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Op-Ed

Primary Results: Right Wins, Left Loses

Here is a key feature of current American politics: while the Republican Party is overwhelmingly conservative, especially at the grassroots, the Democratic Party is not overwhelmingly liberal.

This difference was on full display Tuesday night.

Several Republican candidates backed by right-wing groups such as the Tea Party and Club for Growth prevailed, but a coalition of labor unions and liberal activists failed to unseat their No. 1 target — incumbent centrist Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. The coalition hoped that her defeat would send a message to other centrists: if you defy us on the matters we care about the most, you’ll pay with your political career. Arkansas Democrats saw things differently and sent quite a different message.

Liberals must face an inconvenient truth: the Democratic Party is a broad ideological coalition and can only preserve its majority by maintaining an equilibrium among its various factions. This means compromise on all sides, which goes against the grain of many progressives.

As the June 8th primary ended, progressive frustrations boiled over at a Washington meeting, whose participants actually booed Nancy Pelosi. The question is whether they’re so disaffected that they stay home this November. If they do, Democrats could face a tidal wave of defeat, as they did in 1994

The best thing Democrats have going for them right now is the Republican Party, which seems bent on purging its ranks of candidates who might actually win close elections and work with members of the other party afterward. To face the vulnerable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Republicans turned their backs on their strongest candidate and nominated someone whose controversial statements on everything from Social Security to nuclear waste offer Democratic operatives irresistible targets of opportunity. In South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, Bob Inglis — the House version of Sen. Lindsey Graham — trailed his primary opponent by 11 percentage points and seems likely to lose the runoff.

At some point, conservatives will have to face their own inconvenient truth: In the short term, they may have found an effective formula for channeling popular discontent, but it’s hard to see how this take-no-prisoners approach can serve as a basis of a national governing majority.

Vowing endless partisan warfare feels good and fires up the base, but it’s no way to win a presidential election, and it’s not clear that grassroots Republicans are prepared to shift gears.

Another key fact about the current political scene is that women are more likely to be seen as honest and public-spirited than are men. In a year in which unprecedented numbers of Americans see incumbents as hopelessly enmeshed in the status quo, women have a better chance of presenting themselves as effective agents of change.

Republicans are taking advantage of this, nominating women as their candidates in the California senatorial and gubernatorial contests and setting the stage for another woman to become their gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina.

In this respect, anyway, Sarah Palin may be on to something.

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