State of the Parties

How have Democrats and Republicans been doing since November?

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

The GOP: A House Divided

The Republican Party’s signature promise to voters collapsed in dramatic fashion as its legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, became nothing more than a failed campaign promise.

The party with unified control proved to be a party divided. Starting in 2009, the GOP promised to kill the ACA, making “repeal and replace” the party’s unofficial mantra as they took back control of the House in 2010. With its majority, the GOP voted 50 times to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration, but when the repeal stood a chance of passing, Republicans couldn’t stand together.

The reason for this? Conflicting conservative ideologies. The most conservative members felt that the GOP’s health care bill did not go far enough, while some of the moderate members felt that the bill offered too many concessions to win over those on the far right.

The main group getting the blame for this from President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan is the Freedom Caucus, a group of around 40 right-wing conservatives that formed in 2015. They insisted that the GOP’s bill should get rid of an ACA requirement that insurers cover health benefits such as maternity leave and mental-health care.

This is a familiar complaint conservatives have had since the GOP gained control of the House in 2010. The group was even responsible for the removal of John Boehner as house speaker. The White House is now considering working with Democrats to try and push its agenda before it does anything with the Freedom Caucus.

Trump touted himself as this great dealmaker, but ultimately fell short when it mattered most.

The debacle surrounding the GOP’s health care plan hurts the president the most. Trump touted himself as this great dealmaker, but ultimately fell short when it mattered most.

Healthcare isn’t the only thing that the GOP has been divided on. Republicans are deeply divided when it comes to trade policy, something that Trump prioritized greatly during his campaign. It will be interesting to see if Republicans can get together to pass a trade policy.

Overall, Republicans will need to regroup and come together, especially if they want to maintain their majority come 2018. Midterms are often reflective on how the president and his party are doing, and so far, they are not doing much.

The Democrats: Restructuring in progress

The election was a disaster for Democrats; there is no doubt about that. Not only did they lose the presidency, but also narrowly failed to retake the Senate, gained very few seats in the House, and their losses in state legislatures piled up.

So what changes have the Democrats made since November?

The biggest change Democrats have made is at the top: the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Following the DNC email leak, which seemed to show that DNC leaders favored Hillary Clinton in the primary election, then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile became the interim chair. Brazile then announced that she would not run for a full term. With no president to appoint a chair, this became the first contested DNC chair race since 1985.

This contested race reminded many of the primaries between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, especially between the two frontrunners of the race: former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.

Why the comparisons? Ellison was backed by Sanders and was seen as the more progressive choice to be the new face of the DNC, while Perez was the more establishment figure, much like Clinton. Perez ultimately won the race, dealing a blow to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, with many warning that by picking Perez, the DNC was alienating a “growing resistance” that organized against President Trump.

The Democrats seemed to learn from their mistakes; after Perez won the race, he gave Ellison the role of deputy party chair.

The Democrats seemed to learn from their mistakes; after Perez won the race, he gave Ellison the role of deputy party chair. Yes, it was mostly a symbolic gesture, but it showed a step toward party unity, something the Democrats sorely need after their losses in 2016.

The next stage for Perez is to restructure the DNC. The first step in doing so was to ask all of the committee’s staffers to submit their resignations. This is no surprise—the party had already been reducing its staff size. The overhaul should be good for progressive members of the Democratic Party who very much want to move past the DNC’s actions during the election.

The Democrats have taken their first steps toward reformation, but there is still work to be done. If Democrats want any chance of retaking any majorities in the 2018 midterm elections, they must continue in the direction of unity.