Updated: Oct 16, 2021
In 2021, after a contentious election cycle and political divides amongst Americans on a broad range of issues, the divide between the Democrats and the GOP is only deepening. The United States government has almost always had two-party politics, largely due to its winner-take-all system, which catalyzes such partisan divisions and forces most politicians to back their respective parties and unify against the opposition or risk catastrophic loss.
Despite the two-party system and the apparent “unity” when it comes to the opposition (also known as negative partisanship), both major American parties — the Democrats and the GOP — are not united; in fact, they are far from it. While an obvious issue is that there is a deep partisan split in Washington between the Democrats and the GOP, party leaders should also focus on another looming threat: deep splits in the parties themselves.
Democratic leaders face dilemma regarding progressivism
Although the Democrats continue to be the more traditionally liberal party of the U.S., it is evident that the party is unable to decide how liberal they are with regard to policy. Despite that the main party leadership and establishment continues to be run by moderate liberals such as President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), it is clear that some party members have aspirations for a far more liberal party agenda, a Democratic Socialist agenda that embraces policies far more extreme than those endorsed by said leadership. Such policies include transitioning to a single-payer healthcare system, implementing the $93 trillion “Green New Deal,” and more than doubling the current minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Politicians endorsing such ideas were previously thought to be merely radical fringe elements of the Democratic party, such as Senators Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and “The Squad,” a group of Democratic Socialist second-term congresswomen: Representatives Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D–Mich.), and Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.). 2021 has changed that; a record number of so-called “progressives” have been elected to Congress last election, paving the way for a more divided, and perhaps a more radical (if the progressives were to succeed), Democratic Party.
This puts the Democratic leadership in a dilemma of whether to accept the radical wave sweeping the party or to remain firmly in its centrist-liberal roots. On one side, politicians such as President Biden and Senator Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) oppose radical elements of the party and commit to non-extreme policy positions. On the other, politicians such as Representative Ocasio-Cortez say that capitalism—the hallmark individual-centered free-market structure of the American economy—is “irredeemable” and a “tool of exploitation.”
The Democrats’ divide extends further than those in power; it is a divide evident in the liberal voters themselves. In an NBC News Poll aptly named “Two Parties or Four?” 42% of those surveyed identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters, of which 17% identify as “Biden Democrats” (the “moderate” side) and another 17% identify as “Sanders-Warren Democrats” (the radical side).
GOP broken on Fmr. Pres. Trump’s role
To Trump or not to Trump: that is the question for the GOP in 2021. While a total break from former President Trump in the GOP seemed plausible after the January insurrection, it is evident that a sizable portion of the party would be willing to standby the forty-fifth president.
This was most evident in last week’s impeachment trial, in which only seven Republican Senators voted to convict the former president: Senators Mitt Romney (R–Utah), Susan Collins (R–Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska), Ben Sasse (R–Neb.), Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), Bill Cassidy (R–La.), and Richard Burr (R–N.C.). Although there was a dispute regarding the constitutionality of a trial of a former president, and the trial was indeed the most bipartisan impeachment trial in U.S. History, the fact that a significant proportion of the Republicans did not vote to convict the former president indicates his still strong influence over the party. Incidentally, the constitutionality, not Trump’s conduct, was the argument that most who voted to acquit, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) cited after voting.
Curiously, Leader McConnell, straightaway after the vote, blasted the former president on the Senate floor for his actions preceding the insurrection and stated that his vote based purely on the aforementioned constitutional argument.
Considering the constitutional argument, it does appear that many in the GOP are ready to break from Trump. Nevertheless, many still came to his defense. Namely, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.), Senator Ted Cruz (R–Texas), and Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), some of the more notable politicians of the Trump wing of the GOP. On the other hand, many more traditional Republicans such as Senators McConnell and Romney as well as Representatives Liz Cheney (R–Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R–Ill.) have indicated their hope for a break from Trump.
In fact, the Republican party is so divided that some have even brought up the possibility of “Trump Republicans” leaving the GOP to form a new party loyal to the former president or the same for traditional conservatives who feel alienated by the post-Trump GOP.
Just as with the Democrats, the GOP’s split extends far from Washington D.C. The NBC News Poll indicated that out of 37% of voters who identified as Republican or likely Republicans, 17% identified as “party Republicans” (the McConnell type), and 17% identified as “Trump Republicans” (the Graham type). The divide is even clearer with the statistic that 87% of “Trump Republicans” have “very positive feelings” about the former president while only 44% of “party Republicans” believe the same.Despite calls for bipartisanship and unity from almost every office in Washington, it is evident that there are three distinct civil wars simultaneously occurring in the country—those within both major parties and the even more significant one between the two parties. Many thought that the January insurrection would unite America; after all, the 9-11 tragedy indeed united America during another polarized moment. However, as the country becomes situated with the new administration and Congress and looks ahead to 2022, it is evident that the consequential divides both between and within the parties are here to stay.