The Gershwin brothers sure could write about love and Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Billie Holilday could belt out the song – but that was because their “love (was) here to stay”. Not so with the today’s Democrats and Republicans. Both parties are reporting serious problems with fundraising from both big donors and the grassroots. And both parties are beset by serious infighting. This past weekend the Demcratic National Committee had an internal hate-fest in Las Vegas as party chair Tom Perez tried to consolidate control over a badly split group by installing “new blood” into the Executive Committee, party committees, and the super delegates for 2020. He was talking about identity politics but to supporters of Bernie Sanders, it did not feel like “teen spirit” – to borrow from Kurt Cobain, another pretty good songwriter. Both sides – the Clinton/Mainstream supporters and the Sanders/Progressive wings left angrier than before they showed up in the Sin City.
So the Democrats play out their generations old split between left and center – going back to the Eugene McCarthy-George McGovern-Ted Kennedy-Jesse Jackson days. But few voters are paying attention. And the Republicans are even worse. “Who is the real conservative?” they continue to ask when fewer and fewer voters are identifying as conservatives. All of this before we even get into personalities, which translated means that the Sanders folks hate the Clinton folks, and the Republicans hate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell it seems just like everybody else.
They are battling over outmoded ideologies and the public is still angry and alienated. Only 28% of voters feel that the Democrats are “in touch with the needs of the people”. Two in three (67%) say the Democratic Party is “out of touch”. Only a bare majority of self-identified Democrats, according to this ABC News/Washington Post Poll, see their own party as in touch with “people’s concerns”, while 44% feel the party is not. Even worse for the Democrats, only 18% of the critical independent voters see the Democrats as in touch. According to a Pew poll, also taken this year, only 28% of Democrats feel confident in the future of the country and 24% — twice more than last year – feel anger toward the federal government.
But just wait. There is more. Only a little more than a quarter of Republicans (27%) trust President Trump and even less (21%) trust the Republicans in Congress. Just 28% of Republicans trust the federal government – and the Republicans control all of the branches of government. And Republicans control most of the state governments as well.
Millennials, who will represent approximately 40% of the vote in 2020, do not trust either party. Of 15 issues tested in a Reason/Rupe poll, neither of the major parties gets a majority of support as being better able to handle any of them. In fact, pluralities of Millennials say they do not trust either party. Even Republican-leaning Millennials do not trust the Republican Party on most of the issues. About this age cohort who were born between 1979 and 1997, all of these are pluralities:
50% do not trust either party on privacy
43% do not trust either party on the deficit or on government spending
41% on drugs
40% on education
39% on promoting entrepreneurship, on immigration, or on taxes
38% on poverty or on foreign policy
37% on the environment, health care, or on jobs
Neither party possesses a compelling national vision. Democratic consultants have been paid a large fortune to come up with banalities like “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages”, which translated means tax increases on the rich, affordable college, infrastructure spending, higher wages, job training, paid family leave. But it is a very long bumper sticker and puts them on the defensive immediately – as in, who is going to pay for this?
On the other side, Republicans cannot get past pushing tax cuts – which most people see as tax cuts for wealthy white men.
Broadly speaking, this is a period of disruption and chaos – and many institutions are finding that their current structures, operating manuals, and principles are simply outmoded.
So far both parties are in trouble going into 2018 and neither one has strong appeal to independents, young people, or even the middle class. One side will win, to be sure, but both parties need to worry that the voters’ love is not “here to stay”, as the Gershwins once wrote.