Does the Democrats’ Civil War Matter?

Moonlighting at Fox News, Commentary magazine’s Noah C. Rothman surveys the current schism gripping the Democratic Party, from fmr interim DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile’s claims that the party (at a low ebb post-Obama) gave Hillary Clinton advantages over Bernie Sanders and behaved in a decidedly unwoke fashion towards Brazile to the manner in which leftist identity politics may be helping GOPer Ed Gillespie in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign (after right-wing identity politics took center stage in that GOP primary).

To Rothman’s list, I’d add the potentially ugly primary campaign Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein may face in her re-election bid to the US Senate from both the identity politicians and Bernie Bros.

Though I’ll be popping my share of the popcorn, we should take a moment on the question of whether the Democrats’ internal brawl ultimately matters.   The answer is probably both “not very much” and “quite a lot.”

Consider that when the GOP was the out party in 2009, we were treated to a not-too-dissimilar brawl between the party establishment and the Tea Party.  Both factions fielded some good candidates in various contests, and some less-than-good candidates in other races.  In 2012, Mitt Romney — a pretty establishment sort — won the presidential nomination in large part because none of his rivals captured the anti-establishment Tea Party spirit.

Then, per Rothman:

Say what you will about the GOP’s 2012 ‘autopsy,’ at least the Republican Party engaged in an open display of introspection in the wake of a humiliating defeat. The autopsy galvanized a Republican activist base resentful of what it saw as the false elite consensus around diversity and immigration, and vowed to show the party leaders why they were wrong.”

That’s certainly a piece of How We Got Trump, though it’s notable that two of his main rivals, Sens. Rubio and Cruz also were from that Tea Party Class of 2010.  Trump represented a facet of that same anti-establishment movement, just one that tended to be overlooked by most observers at the time.

What’s more important for today’s discussion, however, is the fact that 2016 demonstrates that, broadly speaking, political parties don’t actually “learn” lessons.  So did 2010, when the conventional wisdom had conservatism on the ropes following a smashing Democratic victory in 2008.  In this sense, party brawls often mean little, because we are in an increasingly tribal two-party system, which means the out party can benefit mostly by default when the party in power stumbles.

OTOH, the various Democratic factions would be foolish not to brawl.  This is also the lesson of 2016.  Trump may have been the internally weakest GOP nominee in modern history… but he won.  And by winning Trump has the ability to set the agenda, even if he sometimes seems less than fully interested in doing so.  When a party stumbles, the fight for the head chair at the table commences.  In this sense, the fight matters a great deal.

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