Saturday, February 15, 2020


I saw a tweet the other day -- I can't find it now -- that said, in effect: The Democratic race is likely to come down to two men who've spent less time as registered Democrats than Donald Trump. And while that's not strictly true (Mike Bloomberg changed his registration to Democratic in 2018, but he'd been a Democrat for years before running for mayor of New York as a Republican in 2001), it is true that Bernie Sanders appears never to have actually registered as a Democrat, while Trump was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2009.

So why is this happening? Many Sanders supporters, especially his young backers, don't appear to like the Democratic Party much at all. Other Sanders supporters are frustrated with what they regard as the party's timidity. But many of Bloomberg's backers seem to believe that Middle American voters won't back a traditional Democrat.

You can't discuss this without talking about the relentless anti-Democratic propaganda of the Republican Party and right-wing media. Even when we're not in campaign season, the right finds ways every day to say that Democrats, liberals, leftists, and people who shop at Whole Foods (who are all said to be the same people) are evil, delusional, and an existential threat to American civilization. To some extent, the apparent success of Bloomberg in this race suggests that many Democratic voters have internalized this negative image of the party, or at least assume that other Americans have.

But what about Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP? He came to the party disagreeing with its members on a number issues (though far fewer than most pundits will acknowledge). In addition, he openly attacked some Republicans, particularly John McCain and the Bush family. How did he win over his party?

Again, I blame the right-wing noise machine. In response to the GOP's popularity decline during the second Bush term, the conservative media increased its attacks on "RINOs," echoing the rank-and-file's long-standing suspicion of those in the GOP who might occasionally take a moderate position, especially on immigration. (An example: For years, many Free Republic commenters and others have referred to Senator Lindsay Graham as "Grahamnesty.") After Republicans lost Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, the right-wing media floated the fiction -- which was picked up by the mainstream press -- that the Tea Party movement was non-partisan and skeptical of both parties. After a while, it became cool on the right to say you were an independent (even if you never voted for a Democrat) and that you were a "constitutional conservative," not a Republican.

So eventually there was a (lesser) degree of self-hate in the GOP. Trump capitalized on that.

But notice that instead of dying or changing, the two-party system endures, even though many Americans find it highly unsatisfactory.

It appears that we can't get rid of it. We can only watch as interlopers remake it in their own images.

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