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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Edsall: Which party’s extremist wing is more destructive?

One of the frequently-heard critiques of current U.S. politics among the general public and many commentators is that extremists of both parties are blocking the good that would otherwise be politically possible. New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall probes the damage done to each party and to democracy in general by the “extreme wings” of the two major political parties. He shares some lucid insights from top political observers, including:

Two scholars who have been highly critical of developments in the Republican Party, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, co-authors of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” were both far more critical of the MAGA caucus than of the Squad.

Mann was adamant in his email:

The MAGA Caucus is antidemocratic, authoritarian, and completely divorced from reality and truth. The Squad embraces left views well within the democratic spectrum. What’s striking about the MAGA Caucus is that they are closer to the Republican mainstream these days, given the reticence of Republican officeholders to challenge Trump. We worry about the future of American democracy because the entire Republican Party has gone AWOL. The crazy extremists have taken over one of our two major parties.

The MAGA group, Ornstein wrote by email, is composed of

the true believers, who think Trump won, that there is rampant voter fraud, the country needs a caudillo, we have to crack down on trans people, critical race theory is an evil sweeping the country and more. The Squad is certainly on the left end of the party, but they do not have authoritarian tendencies and views.

‘Caudillo Republicans’ could be a catchy buzz term some Democratic campaigns use to describe their adversaries. Edsall continues,

Ocasio-Cortez, Ornstein wrote, “is smart, capable, and has handled her five minutes of questioning in committees like a master.”

William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and a co-author with Elaine Kamarck, also of Brookings, of “The New Politics of Evasion: How Ignoring Swing Voters Could Reopen the Door for Donald Trump and Threaten American Democracy,” wrote by email:

How does one measure “extreme”? By two metrics — detachment from reality and threats to the democratic process — the nod goes to the MAGA crowd over the Squad, whose extremism is only in the realm of policy. I could argue that the Squad’s policy stances — defund the police, abolish ICE, institute a Green New Deal — have done more damage to the Democratic Party than the MAGA crowd has to the Republicans. President Biden has been forced to back away from these policies, while Republicans sail along unscathed. By refusing to criticize — let alone break from — the ultra-MAGA representatives, Donald Trump has set the tone for his party. A majority of rank-and-file Democrats disagree with the Squad’s position. There’s no evidence that the Republican grassroots is troubled by the extremism in their own ranks.

I asked Galston what the implications were of Marjorie Taylor Greene winning renomination on May 24 with 69.5 percent of the primary vote.

He replied:

Trumpists hold a strong majority within the Republican Party, and in many districts the battle is to be seen as the Trumpiest Republican candidate. This is especially true in deep-red districts where winning the nomination is tantamount to winning the general election. A similar dynamic is at work in deep-blue districts, where the most left-leaning candidate often has the advantage. Candidates like these rarely succeed in swing districts, where shifts among moderate and independent voters determine general election winners. In both parties, there has been a swing away from candidates who care about the governance process, and toward candidates whose skills are oratorical rather than legislative. I could hypothesize that in an era of hyperpolarization in which gridlock is the default option, the preference for talkers over doers may be oddly rational.

They may be talkers rather than doers, but if, as currently expected, Republicans win control of the House on Nov. 8, 2022, the MAGA faction will be positioned to wield real power.

Liberal Democrats make a worthy point in arguing, no matter what AOC and the ‘squad’ actually say, believe or do, it will be distorted by the right-wing echo chamber. The squad members have to rep their constituents, even if they are to the left of most swing voters. Centrist Dems also have a good point in urging lefties to stop feeding the Republican propaganda machine and to take Democratic midterm prospects into more consideration. Democrats may not have the message discipline or echo chamber of the GOP. But surely Dems can make a better effort towards party unity.

One comment on “Edsall: Which party’s extremist wing is more destructive?

  1. Victor on

    “The squad members have to rep their constituents, even if they are to the left of most swing voters.” The people who vote in low turnout primaries don’t necessarily represent the views of the majority in at least some Squad districts. AOC’s and Bowman’s districts aren’t that liberal.


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