A Party Divided Can Stand, and Be in the Majority
Nathan Gonzales is editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns for Senate, House, governor and president. On May 23, Nathan joined the Political Involvement Network here in our Council office to discuss the political landscape and give his insight into the upcoming special elections and 2018 election cycle. Here are some of his thoughts on the division between our two political parties and the opportunity that presents for PACs:
Democrats are in the early stages of a civil war. Without a clear leader sitting in the Oval Office, there are growing differences over ideology, strategy, tactics and tone that will manifest themselves in primary battles all over the country. While Republicans are excited to watch Democrats’ inter-party skirmishes, they’ve also given Democrats reason to be optimistic about the future.
Let us not forget that a 74-year old white guy with disheveled hair, who isn’t even a Democrat, took Hillary Clinton to the brink of the presidential nominating process last year. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 success was built on his message, not him as a messenger, and is evidence of a growing divide within the Democratic Party.
This situation isn’t new for the Democrats. When a party is out of the White House, there is no consensus leader. After the 2000 election, Democrats didn’t have a clear leader. Right now, Tom Perez isn’t the leader of the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi isn’t the leader of the party (despite what you hear in Republican television ads). Neither is Chuck Schumer or Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Clinton. Everyone is having their Alexander Haig moment in trying to lead Democrats out of the electoral wilderness.
In 1858, U.S. Senate nominee Abraham Lincoln of Illinois delivered one of his most famous when he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The eventual president didn’t expect the country to be divided forever, but Republicans have shown us that a party divided can survive, and even thrive, under the right conditions.
For the last eight years, Republicans have been divided on ideology, strategy, tactics and tone,. And what do they have to show for it? They have majorities in the House and Senate, 33 of 50 governorships, the White House, and they gained over 900 seats in state Legislatures over the last four election cycles.
While the Republicans were divided, there was one unifying opponent: President Barack Obama. The former Illinois senator in the Oval Office fueled a backlash among the Republican grassroots, even though those voters would eventually and simultaneously rebel against the party establishment.
While the Democrats are divided now, there is one unifying opponent: President Donald Trump. That common adversary is fueling an increase in activism, enthusiasm, money and candidates in Georgia’s 6th District and around the country. And even though that will also result in more party primaries, division doesn’t prevent Democrats from significant gains in general elections.
With two divided parties and a strong wind of political uncertainty, this is a tremendous cycle of opportunity for PACs.
Dozens of Members could be headed for their most competitive race ever (whether it be a primary, general election or both) and they are going to remember which groups had their back in the heat of the battle. On the flip side, challengers are going to remember which groups took a chance and supported them in their uphill battle against an incumbent.
In recent cycles, the House majority wasn’t really at risk. But without the presidential race overshadowing the down-ballot races, it should be easier for PACs to cut through the political noise with a contribution. And since the initial Senate map favors Republicans, the Democrats’ best chance at a majority is the House of Representatives.
This article originally appeared in the June edition of our PIN Points newsletter. Visit https://pac.org/pin to learn more about the network.
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