I’ve been reading everything I can find about the drama that went down in the Senate before yesterday’s end to the government shutdown, and one detail struck me particularly—a group of up to 25 “moderate” senators met repeatedly over the weekend in Susan Collins’ (R-ME) office to hash out an end to the impasse. They came from both parties, they passed a stick around to determine who had the floor, and they jokingly called Collins’ office “Little Switzerland.”
From The Hill:
The group makes up roughly a fourth of the Senate, bringing together a cross-section of the “governing wing” of the GOP caucus and Democrats from red and purple states — including several senators up for reelection next year.
It includes GOP moderates Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), chairmen like Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — an immigration duo who began pitching their own plan last week.
Democrats who were involved in the talks included Manchin, Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Tim Kaine (Va.)— who are all up for reelection this fall— as well as Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has been floated as a potential 2020
Now, this makes sense—people like Collins and Murkowski are always pissing off the right-leaning base of the Republican party, and center-right Democrats like Manchin and McCaskill are doing the same on the left. The rift in both parties has never been more prevalent than it is today, and the left’s furious reaction to minority leader Chuck Schumer caving on DACA to end the shutdown—for a tepid promise from Mitch McConnell—is the latest illustration of the deep chasm between the center-left and progressive left. Moreover, Schumer was pressured by many from his own party—members of the so-called “common sense coalition” who gathered in Collins’ office—to abandon the dreamers and end the shutdown.
Here’s the issue—Democratic senators like Heitkamp and McCaskill and Doug Jones come from conservative states where, by their judgment, they can’t afford to seem “too liberal.” They don’t care about DACA or the dreamers who might get deported—they care about re-election, and being associated with liberal immigration policies is, to their minds, a losing proposition on their home turf. So they get in Schumer’s ear, and force him to kowtow to the Republicans.
On the other hand, look at the Democratic senators who didn’t vote for Schumer’s capitulation—Sanders, Warren, Booker, Feinstein, Gillibrand, Harris, Booker, Merkley, among others. What do they mostly have in common? Well, here are the states represented in the full list of those who abstained: Connecticut, New Jersey, Nevada, California, New York, California, Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, Montana, Massachusetts.
With the exception of Montana and Nevada, these are all representatives of deep-blue states who don’t have to worry about “purple” voters abandoning them in the next election. You’ll also notice that many of them aspire to run for president in 2020—they understand that the base of the democratic party is skewing leftward in the age of Trump, and they can’t get caught in the center with the likes of Schumer and his purple brigade.
Let’s make the situation crystal clear: A group of quasi-Republicans turned the Democratic party in D.C. against its base because they’re afraid of Republican voters in their home states. Is there any clearer illustration of the enormous ideological gap between left and center, or the utter brokenness of the party itself?
You could say the same about the right—more and more “moderate” Republicans have begun speaking out against Trump, including Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who basically compared him to Stalin. The difference is not quite as clear—most Republicans still vote in line with Trump’s interest, and they’re a little more delicate in their opposition since they fear the Trump base—but it’s growing.
So let’s ask the obvious question: With the left so clearly divided, and the right approaching the same state, why on earth is America still a two-party country? I mean, you had the centrists from both parties meeting to undermine their own colleagues this past weekend, and the influence they peddled was enough to get Schumer to step down. Why can’t they have their own party? With centrist Republicans distancing themselves from the hateful rhetoric and policy of Trump and centrist Democrats distancing themselves from the social justice and economic progressivism of their left wing, they have an awful lot in common. There’s no argument that Doug Jones’ worldview, for instance, is closer to Bernie Sanders than it is to Susan Collins. It’s not even close. So why perpetuate the absurdity of Jones and Sanders belonging to the same team?
I know it’s not as simple as saying, “they should join up!” Maybe it makes more sense to have a four-party split—the Trump right, the center-right, the center-left, the progressive left. Maybe our ongoing political stalemate makes it impossible, and perhaps there’s too much to lose by even broaching the topic. But the current system, where a group of centrists Democrats can force a concession that everyone knows the party base doesn’t support—judged by the fact that nobody with presidential plans wanted to touch with a ten-foot pole—is ridiculous and counterintuitive. The Big-D umbrella can’t hold them all, and for our collective sanity, something has to change.