Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Whither Triangulation?

Adam Kotsko tweeted this recently:

He was referring to the "triangulation" strategy practiced by both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s.  In both cases they positioned themselves between the left wing of their own party and the right wing opposition, calling on those in the middle to join them.

That got me thinking about the future of this methodology since, as Kotsko states, it inherently means slagging your own base.  I am beginning to think that the Democrats' days of triangulation may soon be coming to an end.  The party has consistently failed to come through for its most loyal voters, and those voters are getting fed up.  African-Americans have been an exceptionally loyal voting block, but they also suffer disproportionately from mass incarceration, a policy that Democrats are very complicit in supporting.  Teachers and teachers unions have long supported the Democrats, but Democratic politicians have paid them back with "reforms" that vilify teachers and treat them like garbage (see: Emmanuel, Rahm.) The labor movement generally has been a backbone of the Democratic party, and the president they helped elect is pushing on yet another free trade agreement.

These are the reasons for the apparent enthusiastic reception in some corners of the party for Bernie Sanders' campaign.  He is actually campaigning openly for the things that progressives actually believe in.  I think base of the party has gone thirsty for so long that Hilary Clinton can't triangulate her way out of this.  They Dems have been losing midterm elections due to low turnout, when getting the base to the polls especially matters.

This begs the question, however, if the Republicans can incorporate the triangulation strategy successfully.  I actually think they can, and here's why.  In the first place, most voters do not care for the Tea Party, making it easy for a relatively moderate Republican to run against the base of their own party.  Second, if the Democrats nominate Clinton (as they likely will), the hatred for her among the Tea Party base will be so great that they will temporarily forget their objections to the likes of Jeb Bush.  If Clinton is forced to run to the left (which I think she will), that will make triangulating against her all the easier.

In fact, I would say that triangulation is potentially the one way that the Republicans can retake the White House.  They are a party so dependent on their fickle, extremist base that any candidate who wants to win the primary has to subscribe to views that are anathema to a great many moderate voters.  If a less extreme candidate like Bush can manage to get the nomination without kow-towing to the conservative wing, they might finally have an opportunity to grab the middle, especially if Clinton is pushed to the left.  I still think that the conservative base is still so extreme and powerful that no moderate (or relatively moderate) Republican candidate for president will make the jump and take the risk on triangulating.

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