In years past we could look at the political landscape and see Republicans running against Democrats. Occasionally there would be a minor third-party candidate that might siphon off a few votes but for the majority of the time there were two candidates representing the two major political parties in the United States.
Today we are witnessing the splintering of both parties. Prior to the 2016 election Democrats were trumpeting the fact that Republicans seemed to be in chaos while they would march in solidarity to support their candidate. But as they say in the movies, something happened on the way to the chapel. Bernie Sanders got in the race and suddenly Hillary Clinton was facing a challenge from the left within her own party. Forget that Sanders didn’t even call himself a Democrat, he was gunning for the nomination from the Democrats and he attracted a lot of support from the far left of the party. This forced Clinton to move to the left and alienate much of the moderate support she had hoped to win.
On the Republican side, you had a myriad of candidate and Donald Trump. Nobody gave Trump much of a chance (myself included) and as the primary season moved forward Trump began to gain momentum. To be sure his style of campaigning was far different than what we had witnessed in the past. He was bombastic and attacked all of his opponents with a ferocious zeal. There was nothing he would consider out of bounds and this seemed to appeal to a broad swath of voters. In the end, he won the nomination and sought to bring the party together to rally around him in their effort to defeat Hillary Clinton.
The general election proved to be just as divisive the country seemed polarized between the two candidates. Trump continued is unorthodox style of campaigning and attacked Clinton at every turn. Clinton, sensing that she had the election won pulled back and tried to run on a platform that appeared to be based solely on voting against Trump. She never gave anyone a clear reason to vote for her while Trump, in the final weeks, found a theme of jobs and a better economy. This effort gave him the edge in key states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. States that Clinton just took for granted to being in her column and she decided to go for the knockout punch by taking on Trump in traditionally red states. This was a major mistake and Trump turned small leads in states like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina (all states Clinton was projected to win) into an Electoral College map rout.
Now we are halfway through 2017 and if you look at the parties you see some divergent paths. In the Congress the Democrats have united in their effort to thwart anything that Trump proposes. The attempt to repeal ObamaCare met with failure because moderate Republicans (Murkowski, Collins and McCain) voted with the Democrats to defeat the bill. It was especially galling for Republicans when John McCain stood there with his hand out for dramatic effect just prior to turning his thumb down. This has been typical McCain who over the years has marched to his own drummer and looked for the opportunity to grandstand. The Democrats have abandoned any pretense of actually participating in the legislative process and are going to vote no on just about everything. They have thrown one roadblock after another at even the most mundane Executive Branch appoints. The Republicans in the Congress seem to lack any game plan and any sense of cohesiveness.
So where does that put us politically. In the Senate the map strongly favors Republicans with only two seats in any potential danger of a Democrat pick up. In Nevada they are targeting Sen. Dean Heller and he appears to be their best target. But Heller has proven to be a strong campaigner and is popular in the Reno area which is normally a Democrat stronghold. He would have to limit his losses in the Las Vegas area and the fact that he is a Mormon will help him in the southern part of the Nevada. People don’t seem to realize how strong the LDS community is in Las Vegas. Over and over they voted for Harry Reid (another Mormon) to allow him to sneak by with close victories. In Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is the second seat the Democrats are looking at. Flake has been an enigma wrapped up in a riddle politically. Over his career he has paid little attention to the desires of his constituency and preferred to chart his own path. He does not do a lot of events in the state and has relied upon a strong Republican majority in the state to carry him to victory. But Trump has singled him out for criticism and has openly endorsed his primary challenger. Waiting in the wings is a potentially strong Democrat in Kyrsten Sinema. She is a cagy politician and talks just conservative enough to sway some voters who might be disenchanted with Flake. In reality she votes a strong liberal line on key votes in the House.
