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June 25, 2018

In polarized America, the divisions post-Trump remain intense –

Unfortunately, a year and a half into the Trump Administration, the country has not gotten past the hyper-partisanship that dominated American politics during the bitter 2016 campaign and the first months of the unorthodox Trump presidency. American voters remain as angry as ever; if anything, the divisions have gotten deeper.

It is easy to blame the Trump presidency – and the bigger-than-life Trump personality – for the divisions in the country. Too easy.  There’s no doubt that President Trump exacerbates the tensions today – he seems to delight in throwing gasoline on burning fires.  But President Trump did not cause the deep divisions in the country, he responded to them.  He recognized the deep voter unrest that both major political parties failed to see, or chose to ignore.   His extraordinary candidacy gave angry voters an outlet, and his presidency continues to give them a voice.

From the very moment of President Trump’s unexpected election, many in the political pundit class predicted that his base of support would erode, assuming that his historically low approval ratings indicated there was broad “buyers’ remorse” among Trump voters. They were wrong – the President’s base remains solidly in his camp.   Trump voters in the “fly-over country” between America’s liberal east and west coasts don’t care about the Russia story, are willing to overlook the President’s personal foibles, and resent the media’s relentlessly negative stories about the President.

Recent analyses of typical Trump voters explain what the media and establishments in both political parties find inexplicable: People voted for candidate Trump, and remain loyal to President Trump, because they felt ignored or, worse, disrespected by the “establishment.”

On May 14th the Washington Post reported on three separate in-depth studies of Trump voters; one by conservatives, one by liberals, and one by a journalist.  One doesn’t need to read the analyses offered by these study authors to understand the Trump voters; those voters say it best in their own words:

We voted for President Obama and still we are ridiculed. Still we are considered racists  … There is no respect for anyone who is just average and trying to do the right things.

Our culture in Hollywood or in the media gives off the distinct air of disregard to people who live in the middle of the country, as if we have no value or do not contribute to the betterment of society … It’s frustrating. It really wants to make you stand up and yell, “We count,” except of course we don’t. At least not in their eyes.

Live in a small or medium-sized town, and you would think we were dragging the country down … We aren’t a country just made up of large metropolitan areas. Our politics and our culture up until now has dictated that we are less than in the scale of importance and value. [emphasis in original]

I mainly was a mainstream Democrat … Every time I turned on TV, there’s a Democrat calling me a racist and I just got tired of it.

 Candidate Trump appealed directly to what he called “the forgotten men and women of our country.” He made support for his candidacy an outlet for their frustration, while candidate Clinton did exactly the opposite, exemplified by her condescending and politically disastrous “deplorables” statement:

You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.  And, unfortunately, there are people like that.  And [Trump] has lifted them up.

So how are the political parties handling the new normal in America?

In short, not well.

The Democrat party is bitterly divided between the “establishment” and the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren faction which is pulling the party ever farther to the left. That left-wing of their Party threatens the Democratic establishment like the Tea Party threatened Republicans after the 2010 election: deviate from our orthodoxy and we’ll find a primary opponent and take your seat.

And their threat has teeth: a disturbing percentage of the liberal electorate is openly socialist and solidly in the Bernie Sanders’ camp.  In late April the Winston Group asked voters in a survey whether capitalism or socialism is the better system.  Surprisingly, only 52 percent of all respondents chose capitalism . . . but among liberal Democrats, a plurality of 35 percent chose socialism.

Candidate Hillary Clinton was keenly aware of how divided her base was. In an interview in early May she was asked if she thought being a self-described capitalist hurt her presidential ambitions.  Her response:

Probably…it’s hard to know. But I mean if you’re in the Iowa caucuses and 41 percent of Democrats are socialists or self-described socialists, and I’m asked ‘Are you a capitalist?’ and I say ‘Yes, but with appropriate regulation and appropriate accountability.’ You know, that probably gets lost in the ‘Oh my gosh, she’s a capitalist!’ Click here to see her interview.

Adding to the deep ideological divisions in the Democrat party is an increasingly vocal antagonism of rank and file Democrats to their long-tenured and aging leadership. Among the key Democrat leaders: Bernie Sanders is 76 years old, Hillary Clinton is 70, Joe Biden is 75, and Elizabeth Warren is 68.  House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer are 77 and 78 years old respectively; Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Whip Dick Durbin are 67 and 73.

Some Democrats are now beginning to challenge that leadership.   Last fall Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38), a member of the House GOP Leadership, called on Pelosi, Hoyer and Assistant Democrat Leader Jim Clyburn (age 77) to all step down after the 2018 elections to make way for up-and-coming lawmakers.

While Leader Pelosi has made it clear that she plans to keep her position, there is growing talk in Washington that things might change after the November mid-term elections.

The Republican party is torn three ways among the Congressional “establishment” and traditional GOP voter, the right wing House Freedom Caucus and its base, and the not-really-a-Republican Trump voter.

The establishment Republicans want to govern and are frustrated that despite GOP control of both houses of Congress and the White House, their list of legislative accomplishments is pretty short.

The House Freedom Caucus members do not want to govern unless the outcomes are completely consistent with their conservative ideology; their rejection of compromise causes the establishment’s frustration.

The Trump base isn’t necessarily Republican and they want the President to continue turning over tables and breaking china in Washington and the President obliges them.

These ever-combative factions put their disagreements aside last fall and enacted the first significant broad tax reform legislation since 1986.   But the alliance remains troubled, with the President often criticizing his Congressional colleagues and frequently changing his position on issues, making him an unreliable ally to the Congressional Republican leadership.

The June handling of immigration is a timely example of the GOP frustration. Moderate Republicans in the House pushed aggressively for consideration of immigration reform, House conservatives resisted.  The Senate made it clear they would not even take up an immigration bill unless the House proved it could pass one.  House Republicans finally agreed on proposals to take to the floor, although successful passage was in doubt.  The President announced that he would not sign the GOP bill, then reversed himself a couple days later and said that he would, then it was announced that the President would meet with the House GOP conference in an unusual evening meeting to explain his position.

Few observers expect the unorthodox Trump presidency to change, so it is likely to continue to be a bumpy road for the GOP as they head into the critical 2018 mid-term elections.