Win or Lose, Trump and Biden’s Parties Will Plunge Into Uncertainty
No matter who wins, Democrats will be split between younger progressives and a moderate old guard. And a Republican Party redefined in President Trump’s image will start weighing where it goes next.
By Lisa Lerer
PLANO, Texas — Fighting for his political survival from the second floor of his campaign bus last week, Senator John Cornyn warned a small crowd of supporters that his party’s long-held dominance in this historically ruby-red state was at risk.
But while the three-term Texas demonized Democrats at length, he didn’t spend much time talking up the obvious alternative: President Trump, the leader of his party, the man at the top of his ticket on Tuesday.
Asked whether Mr. Trump, the man who redefined Republicanism, was an asset to Mr. Cornyn’s re-election effort, the senator was suddenly short on words.
“Absolutely,” he said, stone-faced.
Mr. Cornyn’s gentle distancing from Mr. Trump foreshadows a far less genteel battle to come. This year’s election seems likely to plunge both Republicans and Democrats into a period of disarray no matter who wins the White House. With moderates and progressives poised to battle each other on the left, and an array of forces looking to chart a post-Trump future on the right (be it in 2021 or in four years), both parties appear destined for an ideological wilderness in the months ahead as each tries to sort out its identities and priorities.
The questions facing partisans on both sides are sweeping, and remain largely unresolved despite more than a year of a tumultuous presidential campaign. After Democrats cast their eyes backward several generations for a more moderate nominee, does a rising liberal wing represent their future? And what becomes of a Republican Party that has been redefined by the president’s populist approach, and politicians like Mr. Cornyn who have been in the long shadow of Mr. Trump for four years?
Traditionally, presidential elections provide clarity on how a party sees its political future. When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he reinvigorated a progressive public image of his increasingly diverse party. Eight years earlier, George W. Bush remade Republicanism with a message of “compassionate conservatism.”
Today, with both presidential candidates content to make the race a referendum on Mr. Trump, questions about him have overshadowed the debates raging within both parties over how to govern a country in the midst of a national crisis.
“Both sides have been content to make this election about a personality,” said Brad Todd, a Republican strategist and an author of a book about the conservative populist coalition that fueled Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016. “Therefore, we’ve not had a lot of light shown on the ideological realignment that’s occurred in the country.”
The jockeying has already begun. If Mr. Biden wins, progressive Democrats are preparing to break their election-season truce, laying plans to push for liberals in key government posts, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as Treasury secretary. If Mr. Biden loses, progressives will argue that he failed to embrace a liberal enough platform.
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