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You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
That’s not about the World Series. It’s about American politics today.
Conventional wisdom identifies two major political parties and a few minor ones. But the current struggles over Biden’s Build Back Better reveal that the Democrats and Republicans have morphed into seven distinct parties, each with its own agenda.
The rise of these parties results from the deep and bitter divisions between the two major parties and their nearly equal split. That means a party spinoff may be able to determine the ultimate decisions. Each spinoff becomes its own party. Here’s the political scorecard.
The Biden administration and Trump in Exile are the two presidential parties. Joe Biden wants to stay in power and reverse Trumpism. Donald Trump seeks a comeback to restore his policies and reverse Biden’s big government efforts before they take root.
As president, Trump rejected the domestic and foreign policies that had evolved since World War II, often with the support of members of both parties. Trumpism is based on a radical reduction in government involvement in the economy and environment plus “America First” in foreign policy.
Trump showed little interest in protecting minorities and upholding the American political tradition. While he could exercise strong leadership, it was chaotic and destructive. His election appeal yielded him control of the Republican Party. Trump’s fans: 30 states, mostly small plus Texas and Florida.
Biden has chosen the exact opposite approach. Less forceful than Trump but equally determined and better informed, he has proposed major federal spending on programs to quickly produce tangible benefits.
His obvious goal is to influence the 2022 congressional elections, strengthening the Democrats’ ability to block a Trump revival. Biden’s fans: 20 large coastal states with a popular majority.
Despite the growth of presidential power, Biden and Trump each need backing from enough members of Congress to promote and protect their policies. Biden’s program depends on unified congressional Democrats, which he does not have. Trump’s future depends on a unified GOP, which he does not have.
Biden’s proposals, priced originally at about $6 trillion, provide the setting for the five congressional parties to test their strength. Two are Republican and three are Democratic. They range from right to left across the political spectrum.
Trump Republicans are on the extreme right. In both houses of Congress, they are usually the majority of the Republicans. As the GOP, they want less government and, as Trumpers, they are unquestioningly loyal to their leader, thanks to his surefire vote-getting appeal.
Because the Republicans have signed on with Trump, their leaders in Congress — Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy — head this party. Its policy is simply to block Biden, which it often can, so long as the filibuster survives. Their fans: Trump’s states.
Traditional Republicans come next. They are politically conservative but not aligned with Trump. They are a small group in the House of Representatives and a sometimes invisible group in the Senate. They control little, but seek to keep alive the causes of political conservatism and compromise.
This party’s leader is Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who defies McCarthy’s demands for Trump loyalty. Cheney boldly resists, while Maine Sen. Susan Collins, an occasional member, desists in the face of Trumpism. Their fans: so far, only a handful of House districts.
Moderate Democrats come next on the right-left spectrum. They are led by Sen. Joe Manchin and include Maine Rep. Jared Golden. They believe they can bring GOP voters aboard in 2022. If they won’t give some ground, they could fatally undermine Biden’s hopes. Chances are they won’t block a deal. Their fans: GOP-leaning states and districts.
Traditional Democrats are headed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who maneuvers to gain help from other Democrats to control the House. In the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaker and the Moderates, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has a majority but can’t overcome a GOP filibuster. They back Biden. Their fans: Urban, coastal states.
Democratic Socialists, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, are on the extreme left. They support broad reforms and have some Biden support. They can block a House Democratic majority. Their opponent is really the Moderates. They want Biden to accept them as essential to their party’s future success. Their fans: Some urban areas.
Despite this scorecard, this is not a game. To avoid complete political paralysis, there must be a compromise. While the GOP may be involved in an historic internal war, the Democrats are likely to reach an agreement among themselves. Biden will settle for what he can get.
Ultimately, these parties are all about Trump. The Democratic parties seek ways to achieve a big win over Trump, while the GOP mostly continue to rally around his blue banner.