Theoretically, the Republican Party has free rein to do what it wants in Washington. With a strong majority in the House, a majority in the Senate (plus a willingness to reconsider the filibuster) and control of the White House, this should be a moment in which the GOP can reshape the country.
When the party tried to follow through on a long-standing commitment to that end, though, it failed. The GOP’s effort to replace the Affordable Care Act was undercut by a split in the party, with hard-right conservatives opposing the replacement bill for one reason and moderate Republicans opposing it for another. That rift helped doom the measure, which has been tabled for nearly a month.
During the 2016 election, there was a lot of opining on the extent to which either party would be able to heal its internal rifts in the aftermath of the fiercely contested primaries. The gap between Democrats who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders and those who backed Hillary Clinton seemed, especially after Clinton’s election loss, as if it might be a more significant long-term problem than a Republican Party that stood behind Donald Trump to push him over the finish line in November.
Now, though, Americans see the split in the GOP as much more significant than that on the left.
New polling from the Pew Research Center shows that Americans are about as likely to say that the Democratic Party is mostly united in its vision for the future and on the issues as they are to say that the party is mostly divided. Two-thirds, though, say the Republican Party is mostly divided.
Republicans generally see both parties as about equally divided. Democrats, though, see their own party as generally united, with 58 percent saying so. Fully 80 percent of Democrats say the Republican Party is mostly divided.
Interestingly, there’s no significant difference between Democrats who identify as liberal and those who identify as moderate in how unified they think their party is. But among Republicans, moderates are far more likely to say their party is divided, while conservatives are about split on the question.
Part of this probably stems from the Democrats’ position as the party out of power. Nothing unifies a political group like having to fight to reclaim lost ground. But part of it certainly follows from the very real split in the Republican Party that has been apparent since the tea party revolution early in President Barack Obama’s first term. The conservative bloc in the House has been giving the party’s leadership aneurysms since well before the vote to replace Obamacare, and, now that the party is in power in both the executive and legislative branches, that rift will become that much more important.
A final note to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez: You probably shouldn’t rest on your laurels. Nearly 4 in 10 Democrats think their party is divided, almost certainly driven heavily by the same split that was obvious in the Sanders-Clinton fight. The party viewing itself as unified is one thing. The party actually regaining power is another.