The Democrats have to defend some tough seats. In Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly is particularly vulnerable in a state that is reliably Republican. The fiasco with Dick Lugar last time allowed him to slip into the Senate seat. In South Dakota Heidi Heitkamp will also be an underdog. Missouri will be another seat where the incumbent, Claire McCaskill, will once again have to pretend she is a conservative when running for reelection. She is in a bind since Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer will require her to vote with the caucus on key votes. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who acts like a moderate to conservative when running and then becomes a full-fledged liberal once she wins the race. If you recall she was the first Democrat to come out in support of Barrack Obama in his race for the Presidency. The Democrats have tough races in Montana (John Tester) and to a lesser extent Michigan (Debbie Stabenow), Florida (Bill Nelson) and Pennsylvania (Bob Casey). What will happen is they will be forced to spend a lot of money defending these seats.
In the House the Democrats are once again crowing that they will take control of the House and Nancy Pelosi even suggested they could win up to 80 seats. Most analysts think this is a pipe dream since the seats are drawn with the cooperation of both parties to ensure that incumbents don’t have tough races. All in all there are normally only about 20 competitive seats in the House on any given election cycle.
Then we have to look forward to 2020 for the next Presidential election. What will happen is anybody’s guess and a lot of will be determined on how President Trump does in the next three years. Up to this date he has not shown the temperament to unite the Republican Party and has instead engaged in attacks on members of Congress. His constant use of social media to lash out at anyone that disagrees with him demonstrates the character of someone that is used to getting his own way and when he doesn’t he tries to bully them into submission. This may have been fine in a privately held real estate business but it is not proper behavior for the President of the United States. Republicans will have a difficult choice in 2020 and depending on the 2018 elections it could be even more difficult. If they maintain their majorities in the House and Senate Trump will be able to claim victory and his base in the electorate would turn on any attempt to run against him. If they should lose one or more of the majorities you can be sure there will be a primary opponent to President Trump. This will split the party as his base will rally behind him and if he should lose the primary they may in fact abandon the party. This is the state of the Republican party right now and it has a tenuous hold on its own unity.
Lest you think the Democrats will be united in 2020 I would suggest that you wait until you see how things shake out for them. Hillary Clinton is making noises that she is not going to fade away into the scenery. She is out with a new book that is making many Democrats nervous about her intentions. Bernie Sanders has all but announced that he will make another run at the Presidency and that has the potential to split the party again with the hard-left backing Bernie and the rest of the party lining up behind any other candidate. [As an aside I think it is amusing that the Democrats claim to be the party of the younger vote but their candidates and leadership are all in the geriatric stages of life]
The intentions of these two 70-year-old candidates makes it difficult for the next generation of Democrat leaders to rise to the occasion. Sanders seems to have a strong base among the hard left. This is the progressive base of the party that would move the United States closer to socialism with a single payer health care system and a more aggressive tax system that would stifle investment and innovation. They are made up of the young who are rebelling against the system because they don’t see it rewarding their own behavior and the malcontents who now look to the government to fix any problem in their life. Clinton has a base that fawns over anything the Clintons do and she has this sense of entitlement that she should be handed the reins of the Presidency because after all, she is Hillary Clinton. She seems to be over the devastating loss of last year and is now reemerging as someone that looks to be running for something.
And we cannot forget the other youthful candidate for the Democrats, Joe Biden. The former Vice Presdient is sounding more and more like a candidate. Biden has to wish he had run in 2016 since he would have fared better than Clinton in the key swing states.
So you can see that both major parties have issues that may divide them in a 2020 election and cause major problems for each candidate. The political divide in this country seems to be widening with the far right of the Republican party gaining strength and the far left of Democrat party growing. It leaves the people like myself, a moderate conservative, and many of my friends who are moderate Democrats in the middle of this struggle and with no real candidate to support. That was the case in 2016 where I had to vote for a Donald Trump with all the trepidation that has come true and others had to support Hillary Clinton knowing that she was not the answer either.
I am not sure how we resolve this problem and until we find a political leader that can unite the country instead of divide it we are in for some epic battles and more gridlock in Congress.