Unifying The Democratic Party Will Not Be Easy

Arguing that the 2016 Democratic primary hasn't been that rancorous by American political standards, Vox's Matthew Yglesias points to a 1992 exchange between then- Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and California Gov. Jerry Brown, who were both vying for the party's nomination.

Sure, the debate was pointed. Brown blasted Clinton for allegedly funneling money to his wife's law firm, accusing the future president of corruption and dishonesty. He wasn't that far off, and it's not really shocking in retrospect, given what we know about the Clintons two-and-a-half decades later.

Despite that acrimonious exchange between one candidate who had no support and another who had a whole lot of support, the Democrats united in time for the general election, Clinton won the presidency, and the rest is history.

To Yglesias, that's proof that the Democrats of 2016 will have no problem unifying. To Yglesias, primaries are becoming "kinder, gentler, and less personal in nature," and "there's no ideological chasm between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters."

And yet, the 2016 Democratic primary isn't about accusations of corruption. There are plenty of those, and they're central to the argument. But the race does highlight a widening ideological gulf.

Just like an increasingly larger coalition of Republicans are breaking away from the Reaganism and Randism that argues their interests are aligned with the ultra-wealthy, a sizable number of Democrats are breaking away from classic Clintonian liberalism -- based around support for a few safe liberal causes and padded out by positions staked after reviewing reams of polling data -- in favor of pure progressivism, with a heavy focus on social justice, the widening class gap, and dissatisfaction with the country's economic system.

Those same Democrats will have a hard time rallying around Clinton as a champion of progressive values against the world's 1 percent because she is one of the 1 percent. The people named in the Panama Papers, the ones hiding enormous wealth in offshore tax havens and using every loophole known to man to avoid paying their fair share? Those are Hillary's friends, as the New York Post notes. They're donors to Clinton campaigns, donors to the Clinton Initiative, former staffers who worked for the Clintons, even people pardoned by the Clintons.

How can millions of voters galvanized by a candidate's opposition to Wall Street coalesce around a candidate who is -- and always has been -- a pro-Wall Street candidate? After months cheering Bernie Sanders for calling out a system that's been rigged for the super-rich, how can those voters turn a blind eye to the fact that some of the Clintons' closest associates are allegedly among the world's biggest serial tax cheats?

This isn't a divide over a debate ego-bruising, it's a divide that began with a real ideological fault line. Instead of filling in the cracks, Hillary and Sanders have done their best to jam that crack with levers and pry it open.

Of course, there are two factors that could unify the Democrats, and their names are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Sanders has already gone on record saying that if he loses the party's nomination, he believes Hillary would be a better choice than either of the likely Republican challengers.

But voters aren't delegates that can simply be transferred to another candidate come the general election, and voters aren't going to choose Hillary just because Sanders tells them to.

In fact, stories in outlets like CNBC, the Huffington Post, and he Guardian have documented what at first seems like a strange phenomenon: supporters of Sanders who say they'll defect to Trump if Hillary defeats their preferred candidate in the primary.

That seems shocking if you believe this election is about the usual social issues that divide the two major parties, but it's not; 2016 has been about rejecting the establishment, and the disaffected working- and middle-class rejecting the political orthodoxy that has been so beneficial to the rich.

To those voters, Hillary represents the wealthy the same way Republicans like Mitt Romney do. And despite his rough edges and lack of tact, Trump's populist talk appeals to them.

"If you look at the swing states – like Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania – these issues of trade and issues of Americans working harder to stand still in the last eight years really resonates with voters," Dominic Dyer, a fellow at the British American Project and Council, told CNBC. "And I have no doubt, that some of the grand swell of support that's gone to Bernie Sanders could move over to Trump and I don't think we should underestimate the impact of that."

As one voter told the Guardian, neither Sanders nor Trump are bankrolled by Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, the same financial tribes that decimated the American economy.

“Both Trump and Sanders are non-establishment candidates who are not bought by the special interests that have control over policy and legislation because of their ‘bribes’," the voter, a female homemaker, told the Guardian.

No, unifying the Democrats will not be easy, especially as Hillary maneuvers to the center to appeal to independents in the general election, and drops the progressive stance she's adopted to secure her party's nomination. That will only verify what some already think of Hillary, that she adopts positions that are favorable to her, that she stands for herself and not much else.

Most of all, 2016 has proven to be a year marked by campaigns that defy the conventional political wisdom and lessons learned more than 20 years ago.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Vox, New York Post, CNBC, Guardian, Huffington Post / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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