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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

January 10: From Polarization to Warfare

With all the vast literature on partisan polarization out there, it’s important to draw attention to those who understand the phenomenon in depth (not a large group), and recognize that something more powerful and ominous is going on. I wrote about one example at WaMo today:

At WaPo’s Monkey Cage subsite today, there’s an important piece by University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault that gets to a distinction in political attitudes that some of us have been trying to articulate ever since the radicalization of one of our two major parties occurred:

I have been studying party polarization in Congress for more than a decade. The more I study it, the more I question that it is the root cause of what it is that Americans hate about Congress. Pundits and political scientists alike point to party polarization as the culprit for all sorts of congressional ills. I, too, have contributed to this chorus bemoaning party polarization. But increasingly, I’ve come to think that our problem today isn’t just polarization in Congress; it’s the related but more serious problem of political warfare….
Perhaps my home state of Texas unnecessarily reinforces the distinction I want to make between these two dimensions. Little separates my two senators’ voting records – of the 279 votes that senators took in 2013, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn disagreed less than 9 percent of the time (the largest category of their disagreement, incidentally, was on confirmation votes). In terms of ideology, they are both very conservative. Cruz, to no one’s surprise, is the most conservative. Cornyn is the 13th most conservative, which is actually further down the list than he was in 2012, when he ranked second. Cornyn’s voting record is more conservative than conservative stalwarts Tom Coburn and Richard Shelby. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz disagreed on twice as many votes as John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
The difference between my senators is that when John Cornyn shows up for a meeting with fellow senators, he brings a pad of paper and pencil and tries to figure out how to solve problems. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, brings a battle plan.

That’s probably why Cornyn has attracted a right-wing primary challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman.
The rise of “politics as warfare” on the Right, accompanied with militarist rhetoric, is one that my Democratic Strategist colleagues James Vega and J.P. Green and I discussed in a Strategy Memo in 2012. We discerned this tendency in the willingness of conservatives to paralyze government instead of redirecting its policies, and in the recent efforts to strike at democracy itself via large-scale voter disenfranchisement initiatives. And while we noted the genesis of extremist politics in radical ideology, we also warned that “Establishment” Republicans aiming at electoral victories at all costs were funding and leading the scorched-earth permanent campaign.

That clearly has not changed since 2012.

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