By Brigitte L. Nacos
In the last phase of the presidential primary season Bernie Sanders and his most fervent supporters are tireless in their attacks against the Democratic Party, its candidate selection process, the party’s establishment, the platform, and the as of now leading presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
What was once a civil competition between Sanders and Clinton has escalated into a bitter and even violent confrontation at a Democratic convention in Nevada last weekend where Sanders supporters were reportedly “throwing chairs and later threatening the state chairwoman in a fight over delegates.”
Huge and enthusiastic crowds tend to feed the egos of populists and sharpen demagogic appeals. In the process, populists and their followers lose easily touch with reality.
Self-proclaimed revolutionaries and their movements are not interested in protecting whatever party vehicles they choose to ride to power.
Today, a perhaps irreparable schism seems more likely with respect to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.
To be sure, Donald Trump fought the establishment of the party of his choice, the GOP candidate selection process, and his more than a dozen primary competitors relentlessly, even savagely, until he was the sole survivor and sure presidential nominee. Many inside and outside the Republican Party predicted the end of the GOP in its current form.
But now the notion of the GOP’s demise seems dead. Ever more party factions and establishment leaders fall in line behind Trump.
Unlike Trump, Sanders is neither the winner nor the frontrunner in the primary competition on his side. His chances of becoming the nominee are slimmer than slim.
Earlier I questioned here whether Sanders might help Republicans win the White House. As Clinton’s calls for partisan unity are failing, I drop the question mark concerning the consequences of Bernie’s intensified attacks on her and the Democratic Party.
For someone who grew up in Europe more so than for native Americans the U.S. political system is so interesting because of the differences between the basic institutional and electoral arrangements in liberal democracies there and here.
And nowhere are the differences more profound than in the characteristics of political parties and the candidate selection process as the current presidential primary season once again attests to.
In Europe, you have ideological parties with card-carrying members who support their parties’ platforms. Those who come to disagree with their party’s programmatic stance or reform ideas tend to leave and join or at least vote for another party. Because of the proportional electoral system in Europe that allots seats in legislatures according to popular votes won by each party, there are a multitude of viable parties.
This is in sharp contrast to the American winners-take-all system that favors the two major parties at the expense of minor ones.
As a result, a candidate who should be running under an alternative party banner becomes the insurgents in a major party a la Trump and Sanders.
There are problems in both the American and the European system with the latter often weakened by too many parties. But that is the stuff for a separate story.