And one reason why the 2020 primary seems so acrimonious. The first thing to know about the Democratic Party is that it’s really two parties: a liberal Republican party and a liberal Democratic party (I use the term liberal Democrat as it was used in the 1980s and 1990s). These are divergent enough within each party such that they really shouldn’t be thought of as wings of a single party, but as separate parties which are in a coalition.
What is freaking out the liberal Republican wing–which has been in the driver’s seat since the late 1980s–is that they are no longer in control. The mythical moderates aren’t the swing voters the Democratic party needs to capture (boldface mine):
After the Republican defeat in the 2018 midterm elections, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham said his party needed to address “the suburban-woman problem, because it’s real.” Political analyst Bill Schneider told the Hill.TV that he noticed “a lot of affluent, white suburban voters, well-educated, particularly women, fleeing the Trump party.”
Yet party-loyalty voting in 2018 was typical, with 94 percent of all House votes cast by Republicans going to Republican candidates and 95 percent of Democrats voting for Democratic candidates, following the pattern of the past two decades. Senate party loyalty is only a little weaker — averaging 92 percent in 2018 and displaying little variation from the cycles before Trump.
The real change was who showed up to the polls — more women, young people (who increasingly live in suburbs), Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans — not loyal voters who flipped. That meant electorates favorable for Republicans in 2014 became electorates favorable for Democrats in 2018. The real “swing” is the decision to vote at all, a choice driven largely by the backlash to Trump.
This has ramifications for the power dynamics within the Democratic party (boldface mine):
Still, the Bernie-or-Busters, small as they may be, have spun their position into an argument for why others should vote for Bernie Sanders too, regardless of the platform they prefer. As efforts in political persuasion go, this contingent puts forward an openly hostile argument. Sanders is the only electable candidate, they suggest, not just because of his policies, but because of the single-mindedness of his followers. The reason you should vote for Sanders is that we won’t vote for anyone else. You don’t want Trump to win again, do you?
Yes, it sounds like ugly hostage taking—not a brilliant persuasive strategy but a crude ego-boosting exercise for a group of leftists who can’t resist the impulse to lord some power over an electorate that doesn’t normally consider them relevant. But that’s exactly what makes it so normal, even understandable, in a depressing “we’re all human” sort of way. Because the truth is this: Every threat these Sanders stans are explicitly making is one the venerated Centrist Swing Voter makes implicitly—and isn’t judged for. The centrist never even has to articulate his threat. The media narrates it for him. “What does the swing voter want?” is the kind of question that rescues this brand of voter from owning or even admitting any moral consequences at all. The question is framed as sensible, and so is its subject. The swing voter—which, let’s be clear, is diminishing in this political landscape—is typically treated as the antithesis of a Bernie stan: as a rational and passionless subject (as if contemplating just not voting in an election were a morally neutral choice). That the swing voter is arguably worse than the Bernie or Bust crew—in that in lieu of just staying home and not voting at all, he might actually vote for the other guy—doesn’t even register. That’s how accustomed we all are to being held hostage to the centrist concerns. As for leftists, who are undeniably real? Well, the Democratic machine has never wondered what they thought; it’s simply taken them for granted. After all, who else are they going to vote for?
What we are seeing is the beginnings of a power struggle within the Democratic Party. The current dominant liberal Republican faction is so panicked by the mere prospect of a Sanders nomination, they are dreaming of all sorts of fantasy convention heroics.
All this is prelude to the cheery news that the acrimony will get worse before it gets better.