What Would ‘Burn the GOP Down’ Mean for Democrats?

There is a new debate among Never-Trump conservatives regarding the Republican Party – namely, whether to spare it the consequences of its acquiescence to Trumpism, or, as Charlie Sykes put it in the Bulwark, to “burn it all down.”

As one would expect, the discussion centers on the impact to the Republican Party, and through it the nation. Yet the Democrats would still be there, and in fact, be strengthened; so there should at least be some discussion about how it would change – and it would – in response to a larger than expected victory (were it to happen).

Sykes was joined in his view by Mona Charen (also in the Bulwark). David French takes the opposite view about the GOP (outside of Trump) in The Dispatch. They all focus on the danger of losing Republicans who, in French’s words, “are not the chief offenders or culprits who led the United States to its present national predicament.” For Charen and Sykes, those Republicans are far fewer in number than French would believe. Still, only Sykes and French even discuss the Democrats outside of a perfunctory mention.

French insists, “a Democratic wave … will set back the conservative cause for years to come.” Sykes sees it differently: “If the Democrats were actually the party of AOC, Joe Biden would not be its nominee; we would be talking about Bernie. The fact that we are not is not trivial.”

From both, however, there is an assumption that the Democratic Party of the 2020s will simply be an extension of the Democratic Party today – without any realization of the effect of an election in the interim.

Let’s say those of us in the Sykes-Charon school (for those who are new to my posts, I am with them on this) get what we want: a major repudiation of the GOP that gives the Democrats control of the United States Senate as well. Who would be the Senators that delivered the majority?

In nearly every competitive state in question, the Democrats nominated a candidate outside the party’s left wing. Whatever Chuck Schumer might want to do as Majority Leader, he will hear from Steve Bullock (Montana), Doug Jones (Alabama), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Sara Gideon (Maine), and numerous other moderates in the Class of 2020 who will remind him in no uncertain terms that their constituents are far less comfortable with “Medicare for All,” the “Green New Deal,” and various other leftward lurches.

The suburban center-right voters who elected these Senators (if the Democrats win the majority in the Senate, it will be because some, if not all, of the listed candidates won) will not be far from their minds, or from Schumer’s.

In fact, we have seen this in the House of Representatives just last year, in response to the surge of suburban voters who gave Democrats the majority by electing candidates like Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger.

One of the first votes the newly-empowered Nancy Pelosi brought to the floor was a resolution demanding that the U.S. stay in NATO – and not a single Democrat voted against it (GovTrack). A later resolution opposing withdrawal of American troops from Syria was likewise passed with no Democratic opposition (ProPublica).

An impeachment fervor that threatened to include everything from cooperating with Russian interference in American elections to immigration policy become narrowly focused on Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine into doing his electoral bidding precisely because the newly elected moderates (including Luria and Spanberger) spoke up on the issue (WaPo).

Even in this era of higher polarization, parties respond to new converts. They try to hold them. Just as the Republican Party has adjusted to its new downscale base, the Democratic Party would respond – and I would argue it is already responding – to its new and more upscale voters. Whatever one thinks about what the GOP deserves, a broader and more aware Democratic Party would certainly be better for the country.

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