Political Diversity

In a recent essay for the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie traced the arc of GOP radicalization.

He noted an undeniable fact: while the Democratic Party overall is more liberal than it has previously been,  it is not nearly as ideologically uniform as the GOP. Neither does it employ a doctrinaire liberalism as a litmus test in most Democratic Party primaries. As he points out,

Joe Biden, for example, is the paradigmatic moderate Democrat and, currently, the president of the United States and leader of the Democratic Party, with ample support across the party establishment. And in Congress, there’s no liberal equivalent to the House Freedom Caucus: no group of nihilistic, obstruction-minded left-wing lawmakers. When Democrats were in the majority, the Congressional Progressive Caucus was a reliable partner of President Biden’s and a constructive force in the making of legislation. If the issue is polarization, then it seems to be driving only one of our two parties toward the abyss.

What accounts for the fact that the Democratic Party still operates as a normal American political party while the Republican Party so clearly doesn’t? Why do Democratic moderates continue to hold the levers of power within the national party, while –as we’ve just seen– extremists completely control the GOP?

One important reason for this fact is the heterogeneity of the Democratic coalition. To piece together a majority in the Electoral College, or to gain control of the House or Senate, Democrats have to win or make inroads with a cross-section of the American public: young people, affluent suburbanites, Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters, as well as a sizable percentage of the white working class. To lose ground with any one of these groups is to risk defeat, whether it’s in the race for president or an off-year election for governor.

Political pundits often note the problems posed by the Democrats’ diversity : phrases like “circular firing squad” and “it’s like herding cats” come to mind. But Bouie reminds readers that the elements that make consensus difficult are also small-d democratic positives:

A broad coalition also means a broad set of interests and demands, some of which are in tension with one another. This has at least two major implications for the internal workings of the Democratic Party. First, it makes for a kind of brokerage politics in which the most powerful Democratic politicians are often those who can best appeal to and manage the various groups and interests that make up the Democratic coalition. And second, it gives the Democratic Party a certain amount of self-regulation. Move too far in the direction of one group or one interest, and you may lose support among the others.

Governing a diverse polity requires an ability to compromise, to operate and negotiate among diverse needs and interests. Whatever terms describe today’s GOP, “diverse” is not one of them.

Consider the demographics of the Republican coalition. A majority of voters in both parties are white Americans. But whereas the Democratic Party electorate was 61 percent white in the 2020 presidential election, the Republican one was 86 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Similarly, there is much less religious diversity among Republicans — more than a third of Republican voters in 2020 were white evangelical Protestants — than there is among Democrats. And while we tend to think of Democrats as entirely urban and suburban, the proportion of rural voters in the Democratic Party as a whole is actually greater than the proportion of urban voters in the Republican Party. There is, in other words, less geographic diversity among Republicans as well.

The GOP is also ideologically monolithic– almost uniformly conservative. There are plenty of moderate Democrats; as Bouie notes, however, moderate Republican politicians are virtually extinct. “The Republican Party exists almost entirely for the promotion of a distinct and doctrinaire ideology of hierarchy and antigovernment retrenchment.”

The key issue for conservative voters and conservative media isn’t whether a Republican politician can pass legislation or manage a government or bridge political divides; the key question is whether a Republican politician is sufficiently committed to the ideology, whatever that means in the moment…

Outdated electoral systems incentivize even further radicalization.

The Republican Party is practically engineered to produce politicians like Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. And there’s no brake — no emergency off switch — that might slow or stop the car. The one thing that might get the Republican Party back on the rails is a major and unanticipated shift in the structure of American politics that forces it to adapt to new voters, new constituencies and new conditions.

Only if massive losses force the GOP to diversify will the party be capable of participating in democratic governance. Today, it’s just a monolithic tribe.


  1. Since the tea party crazies roamed the earth, I have said that only TOTAL defeat at the polls will stop this crap. As long as they win in Nov, the crazy will continue. I see no indication that they are interested in changing.

  2. Ronald Reagan taught the Republicans well: facts don’t matter, lies have no consequences, and racism garners votes. Though it’s a slow road, I can’t see how this party of intellectual and moral bankruptcy reverses course.

  3. Todays Democratic party is, on a world wide scale, pretty centrist. I wish republicans were but we see how deep into Fascism the MAGA “republicans” have fallen, the rest of the party isn’t too far behind, and there is no sign the average republican sees that as a problem. If republicans actually believed their “freedom & Liberty” mantra they wouldn’t be pushing the culture war issues, distractions, they are.

