One of my students commented this week that “There are so many homeless politicians.”
“What do you mean, ‘homeless’?” I asked.
“Well, they don’t really fit into the Party “house” she said.
I probed, “As in — what do you mean?”
“Many of the Republicans seem to not match their home party at all,” she offered.
“Well, Bernie Sanders doesn’t fit into the “Democrat” house. He’s a “homeless” socialist because the Democratic Socialist Party can’t win. So he’s “crashing” at the Democrats.”
“I guess!,” I laughed.
“And especially the Republicans are SOOO homeless because Trump has taken over and they don’t fit Republican policies on cutting government spending, Russia, Christian values and other positions at all.”
“So what? Does it matter?”
She wasn’t sure but thought, “Well, we still talk about Republicans and Democrats and our primaries, caucuses and elections are exclusively by party. So, what do the parties mean?”
I pointed out that Democrats are liberal “But not Tulsi,” she interrupted.
“Ok, but Republicans are conservative, right?”
“And blowing up the deficit?!” That’s not conservative!”
“Ok,” I said, “maybe they are not “homeless politicians” there is just a lot of “diversity” among the politicians.”
“Yes, but if you look at all the different Democrats running for president in 2019. They really don’t have a lot in common where we could say what the ‘Democratic Party’ really stands for,” she said.
“And,” she continued, “what does Mitt Romney have in common with Jim Jordan? They’re kind of homeless from their party.”
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I confessed, “Political scientists don’t use that term.” However, I thought, it seems descriptive of the fragmented nature of U.S. politics. There are actually many “Democratic Parties” probably 50, at least one for each state, maybe more, because, in some states different regions are distinct.
Alabama or Louisiana Democrats should try to reflect the values and concerns of people in their states. They should be strong on the Second Amendment, anti-abortion, have police or military background, be tough on illegal immigration. Actually, that’s how John Bel Edwards became a two-term governor of Louisiana in 2019.
Vermont or Massachusetts Democrats will be almost the opposite on most of these issues. And, Democrats in Manhattan will be more liberal than in upstate New York.
“Then how can they ever get anything done in Washington?” she asked.
Steffen Schmidt is the Lucken Endowed Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University.