Juan Williams: Democratic infighting could spell doom
You’ve heard loud right-wing talkers ‘skinning’ the Democrats as a bunch of commies and socialists.
What if I told you that more than a third of Democrats, 37 percent, identify as moderates? Here’s another eye-popper — 12 percent of Democrats say they are conservatives.
Yes, that means that despite all the talk about Democrats as a radical political party, only 50 percent of Democrats even go far enough to the left to call themselves liberals.
These poll numbers from Gallup reveal a fascinating fight inside the party over what it means to be a Democrat in 2022.
This week’s televised hearings of the House Select Committee on January 6 could define Democrats as guardians of 250 years of constitutional order. They would stand in stark contrast to the insurrectionists who violently attacked Congress to keep a cult leader and autocrat in the White House.
As they confront this moment of history, the Democrats of 2022 are also the only party seriously debating gun control and immigration. The GOP requires conformity, silencing even moderate Republican voices.
The biggest change among Democrats since the turn of the century is that the party includes more liberals.
The so-called ‘progressives’ have sharply increased their numbers since 2000 when they were about 30 percent of the party, according to Gallup. The share of Democrats identifying as liberal, which had been steadily rising, only hit 50 percent after Donald Trump won the presidency.
Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. They are the dominant party in the nation’s most economically productive cities and their senators collectively represent millions more voters than their Republican counterparts.
History will also note Republican success in diluting Democrats’ power in Congress due to the GOP’s dominance among conservative white voters. This has helped Republicans win elections in smaller states with more rural and small-town populations.
The result is divided, polarized, often paralyzed federal government. And that has led to a tremendous rise in the influence of swing voters. The percentage of voters who say they are independent of both parties, 42 percent, is now bigger than the percentage of voters who tell Gallup they are Democrats (28 percent) or Republicans (28 percent).
The power of swing voters is evident in that seven of the last eight midterm and presidential elections have seen a switch in party control in the House, Senate or White House.
The fact that a moderate Democrat, Joe Biden, won the presidency in 2020 is evidence that swing voters put a premium on getting back to normal rather than endorsing Trump for a second, divisive term.
President Biden’s current low approval numbers are evidence that his party remains split, however.
Some want him to take a stronger stand against Republican extremists who fomented the insurrection at the Capitol, who campaign on lies about a “stolen” 2020 election, and who threaten abortion rights.
NBC News, reporting the findings of its own polling last month, noted that “among Democratic primary voters, 63 percent say they prefer a candidate who proposes larger-scale policies even if they cost more and might be harder to pass, versus 33 percent who prefer a candidate who proposes smaller-scale policies that cost less and might be easier to pass.”
The ideological fight among Democrats allows Republicans to claim Biden is unpopular.
In truth, Biden’s numbers are down because of shifting moods among Democrats and independent voters.
Republicans have never been Biden supporters. An Economist/YouGov poll last week, broadly consistent with other surveys, found 76 percent of GOP voters believing Biden’s election to have been illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to define the GOP.
He is viewed favorably by the overwhelming majority of Republican voters and he is the clear favorite to win the party’s 2024 presidential nomination if he chooses to run.
If Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a vice-chair of the January 6 committee, is defeated in her Wyoming primary in August, the final flickering embers of Trump resistance in the GOP will be extinguished.
There are no more moderate or liberal Republicans. For that matter, there really aren’t traditional Republicans either.
There are only Trump Republicans now — or what Biden last month labeled “this MAGA crowd…the most extreme political organization that’s existed…in recent American history.”
Inside the GOP, there is nothing comparable with the ideological fights among Democrats.
The shifting lines of political identity among Democrats are on view in this year’s primaries.
Liberal Democrats have won some key primaries over moderates. Progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner won a recent U.S. House primary in Oregon despite Biden’s endorsement of incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader (D), one of the most centrist Democrats in the lower chamber.
But moderate Democrats have also won several races, including House primaries in Ohio and North Carolina. In a closely-watched House primary in Texas, moderate incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) appears to have just about rebuffed a challenge from progressive Jessica Cisneros.
Those primary races show a healthy competition of policy proposals inside the Democratic Party.
It is ironic that the Democratic Party’s commitment to solving problems by openly debating policy may fuel internal divisions that doom them to defeat in November.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.