Party Animals

Sometimes when you read a piece twice something of value hits you the second time. That happened to me when I was re-reading a pretty conventional and entirely convincing FiveThirtyEight item by Nate Silver scolding lazy/dumb pundits who keep lumping Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump together as though they are part of the same, simple story of “Populists Scare the Elites!”

As part of his argument, Nate put up a chart showing the percentages in which Bernie Sanders voted with selected Senate Democrats in the last full Congress. The colleague with which Sanders agreed most was Barbara Boxer at 96.2%. No surprise there. But not far behind Boxer on the Bernieriffic scale were a couple of famously “centrist” senators, Cory Booker (95.8%) and Maria Cantwell (95.8%), both of whom have probably been called corporate whores by a lot of Sanders supporters on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, the Donkey Party colleagues with which Bernie agreed least often include a virtual rogue’s gallery of New Democrats or even Conservadems. But you know what? Sanders voted with Joe Manchin 82% of the time; with Max Baucus and David Pryor 87% of the time; and with Joe Donnelly, Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu 90% of the time. In three of these cases, moreover, these senators were running unsuccessfully for reelection in red states in a bad midterm cycle, presumably moving them far to the right.

Nate contrasts this relatively high level of party solidarity shown by Sanders to Trump’s adoption of wildly heterodox positions and his apparent hatred for his own party. I’d say it shows for the umpteenth time that despite more tolerance for ideological dissent the Democratic Party has less to fight over than you’d think.

Yes, I know, all Senate votes are not equal, and yes, most of the really vicious intra-Republican fights are over strategy and tactics (e.g., the Defunding Planned Parenthood and Obamacare brouhahas) rather than matters of principle or even policy. But all in all, Democrats do not look like a party coming apart at the seems even with the hourly reports that they are in a panic over Hillary Clinton’s standing in selective states vis a vis Sanders, Biden (the non-candidate enjoying an imaginary boom), or any Republican you can name. I don’t think Sanders is going to win the nomination, and I don’t think Biden’s going to run, but if either of those gents somehow edges out Clinton there will be significant heartburn (particularly among feminists) but probably no general election defections worth worrying about.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.