When It Comes to Divisive Tribalism, Both Sides Don’t Do It

For at least the last 10 years, the most persistent myth in politics has been the one that “both sides do it.” For example, Chuck Todd recently suggested that, when it comes to the kinds of anti-democratic shenanigans Republicans are pulling after the midterms in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, both sides do it. That is not true. Beyond the behavior of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, nothing has contributed more to the demise of our democracy and its institutions.

If pundits were to actually pay attention, they’d see examples every day that both sides don’t do it. For example, recently I’ve been pointing out that, unlike Republicans during the Obama presidency, Democrats have been willing to negotiate on things like criminal justice reform and the farm bill. Here’s another example of how both sides don’t do it.

I recently noticed another example of how both sides don’t do it. Democrats and Republicans in the House have chosen the representatives who will chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), the groups that will head up their party’s election efforts in 2020.

Democrats chose Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL).

Bustos most recently served as chair of heartland engagement, a new position to which [former chair Rep. Ben Ray] Luján appointed her in the summer of 2017. As one of the co-chairs of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, she’s currently the only elected member of leadership from the Midwest.

Bustos has championed herself as a Democrat who knows how to win in Republican territory, which her supporters think will be valuable to the party when it’s trying to defend its new majority in 2020…“I know how to protect this House. I know how to build this House,” Bustos said Thursday.

Trump narrowly carried Bustos’ 17th District in Illinois, and that was a big part of her pitch to the caucus…Bustos won re-election in 2018 by 24 points — a larger margin than any other Democrat in a Trump-voting district.

In other words, the Democrats chose a chair who can help them extend the blue wave of 2018 by doing a better job of competing in red districts.

On the other hand, Republicans chose Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN). Perhaps the most important thing to know about him is that he succeeded Rep. Michele Bachman, founder of the congressional Tea Party caucus, in Minnesota’s 6th congressional district. But those of us who live in the state also remember that in 2010, he ran for governor. It was Emmer’s embrace of the Tea Party, combined with his extremist views, that led another Republican—Tom Horner—to enter the race as an Independence Party candidate in order to give the more sane voters of his party an alternative. The result was that Emmer and Horner split the Republican vote and allowed Democrat Mark Dayton to be elected with less that 44 percent of the vote.

While Bustos won re-election handily in a district that went for Trump, Emmers now “represents a safe Republican seat in central Minnesota that President Donald Trump carried by 26 points in 2016.” This signals that, while Republicans will continue to focus primarily on their base, Democrats are prepared to reach out to voters in red districts.

That distinction between the two parties explains why, when it comes to governing, Republicans are dismissive of the opposition (casting them as “other” or “the enemy”) and are content to fan the flames of divisive tribalism. Meanwhile, Democrats know that our democratic institutions require a broad coalition that is prepared to listen to the needs of the entire country, not just the party’s base. In other words, bothsiderism is a lie, and anyone who pays attention to objective facts should know that.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .