But to understand a political party, you have to know not just what they agree on but also what they fight about, and what moves from the realm of conflict to the realm of consensus.
As The Post reports, in states and counties and cities across the country, the Big Lie of the 2020 election — that Donald Trump won reelection handily but his victory was stolen from him — is being pushed by some who would like it to be moved from conflict to consensus. State and local party officials who admit Joe Biden is the legitimate president are being censured, harassed and driven from their jobs.
“He said the election was not rigged,” said one party activist in Michigan explaining the drive to remove the state GOP’s executive director. Obviously, that guy has got to go.
Within the party, that conflict is playing out everywhere. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House GOP leader, continues to face calls to step down after she voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection; her support among her Republican colleagues seems to be waning.
In Utah, Sen. Mitt Romney was loudly booed and called a “traitor” and a “communist” at a state party convention on Saturday.
And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) defended Cheney and Romney by urging Republicans to accept “differences,” adding: “We don’t want to become like too much of the Democratic Party, which has been taken over by the progressive left.” Who knows what would happen if extremists became influential in the Republican Party!
But Collins misunderstands what’s happening. The arguments among Republicans have nothing to do with policy or substance. There isn’t even any discernible difference between the alleged “moderates” who accept the reality of the 2020 election and the most conspiracy-minded Trumpites on the issue of voting rights: They all want to see ruthless voter-suppression laws passed and they all oppose Democrats’ efforts to reinforce voting rights.
Every Republican in Congress voted against the most recent covid-19 relief bill, and the same will probably be true of every other meaningful legislation of the next two years. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a policy issue generating meaningful internal debate within the Republican Party.
You could try blaming that on the fact that the GOP is out of power. But that’s not the problem — when Democrats lose power, they have vigorous arguments about what their policy agenda should be when they get it back.
You can find the seeds of the GOP’s declining concern with policy in the presidencies of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, but it really accelerated with the generation of tea-party candidates who were elected beginning in 2010 in reaction to Barack Obama becoming president. Many had no prior government or elected experience and won on a promise to tear government down. And if all you want to do is destroy government, there’s only so much interest you’ll muster in how it works, let alone how it might be made to work better.
Then came the election of Trump, who may have cared less about policy than any one of his 44 predecessors. He stocked the federal government with grifters and extremists, while many of the GOP’s real wonks sat his administration out. Now the GOP is left without anything substantive to argue about. So they argue mainly about the degree of their loyalty to Trump.
Look at the emerging 2024 presidential candidates. They’re not competing or being defined by their visions for the future of the party and the country; there neither is nor will be any Bernie-Biden kind of ideological conflict in their primary campaign.
The key question is whose lib-owning credentials shine most brightly. Which governor signs the most draconian voter suppression bill and targets transgender kids with the maximum cruelty? Which senator flogs the latest inane culture war pseudo-controversy with the greatest gusto?
Democrats, meanwhile, continue to argue about policy — though process and strategy often swallow those arguments. They agree that the minimum wage should be raised, for instance, but differ on whether it should go to $11 or $15 an hour — and every policy question is quickly pulled into the argument over the status of the filibuster and whether bipartisanship is achievable.
If you were watching Fox News, you might think Democrats are tearing themselves apart over “wokeness,” defunding the police and Mr. Potato Head. But the truth is that those conflicts are largely ignored by the party and its elected representatives.
They play out in social media and in breathless reports on Fox and Newsmax. But they have barely anything to do with what the party is actually concerned about right now. That’s why Biden has near-total support from Democrats: So far he’s making progress on their substantive priorities, and the internally contentious issues like health care haven’t been tackled yet.
There’s little reason to believe any of this will change between now and 2024. Democrats will try to move forward on their agenda, debating policy and legislative strategy. At times those arguments could become intense. Republicans will argue about culture-war idiocy and compete to be the true inheritor of Trump’s toxic legacy. And the next election could look a lot like the last one.