Right On: Party time in Congress

United States political party/movement logos L-R: Tea Party movement, Republican Party, Democratic Party, Socialist Party | Composite image, St. George News

OPINION – We all expect congressional Democrats and Republicans to tangle in the coming session. But fireworks caused by internal party divisions should be just as interesting.

Democrats are divided between Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressives and the party’s more traditional wing. Sanders, a socialist and independent, caucuses with the Democrats.

Sanders shocked the Democratic Party establishment. He received 43 percent of primary votes but was never likely to win the nomination. Why? Over 15 percent of convention votes were reserved for party insiders who solidly supported Clinton as more electable.

Nonetheless, the Sanders campaign forced Clinton to move steadily to the left in hopes of harnessing progressive voters in the general election. While Clinton for the most part embodied a continuation of Obama’s far left policies, a major segment of the Democratic Party continues to advocate extreme left progressive policies.

Nonetheless, Democrats will strive to present a united front in opposition to Republicans. But this united front may well break down when the reality of 2018 re-election campaigns looms.

Twenty-three Democratic senators and two independents that caucus with them face re-election in 2018. Only eight Republican senators face re-election. Ten of these Democratic senators come from states Trump carried and three from states he narrowly lost in 2016.

Depending on how political winds are blowing in 2018, these senators may support key Republican legislation.

Democrats are reduced to Senate filibusters as their only congressional leverage. Sam Stein, the stridently liberal Huffington Post’s senior political editor, explained why on MSNBC:

You look at the destruction of the Democratic Party under Barack Obama’s leadership and you have to wonder, what was the political — what were the electoral benefits that he gave to the party?

He leaves them in a much worse position.  The states are decimated, they lost control of the House and Senate, and the governorships are decimated.

Maybe (Obama) is a gifted candidate. He won election twice by substantial margins, but his legacy as a politician is a bit muddied by all that. (Ed. note: Included parenthetical is part of the quote.)

Obama saw his presidency as a huge success. Articles about his legacy, both favorable and unfavorable, are found everywhere. But his dismembering of the Democratic Party is underreported.

(A side note to liberals: Obama blamed Bush for every problem he faced during the first five years of his presidency. Turnabout is fair play: The problems Obama created are fair game for the next four years and 51 weeks!)

So are Republicans in the catbird seat with clear skies ahead? Hardly.

In 2009, Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House. Like kids in a candy store, they charged ahead enacting 40 years of progressive dreams, including Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. No Republican input was sought and no Republican votes were received.

That spring the conservative Tea Party movement arose in response to this progressive nirvana. The Tea Party had a major impact on the 2010 elections in which Republicans gained six Senate seats and 63 House seats, the biggest change since 1948.

Somewhere between 10-30 percent of Americans identify as Tea Party members. Fifteen senators including Utah’s Mike Lee and 44 representatives including Utah’s Rob Bishop are announced members of the Tea Party caucus.

Just as the Sanders/Warren progressive wing pulls mainstream Democrats farther left, the Tea Party caucus pulls mainstream Republicans farther right.

Further complicating life for congressional Republicans, Trump’s election brings his populist agenda to the presidency. Voters who supported him expect timely action on taxes, jobs and trade.

Tables are turned from 2009. Republicans, with control of both houses and the presidency, are obliged to forge legislation that can pass, needing support from their populist president and Tea Party wing. Democrats need only unite in opposition without agreeing among themselves on alternatives.

Democrats will focus on the negatives of any Republican proposal but must strike a balance between principled objections and appearing obstructionist. Their mainstream media allies will highlight the inevitable rifts between Republicans.

Republicans would be wise to avoid the Democrat’s 2009 mistake of legislation supported only by the majority party. Can they craft legislation that will be supported by those Senate Democrats hoping to retain their seats in 2018? If they can, they will avoid filibusters and will be more likely to enact programs accepted by a broad section of the public. But that will require taming both Trump and the Tea Party caucus.

Republicans hope to retain or even expand their congressional majorities in 2018. The unpredictable and volatile Trump is the key player and may well incur the public’s wrath.

This writer believes Bill Clinton’s 1992 election mantra will hold sway: It’s the economy, stupid. If Republicans deliver on taxes, jobs and the economy, their chances are good. If not, Democrats will make significant gains.

Some conservative observers believe Trump’s election represents a major historical turning point. This writer disagrees. Franklin Roosevelt’s election was a major turning point. Others that seemed important at the time were merely head fakes. Kennedy, Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama were all claimed to represent multigenerational changes in the electorate. The tide receded in each case.

Democrats will find their way back into power in this rapidly changing world. It’s only a matter of time and circumstances.

Howard Sierer is a developing columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • comments January 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Neo-cons and neo-libs, mostly corporatists and globalists. There aren’t huge difference in the parties, although the dems are more likely to throw down some scraps to the peasants, the repubs will let them eat cake. The last republican presidency was able to creating a housing bubble big enough to collapse the entire banking system and take a huge chunk of the economy down the crapper with that. This faith that the R-party will always do the right and good thing is a strange religion–the reality is far different.

    • comments January 26, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      *create, not creating

  • Allie January 26, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Both parties are out of touch. That’s how Trumpet got elected. The R’s had 19 candidates, count them 19 going into the primaries. The voters whittled it down to Trumpet. Why? Because the R’s didn’t have anyone who looked like they could deliver. They had no clue what the people of the country wanted, they just came up with a handful of their wants and threw them out to us. Same old, same old. But, let us not forget the D’s. Only 2 candidates, Hillary and Bernie. Bernie made the most sense, he had more of a clue as to what the country needed. Hillary, who was the most qualified of ALL candidates, had a boatload of baggage and Bill. People, like me, probably went to the polls and had very little choice. Writing in a candidate is like throwing away the vote. Not voting takes away our voice. Hillary’s baggage would cause 4 more years of doing nothing but investigating her. Who was left? Trumpet. Depending on what happens from now until Nov. 2018, we can look back and say those in DC have no clue how to work together to get things straightened out and we can cut off their government “handouts” like they want to cut off Social Security, Medicare, paid into by businesses and employees.

  • commonsense January 26, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    It seems early but Republicans have the numbers to reverse some of the Obama damage. Wall Street likes what’s happening. The media loses credibility daily. They had better start presenting what is actually happening without the spin or social media will be the preferred source of productive America.

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