David Lauter has been covering politics for the L.A. Times since 1987. On Friday he described a situation that was awkward for me to think about. One of our parties is ruled by its grassroots who tells the old elites to fuck off. The other party is controlled by its elites and doesn’t care what the grassroots want. My whole life has been dedicated to Door #1. But that’s the MAGA door now and the kind of populism we’re talking about it the same kind of populism Hitler and Mussolini were talking about in the 1930s and that Orban is talking about today.
“It’s hard,” wrote Lauter, “to ignore just how many Americans would prefer not to face another election between President Biden and former President Trump. But ignoring the unhappiness is exactly what the nation’s two major parties seem determined to do: A rematch appears increasingly inevitable.”
There’s a great deal of discontent about the rematch and “how we got to this point says a lot about where power lies in the two parties. On the Republican side, Trump’s grassroots support is overriding the deep misgivings of party leaders. Among Democrats, the reverse is true: Party leaders and elected officials have significantly more enthusiasm for Biden— or concern about the alternatives— than do average voters. Republican leaders see Trump as a loser who will drag the party to defeat, much as they feel he did in 2018, 2020 and 2022. Most of the party’s voters don’t buy that. They see Biden as a sure loser. Beyond that, they also believe Trump is their strongest candidate.”
That says a lot about the media bubbles they get their news from. Latin pointed out that voters get it wrong sometimes. “Last year, Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona brushed aside warnings from the party establishment about right-wing candidates for Senate or governor. The warnings were accurate— those candidates lost. The gap between the GOP elite and the majority of the party’s voters isn’t just about style or rhetoric. It reflects a deep split over what Republicans should stand for.”
Pence, who has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Republican base, said as much last week in a speech in New Hampshire. “The fundamental divide between these two factions is unbridgeable,” calling for the party to reject the “siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles.” He described the wide gap within the party— “although, noted Lauter, “it also raised the question of just what Pence thought he was doing during the four years he served as Trump’s second. What it didn’t do was acknowledge that the big debate over the party’s future that Pence is calling for already happened— and his side lost. It’s not just that Trump has a huge lead in polls of Republican voters. The second-place candidate, DeSantis, also identifies with the populist wing Pence deprecates. So does the candidate who sits in third place in most polls, Vivek Ramaswamy… 78% of Republican voters back a populist, compared with 15% who support an establishment conservative like Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Trump is the champion of that populist wing, they’re not interested in a substitute, and there’s no evidence that any of that is changing even as the former president faces four criminal indictments.”
He noted that “Democrats lack any similar deep ideological split despite their divisions over specific policies. What they have is a nagging worry about Biden’s age— he’ll turn 82 a couple of weeks after the election— and his vitality.”
Democratic Party leaders are tied to Biden— or feel his administration has accomplished a lot and, delusionally, “insist they’ve seen no decline in his abilities. They’re also keenly aware that if Biden were to suddenly step aside, Vice President Kamala Harris would face intense skepticism from many voters. And any move to replace Harris would crack the party open along lines of race and gender.” Yep, thanks Biden… an old trick many presidents have pulled down through the decades.
Democratic leaders have successfully discouraged any credible challenge to Biden. That’s kept the party unified, but at the price of constant worry about a serious physical or verbal stumble between now and an election that remains 14 months away.
Biden also faces the challenge of motivating younger voters — especially younger Black and Latino voters, as I wrote last month. Their tepid support is a big reason that current polls show a Biden-Trump rematch to be so close.
But a lot of the talk about close polls ignores reality.
“We live in an era of close elections,” political science professor Seth Masket noted this week.
The idea that a fresh, new charismatic candidate could sweep in, break the political stalemate and unite the country— or even win by a big majority— flies in the face of what we know about the dug-in nature of American politics today.
Voters have picked their sides. They may not be excited about Trump-Biden 2, but it’s the sequel they seem likely to get. It’ll probably be close. Buckle up.
Or buckle up for more of this: the son of longtime American fascist leader, Brent Bozell III— Brent Bozell IV— was found guilty Friday of his violent J-6 related charges. “Prosecutors, reported the Associated Press, said that before the riot, Bozell helped plan and coordinate events in Washington in support of Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ movement. They said that after Trump’s rally near the White House on Jan. 6, Bozell marched to the Capitol and joined a mob in breaking through a police line. He smashed a window next to the Senate Wing Door, creating an entry point for hundreds of rioters, according to prosecutors… Bozell was arrested in February 2021. An FBI tipster who identified Bozell recognized him in part from the ‘Hershey Christian Academy’ sweatshirt that he wore on Jan. 6.” He’ll be sentenced on January 9.