Both Parties Are Facing Future-Defining Identity Crises

May 8, 2017

by Frank Cannon


The American political system is in a state of flux. Both Republicans and Democrats are experiencing mirror-image identity crises as they struggle to define anew who their parties are and what they represent.

The late former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, a Democrat, often said that a national candidate who was both pro-life and clearly fighting for the economic dignity of working Americans could not lose. The coalition built from a candidate whose platform combined those policies would be unbeatable.

But neither party is truly taking Gov. Casey’s advice to heart right now.

The Democratic Party’s problem is their full-throated support for abortion. While approximately 30 percent of registered Democrats say they are staunchly pro-life, Democratic leaders such as DNC Chair Tom Perez and Hillary Clinton have argued that the party must have purity on the issue and that candidates who oppose abortion are not welcome. In contrast, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders have argued that alienating all pro-lifers would leave the Democrats’ in an untenable position. How the Democrats resolve this issue could very well determine how competitive they will be in future elections nationwide.

Although the Democrats’ continued infighting over abortion would seem to be a good thing for Republicans, the GOP is having its own identity crisis on the economic side of the equation. President Trump’s focus on re-negotiating trade agreements and his consideration of protective measures for domestic industries (for example, the proposed Canada lumber tariff) may be popular with some of his voters, but such policies have faced pushback from many conservatives, for whom economic solutions generally revolve almost exclusively around tax reform and cutting regulations. If Trump’s agenda includes regulatory reform but also protectionism and nationalism, can this be adapted to become the de facto “conservative party” economic model?

It’s no coincidence Democrats and Republicans happen to be facing such essential questions at the same time. Donald Trump’s win last November proved Gov. Casey’s intuition to be true, thus exposing potentially fatal weaknesses within both parties. The only question now is, will either party respond by adapting and combining pro-life advocacy with economic populism to build a permanently powerful — and winning — coalition?

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles Project and a veteran conservative political strategist.

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