  4. The GOP seems to have fully embraced the racism, anti-semitism, and misogyny that one was seen as only the dark underbelly of the country. Now, these are their rallying cries.

  5. I first understood the value of diversity through studying biology. It is interesting to me that the same principles apply to diversity of religions and politics. Diversity provides strength and resilience. Lack of diversity is a serious, often fatal, weakness. I’m hoping it’s fatal for the current form of the Republican Party. The sooner, the better.

  6. “the Democratic Party still operates as a normal American political party” YOU B ETCHA: most Federal candidates are lawyers, corporates and/or career politicians; candidates are mostly supported by/beholden to corporate/ideological PACs; many office holders mostly vote to put “party over governing” and/or “ideology [like identity politics]” over governing…

    Check out the cascading downward opinion of both parties naturally leading to less voting….

  7. Yes, Pat, you’ve nailed it. The only language the GOP responds to is losses. They’ve guaranteed themselves victories, but if they experience defeat, the message might get through to them.

    I can’t disagree enough with Bouie on this, “the Democratic Party overall is more liberal than it has previously been…”

    Maybe if they could take a stand against war because I don’t see a peace caucus. In some respects, the GOP is taking a stance against war. Bravo!!

  8. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter to too many people how bad or extreme the GOP gets. So few people pay attention most of the time. They might have a vague notion about who’s running, but they have little to no information about policy positions, and they’re just fine with that. If they vote at all it will be for whoever their influencers are voting for.

  9. Jacobin. news,
    philly demos blocking socialists.
    seems theres a story here about a head council member ousting pro progressives /WFP members. and could,led to
    republicans taking city seats. theres 1700 of these. Biden just met with the one who doing
    the busting. interesting story/

  10. The republicans can talk anti war all they want. its a putin style goverment they want. kill Ukraine, and its done..
    NPR note, seems prayer mind johnson wants to pilfer social security for bucks to send to Isreal. and or, make a case for supporting Ukraine ,that case would probablybe social security money. im waiting for a write up on this subject.

  11. Bill Maher states the left in the Democrat Party is just goofy. Its upended women’s sports. If you take the worst team in the NBA and put it up against the best team in the WNBA, the score will still be very lopsided. Its the party of pretend. Its insists the left is full of lies, and if you don’t agree you’re the collateral damage of their censorship.
    He stated he doesn’t like or agree with MJT, but we’ve got to be able to get along with each other and not Censor anyone.

  12. John Sc. Extremists of all stripes do tend to be goofy but Title IX has nothing to do with pitting females against males in athletic events. It is about making the benefits of athletic competition available to girls and women. The rest of that paragraph doesn’t seem to make sense.
    I agree with the position that we should not censor people because their speech is offensive.

  13. In the whirlwind of opinions and finding position the curtain has to be pulled on the trajectories of the parties. Such a chasm these days. Do we want a government that micromanages our private lives and keeps us as a cog in structure, or a government that allows us to live according to our conscious and bring our diversity and talents to the table (marketplace). Hope enough vote to throw off the oppressive, and authoritarian movement that is leading to fascism. Hope enough of the smoke has lifted for all Americans to see more clearly!

  14. Sorry Todd, but the GOP hasn’t taken a stance against war. They consistently take a stance against PAYING for war — paying for ANYTHING for that matter. It’s not about the money. It’s ONLY about the money.

  15. Another excellent post, but I have to agree with Todd. It misses the history.

    Candorville cartoon of long ago – Rip VanWinkle-like character fell asleep during the Carter Administration and wakes up 20 years later. As he is caught up on history, he notes, “That Bill Clinton is really something -balanced budget, ending welfare as we know it, and declaring the era of big government is over. He’s the best Republican President we’ve ever had.”

    Clinton believed that Reagan-lite was the only way to win, which may or may not have been true at the time, but it does not represent a good place to judge the trajectory of Democratic Party politics.

    Comparing the trajectory of the Democratic party starting with Clinton ignores the progressive New Deal roots of the modern party. It also ignores the brave choices of Truman to desegregate the military, and especially Johnson, who sided with civil rights and voting rights knowing that he was losing the racist South from the coalition for generations. (later he wimped out and escalated in Vietnam for fear of being labeled “soft on communism”).

    I also agree with Todd and Pat. Only a thorough trouncing at the polls with change the party, either being retaken by the sane, or replaced completely by a rational conservative party.

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