, in many ways, in American history, not just for Democrats, but for any party,” Professor Kazin said.

Mr. Sanders’s radicalism, Professor Kazin speculated, is troubling to establishment Democrats for a variety of reasons, from worries about his strength against President Trump in the general election to a desire to find a candidate who can unite the party.

Roger Simon thinks that the fragmented remnants of the old two-party system may in time to evolve into a three-party system.

You don’t have to be any kind of genius to see this. The continuing rise of Bernie Sanders—after being denied the 2016 nomination on dubious grounds—means we are likely on the road to having the most left-wing candidate in the history of the Democratic Party and are also well into the almost-certain break-up of that party. …

One is Trump’s Republican Party. Call them the Trumpetarians. We can see them roughly once a week at one of his rallies, so we know who they are—and they are enthusiastic, to say the least.

Two is the Sanders- or AOC-led socialist party. (Elizabeth Warren has gone back to the reservation.) Call them the Bolivarians because of Sanders’s high-esteem for the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, and other Latin American autarchs only slightly less ruthless than El Ché. (They may call themselves democratic socialists, but then, most socialists did, at the beginning.)

The Bolivarian rank-and-file, aka Bernie Bros., may be clueless about what they’re getting into, but they are, nevertheless, also absolutely enthusiastic.

Three is the old guard Democratic Party plus the NeverTrumpers (all fifty of them, including Bill Kristol). Call this group the Deep Staters. They are not enthusiastic.

The longer-term puzzle is whether any of the new political parties will be any more adaptable to rapidly changing conditions than their predecessors. Of the three notional factions that Roger Simon posits, two are wedded to a political agenda in the past while the third is, in the words of Ross Douthat, led by “instinct-driven chancer.” This, in Douthat’s view, should make Trump easy to beat and he is perplexed at why chaos has not already brought him down.

All you have to do is beat him.

As with 2016, so with politics since. Liberal hand-wringing about their structural disadvantages ignores the advantages that Trump keeps giving them — the fact that in the best economy in 20 years he can’t stop making people hate him, can’t stop missing opportunities to expand his base, can’t stop forcing vulnerable Republicans to kiss his ring and thereby weaken their own prospects.

Then why does he keep winning? (“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning.”) Perhaps the answer is that in this unpredictable, complex world Trump’s opportunism and comfort with chaos are more of an advantage than a handicap. It would explain why ideologically fossilized activists and faceless apparatchiks have so little success against him. He can improvise while they — institutionally — can’t. The Bolivarians and Deep-Staters may find their task harder than they think.

This implies that the successors to the current two parties must not only become more numerous but also less permanent. They have to be able to reinvent themselves constantly to cope with a century where the entire face of the global world can be changed by bat viruses in the space of a single month.

All you have to do to beat him is to win more.

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Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.

Books:

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America, by Scott Adams. The creator of Dilbert has come up with a guide to spot and avoid mental habits trapping victims in their own bubbles of reality, such as the inability to get ego out of your decisions, thinking with words instead of reasons, failing to imagine alternative explanations, and making too much of coincidences.

Humanity in a Creative Universe, by Stuart A. Kauffman. Best known for his philosophy of evolutionary biology, Kauffman calls into question science’s ability to ever accurately and precisely predict the future development of biological features in organisms. He argues that our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures and concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution.

Working , by Robert A. Caro. From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, an unprecedented memoir of his experiences researching and writing his acclaimed books.

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll. A masterful result of Coll’s indefatigable reporting, this book draws on more than 400 interviews; field reporting from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta; more than 1,000 pages of previously classified U.S. documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; heretofore unexamined court records; and many other sources. This is a defining portrait of ExxonMobil and the place of Big Oil in American politics and foreign policy.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


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Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.