Former President Barack Obama, speaking at a recent fund raiser in Silicon Valley about the 15 remaining Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for president, made this statement: “The field will narrow and there’s going to be one person, and if that’s not your perfect candidate and there are certain aspects of what they say that you don’t agree with and you don’t find them completely inspiring the way you’d like, I don’t care.” He went on to say that, in fact, the differences among these candidates are “relatively minor.”
His point was, that it’s vital that Democrats win the White House in 2020 so that Trump and Republicans don’t, since the Democrats’ progressive agenda will be followed by any Democrat elected president. The same logic applies to each and every Democrat running for seats in Congress.
I’ve been preaching a similar sermon for years, except that I apply the strategy to Republicans. I call it “party trumps person.” (Incidentally, I’ve been using that expression long before Donald “Trump” came around.)
Let me explain why.
A superficial cliché goes something like this: “I’m an independent thinker; I vote for the person, not the party.” This pronouncement is supposed to convey open-mindedness and political sophistication on the part of the pronouncer. Wrong. This is idealism and naiveté about the way our electoral process, government and politics work. It shouldn’t be mistaken for wisdom. In practice, we have a two-party system. Either a Republican or a Democrat is going to be elected president. Minor-party candidates don’t have a chance, at best they can be spoilers – like Nader costing Gore the presidency to Bush in 2000. Ross Perot got 19 million popular votes in 1992, and exactly zero Electoral College votes.
In Europe’s multiparty parliamentary democracies, governing coalitions are formed after an election to include minor parties necessary to form a parliamentary majority. In our constitutional republic, the coalitions are already in place. The Republican coalition is mostly a geographic alliance of middle-America, conservatives, individualists who prefer limited government, those who believe in a-free market economy, American exceptionalism, a strong national defense, social-issues conservatives and supporters of traditional American values. The Democrat coalition is dominated by west coast and northeastern states, it includes guilt-ridden liberals, progressives, collectivists, labor unions (especially the teachers unions), government workers, academics, trial lawyers, net tax-receivers, identity-politics minorities, feminists, LGBTQ’s, enviros, nannyists and activists for assorted anti-gun, anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti-military and world-government causes. I say party trumps person because regardless of the individual occupying the White House, the party’s coalition will be served.
The party that wins the presidency will fill cabinet and subcabinet positions in the executive branch with members of its coalition, many with political IOU’s to cash in. Likewise, the coalition will supply the federal courts, ambassadorships, boards and commissions. Similarly, after an election when a new Congress is seated the majority-party reigns supreme with its members controlling all committee and subcommittee chairmanships. Party majorities are the driving force of legislative power.
Here’s an example of why party trumps person in the legislative branch. Let’s say you’re a registered Republican who prefers that party’s philosophy of governance. But you’re a fair-minded, well-intentioned person who prefers a moderate Democrat running for U.S. Senate to his Republican opponent. So, you cross party lines and vote for him. As it turns out, he wins, and his seat is pivotal in giving Democrats a Senate majority, 51-49. Congratulations! You just got Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler as key committee chairs and a guarantee that the Republican legislative agenda will be stymied. Like it or not, that’s the way the system works. Voting a straight-party ticket is the practical, sensible, sophisticated thing to do even if it includes someone you don’t care for.
Ultimately, you’re going to be governed by either Republicans or Democrats in accordance with their coalition’s political agenda. You can be a purist and cast your vote symbolically with a fringe party or be a player and settle for the least imperfect of the Republican or Democrat alternatives. Roughly a third of Americans loyally vote Republican, about a third Democrat. Many so-called independents reliably vote for one party, they just like the self image of “independence.” Actual swing voters determine the outcome of close elections. That’s how Trump won in 2016 with narrow victories in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
If you lean Republican, please mind these words. If you’re a Democrat or a left-winger, disregard everything I’ve said, as you usually do, and vote Green Party.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.