No Struggle Like a Party Struggle
The storming of the United States Capitol on January 6 will have many long-term consequences. Yet, the tremors sent through the American political system are to be immediately felt in their impact on the inner struggles of both the Democratic and the Republican parties. As the Civil War had redefined the American political landscape for the next hundred years, so will the events of January 6 reshape, realign and possibly destroy the existing political status quo.
The GOP is in terrible shape. The events in Washington D.C. were as much protest against the perceived Democrat-controlled “Deep State” as they were the escalation of the inner party struggle. Since the heyday of the Tea Party Movement, it has become clear to most observers that the Republican Party was no longer a unified movement of the days of Reagan. Donald Trump’s emergence during the 2016 primary campaign and his subsequent victory in the election emphasized the split but kept the party nominally together. MAGA, the name both the adherents and detractors prefer, stands separate from the GOP in its worldview and zeitgeist. Now with the GOP out of power across all government branches, the pretense of unity is impossible to maintain.
The vast majority of commentators attribute too much significance to President Trump’s second impeachment. They believe its main significance, if successful, is to prevent Donald Trump from running for an office ever again. They view MAGA as a cult and hope that by dethroning the “shaman” the entire movement will disintegrate as most personality based cults do. This is a catastrophic misreading of the political map. Donald Trump did not create MAGA. He captured, or more precisely propelled himself, into the leadership of the existing but leaderless mass of voters from across the entire political spectrum. The ideas he vocalized and transformed into burning issues of MAGA’s program had existed long before his thunderous appearance. Yet he was the first leader to openly appropriate them, make them his own, and even implement some of them. Thus even if Donald Trump is impeached and left without an option for the second run, he will nevertheless lead the movement and remain its unchallenged leader. He is not the movement, but the movement is his to lead.
This vibrancy is MAGA’s great asset but a huge threat to the GOP. The reluctance of the GOP leadership and many rank-and-file Republicans to engage in the President’s attempt at contesting the election results made MAGA and the GOP coexistence under one party roof an impossible task. There is no tent large enough to house Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Donald Trump together. Both sides command a large chunk of the electorate and neither will capitulate. MAGA may not officially split from the GOP, but it will aggressively field alternative candidates wherever it may. Donald Trump has demonstrated a penchant for this sabotage tactic during his term in the office. He personally will very much enjoy that new role of travelling around the country and giving fiery speeches to large, excited crowds. MAGA may even score some victories on the federal and state levels. However, in most cases, and specifically in the districts without the clear majority, this tactic will lead to the splintering of the Right ticket and to Democratic victories where those victories are not forgone conclusions were the right stayed united. The GOP is entering the political wilderness much darker than one it wandered into after Nixon's days.
The predicaments of the Democratic party are of completely different nature. The party has its own strong internal opposition, The Progressive Left. Its cadre is young, energetic, and growing in numbers. The Progressives constitute around one-third of the party, but they are increasing in strength and are clearly setting the party agenda. They view the events of January 6 as proof of and vindication of their worldview where the threat of the Nazi takeover is always around the corner. The Mass Media supports and promotes that narrative working as a megaphone of the Progressive voice.
The Progressive movement strategy, perfectly epitomized by Bernie Sanders’ career, is to capture the Democratic Party from within. It will find MAGA a very useful tool in wresting the control, or whatever is left of it, from the old guard. The Progressives will use MAGA, the one that exists in their imagination and nurtured by the mass media, to maintain a high level of ideological warfare inside the Democratic Party: another Nazi plot to take over the country will always be only days away. In this new ideological world the Progressives have ideology, but the old Democratic party does not. Most moderate Democrats running for office will find themselves facing a choice of either adopting the Progressive program or being branded as lackeys of the right. The days when one could make a political career of plowing the land where the Left and the Right meet are gone. Compromise as a political tool has ceased to be an advantage and become a liability. The old Democratic party is undergoing a metamorphosis and turning into a very different beast.
The outcomes of the inner struggles inside the Democratic and the Republican parties will determine the style and nature of American political life for the coming generations. These struggles will decide what path the country takes as it faces immense challenges at home and abroad.
Image: Jacques Callot