Once-upon-not-too-long-a-time ago, the Republican Party floundered and the right wing of the party began to grow, fueled by strategists and others who saw a way to leverage the right to win presidential and congressional elections. Think Newt Gingrich and the takeover by the right (Tea Party) in the House. Think Southern Strategy.
Eventually that right wing took over the party and then Donald Trump leveraged it all to his advantage so that the old Republican Party is not recognizable.
Skip ahead to now and the Democratic Party. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent self-proclaimed Socialist, tinkered away on the edges of the party until 2016 when he gave Hillary Clinton a run for the nomination and 2018 when the party took back the House and added more progressives (socialists?). He also gave the liberal-est in the Democratic Party a place to reside. And with the take-back of the House last year, many more liberal-est and self-empowered new members were elected.
Pelosi as Speaker of the House and the party’s senior elected official has to wrangle not only an impossible to wrangle President but an empowered left of her caucus that led her back to being the Speaker.
Sanders, with a deep bank account (professionally and personally) and a loyal group of supporters (akin to Trump’s base) is leading the announced candidates in a too-early-to-matter-except-to-political-fanatics contest for the presidential nomination. He has the money to last a long time and the base to possibly build on his record of winning 23 caucuses or primaries in the 2016 race.
Bottom line, the Democratic Party is facing a challenge not unlike the GOP in years past.
Adding to it, President Trump is focusing more on his favorite political tactic of divide-and-conquer by trying to make freshman Cong. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) the face of the Republican Party. Omar, one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, has all the elements the hateful Trump likes to leverage: she wears a hajib, she seemingly favors the Palestinian position over the Israeli position in the Middle East and she has slips of the tongue that Trump and his supporters cherry-pick to advance their propaganda.
It’s only a matter of time before Trump aims his hate speech more at Sanders as we get closer to primaries and caucuses. Put Sanders and Omar together, and Trump has the symbolic campaign he wants – a Democratic Party dominated by a Socialist and a Muslim.
Sanders also will be a Trump target because his books made money, enough for his opponents to be able to claim that he is a millionaire. Thus, in his opponents minds, making him being the spokesmen for the poor in the country a myth at worst and hypocritical at best. I don’t’ know where it says millionaires or billionaires can’t also be advocates for the lesser off. In fact, many wealthy people do that (see George H.W. Bush’s life).
It’s too early to say who emerges from the Democratic pack as another front-runner. Joe Biden is lurking. California Sen. Kamala Harris is impressive so far, as is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Neither has yet undergone the national media gauntlet that awaits any candidate who steps ahead and it will be interesting to see not only what is in their backgrounds but how they handle it when it comes out.
This can only get uglier as we go because Trump learned long ago that his style is effective, especially with his base. And he truly has no filter or empathy.
Sanders and Omar will likely become more prominent, giving him the foils he loves for his campaign of hate. And if Harris, a black woman, and Buggigieg, an out politician, gain more prominence we’ll see just how far Trump is willing to take his rhetoric, which so far knows no bounds.