The big political question of the day is whether the Democratic Party’s housecleaning of sexual abusers (Al Franken, John Conyers), while Trump, Moore and Farenthold are still there will create a disastrous dynamic for the GOP brand. I can’t imagine it won’t—if not immediately, then in some karmic long run way. But what it might also accomplish is to provide a vivid, memorable, hard to deny example of the truth of asymmetric polarization.
There is a mountain of polling and political science showing that the GOP is just way more partisan than the Democratic Party. The data is quite clear that conservatives stay more firmly in their own media bubbles; that the 40-year trend of increasing polarization in Congress has been driven far more by GOP lawmakers becoming more conservative that Democrats becoming more liberal; that the GOP has become more ideological and its voters responsive to ideological signaling, whereas the Democratic Party remains a coalition of interest groups and its voters more receptive to calls for concrete government actions that address their problems.
These truths are seldom reflected, however, in mainstream press coverage. In fact, there is almost nothing reporters struggle with more. Many of them have read or seen the data and kinda-sorta know it’s true. But saying or writing it publicly makes them sound biased, so they are reluctant to do so. Plus, the truth runs somewhat counter to their personal experience in that the nature of their work brings them into constant contact with extremely partisan people on both sides.
But the polling on this one is pretty hard to deny: Republican voters are flatly more willing to tolerate sexual predators among their elected officials than Democratic voters are. You can try to chalk that up to demographics—that GOP voters are older, whiter, more resistant to feminism and forgiving of men’s misbehaviors. But the variability of their tolerance (71 percent of Republicans say a Democratic congressman accused of sexual harassment should resign from office, but only 54 percent would demand the same of a Republican, a far bigger partisan swing than Democratic voters show) gives the game away. If Roy Moore wins in Alabama and is not expelled by the Republican-led Senate (and it looks like he won’t be); if Republican leaders and commentators continue to stonewall in the face of growing calls to further investigate Donald Trump’s record of sexual assault; and if Democrats continue to purge the boors and abusers within their own ranks despite the political costs (which, though less high so far than for Republicans, is not nothing), it’s going to be noticeably more difficult for even the most both-siderish reporters and commentators to maintain their silence about the asymmetric polarization that is, practically speaking, the single most powerful force reshaping American politics and policy.