There’s an all-out war being waged for the soul of America’s two biggest political parties. Are Republicans the party of anger or the party of Reagan? Are Democrats the party of political revolution or the party of pragmatism and prudence?
We’ve been assaulted with poll numbers for months now, but soon we’ll be able to throw those away. In less than a week, Iowa Caucus-goers will be the first in the nation to shape their political parties heading into the 2016 election. Yet, instead of coming together, each party’s base is growing further apart.
The rift between Republican voters became strikingly clear in National Review’s latest edition. The magazine, widely regarded as a beacon of conservative thought, featured essays from 22 leading conservatives in what essentially amounted to an anti-Trump manifesto. In their eyes, Trump is not a “true” conservative and nominating Trump would cause irreparable harm to the GOP brand.
However, the leading conservatives are missing one key fact: the majority of Trump supporters are not true conservatives.
Trump supporters do not descend from the party of Reagan, but rather are disaffected voters that feel spurned by the political process. Trump supporters see these supposed true conservatives precisely as the politicians who have let them down time and time again.
Sure, arguing that Trump isn’t a true conservative is effective for a prototypical Republican who is engrossed in politics. At the same time, that is exactly why that argument falls flat in regard to Trump supporters.
Mysteriously, Republicans have done little to counter Trump’s main pitch, which goes something along the lines of, “I’m Donald Trump and I can fix all of America’s problems because I’m Donald Trump and I’m a successful guy.” Absent are the attacks on Trump for his failure with the Trump Taj Mahal. Absent are the attacks on Trump that his father provided the foundation of his wealth, rather than Trump being a self-made man.
Currently, there seem to be two distinct bases in the Republican party: the angry, spiteful Trump wing and the angry-but-faithful Reagan wing. And don’t be fooled, the Democrats are going through a similar identity crisis.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders seemingly have divided the Democrat base into one that favors a pragmatic approach to politics and one that favors political revolution. Clinton loves to paint herself as a “progressive that likes to get things done,” while Sanders points to Clinton as part of the establishment that has gotten in the way of meaningful progress. Thus, Democrat voters have to decide between democratic socialism or political continuity.
Sanders supporters are deeply suspicious of Clinton and echo a similar anti-establishment tone commonly found among Trump supporters. Clinton supporters argue that Sanders is too radical and un-electable.
Hidden in this debate is an underlying power struggle for the future of the party. A Sanders nomination would pull the party much further to the left while a Clinton nomination would ensure the party occupies a center-left position for the foreseeable future.
So much of this current identity crisis plaguing both parties is based on poll number and that’s not necessarily the best indicator of the actual positions of prospective voters. Soon, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the first to weigh in on this debate beyond the poll numbers. Even then, the voters in the two states are overwhelmingly white and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the average American.
The fight for the soul of each party shows no sign of slowing down and might last all the way up to the conventions. Either way, voters will eventually have the final say and the party leaders will have to scramble to unite their parties ahead of the general election.