Many commentators have noted that the Democrat primary and caucus electorate in the three contests held so far is much more liberal than its counterpart when the Democrats last had a contest eight years ago. That's true: The percentage of liberals among Democratic electorates has increased from 54 percent to 68 percent in the Iowa caucuses, from 57 percent to 68 percent in the New Hampshire primary and from 45 percent to 70 percent in the Nevada caucuses.
Barone, a cautious and circumspect writer, provides numbers to support his contention. Still, it strikes me as a “dog bites man” story: not newsworthy in the conventional sense of being something the reader wouldn’t otherwise have known. “Democrat == liberal?” Okay, but...isn’t liberalism the Democrat platform? Why would there be Democrats who aren’t liberals? Wouldn’t they belong somewhere else?
Ordinary people expect a party to be something more than a vote-maximizing machine. The expectation might be incorrect – an institution’s highest priority must be to preserve itself and, after that, to grow – but it’s a natural consequence of political rather than market-style competition. A political position, such as is represented by a political party, is supposed to be ideologically based. That is, it’s supposed to be founded on a set of interlocking values, principles, and convictions, from which its more specific recommendations are derived.
To me, the notion of a non-ideological political party is inherently contradictory. What would it offer to the electorate? The more photogenic crop of candidates? The richer set? Or perhaps the set with better hair stylists?
Let us now turn from the Democrats to the Republicans. If the United States has a non-ideological major party, that’s where you’ll find it. “Big tent” nostrums have caused the GOP to embrace so many mutually contradictory positions and their proponents that it’s come to represent approximately nothing. Limited government? Low taxes? A hands-off attitude toward business and commerce? Respect for the right to life? Support for public decency? You’ll find prominent Republicans on every side of each of these, some who’ll espouse one stance in their speeches but when the roll is called will throw their support to the opposite...and a few supposed Republicans who take positions on all of them indistinguishable from the postures of the Democrats.
It’s as if the GOP lacks a platform, or any common conviction around which its members are united. Perhaps we have an explanation for why the Republican Party can’t seem to produce candidates we can trust to do as they’ve said they would. It would also help to explain the accelerating estrangement of ordinary Americans from the political process.