“Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
Rufus Miles, a federal official, created this contribution to American political folklore. Because each party’s members in the House and Senate sit together, they usually vote together. He suggested they should be mixed together to promote compromise.
Of course, his proposal was not adopted. But his point is correct. Party loyalty runs strong in both houses of Congress, making compromise more difficult.
The problem has become more complicated since the 2016 elections. President Trump, nominally a Republican, attacks Democrats, reducing the chances of bipartisan compromise. But he doesn’t spare Republicans, leading many of them to quit Congress.
Within the GOP, the extreme right wing of the party, loyal to Trump, battles traditional conservative politicians. While the Democrats are used to having a “big tent” to accommodate a variety of views, the Republicans seem unable to find a way to be similarly inclusive.
House Speaker Paul Ryan allows the Trump backers to dominate the Republicans. Trump bears the party label and draws support from a majority of Republicans across the country. At least some of his policies are popular with most GOP supporters.
But his trade policy, attitude toward minorities, position on abortion and soft spot for Russian President Putin, has led a significant share of the congressional Republicans to oppose him while avoiding outright conflict.
The result is that some suggest the complicated American political quagmire can only be ended by a new political party, composed of moderates from both parties. Part of this political dream is that Sen. Susan Collins will become a leader of the new party. Collins would have to leave the GOP, because it has clearly left her.
But there is no need to create a new third party. It already exists.
First, there are the Democrats, the country’s oldest party. Over its history it has been able to serve as political home to office holders ranging from racists to militant minority leaders.
Pundits who worry that the party’s split between standard liberals and Democratic Socialists will doom it at the ballot box miss the fact that the party could accept both at the same time. That’s its tradition.
Then, there are the traditional or moderate Republicans. They support small government and less government regulation of business. But they also would provide help to the less fortunate and recognize climate change. They focus relatively little on wedge issues like guns, abortion and same sex marriage.
Finally, there is the new party, which might be called the Trumpism, because its members are largely defined by their allegiance to President Trump. He rejects policies that have been built by compromise between Republicans and Democrats. He also seeks to be a more authoritarian chief executive.
The November elections are expected to reveal the relative strength of the three parties. Will the Democrats sweep Congress and the Maine Legislature in reaction to Trump and Gov. LePage, his state-level look-alike, and their Republicans loyalists? Will Trumpism prevail?
According to polling, the Democrats could pick up the many seats they need to control the U.S. House and might hold on to enough to threaten Republican control of the Senate.
Or will the Trump and LePage approach be confirmed by voters? In Maine, now reasonably evenly divided on Trump, would they elect GOP candidates for governor and the Second District member of Congress?
Because Collins and her moderate Republican colleagues really don’t want either Democratic control or Trumpism confirmed, this may be just the right moment to get organized, publish their own manifesto and endorse the candidates they can support, just as Trump backs his candidates.
If moderate Republicans remain on the sidelines, they risk being eliminated. Look at the Maine GOP, previously led by people who focused on the economy and the environment. They respected referendum results and paid the state’s bills.
In this year’s Republican primary for governor, all four candidates were LePage backers. Not one of them was a natural ally of Susan Collins. Where have all the moderate Republicans gone?
Today’s three parties could soon return to the traditional two, but not the traditional twosome.
If the Democrats sweep in November or come close to it, the country and the state may end up with two parties, a “big tent” Democratic party and an angry, right-wing Trumpism party, focused on continuing to repeal the progress produced by compromise.