• Michael Keohan

A Disillusioned Democratic Base - is there trouble brewing?

Updated: Nov 30, 2020


On the 7th of November 2020, one half of America collectively let out a huge sigh of relief when Joe Biden, Vice President for the Obama administration and this year's Democratic candidate, was projected to be 46th president of the United States of America. Whilst dispute over the results continues, the various pending legal challenges presented by Donald Trump have provided sparse evidence, and a court decision in favour of any of the current President's legal challenges is still unlikely to overturn the margins in the key states that would be required to extend Trump's presidency for another four years. The inauguration of Biden on the 20th of January is looking ever more likely, and discussion now turns to the first actions that will be taken by the new Biden-Harris administration.


However, for a proportion of the Democratic base, the victory is beginning to seem somewhat bittersweet; this was exemplified in the immediate aftermath of the projected results when a bombardment of fiery tweets and some intense conference calls gave the impression that things are not so harmonious within the Democratic party. The temporary coalition formed of the centre-left and the left-wing side of the Democratic base that united to take down Trump have completed their mission, but now as the American people look to the future, the Democrats are once again reminded that there lay stark differences in vision for the country within the party- and not everyone can get their way. Underwhelming performances in the race for the house, where the Democrats have prevailed with a weakened majority, and in the Senate, where it looks as though the Republicans will hold on to the majority, mean that the next four years will be more of a stalemate than many on the left would have liked. The cause of this unexpected outcome is not necessarily clear, but both sides of the Democratic aisle have been quick to pin the blame on each other.


Jim Clyburn, a Democratic member of the house of representatives from South Carolina, has been vocal among various others in expressing frustration at the espousal of several progressive policies that he argues have helped to brand the Democrats socialists- a brand which is not likely to win favour with certain demographics of voters who have experienced similar regimes. Clyburn has also suggested that the Democrat's bid for the Senate was also damaged by the use of phrases such as 'defund the police' that were quickly embraced by a proportion of the Democratic base after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a figurehead for the more progressive wing of the party, hit back diagnosing the underwhelming performance as a symptom of an unwillingness to fully embrace the young progressive voices in the party.


More recently, news of Joe Biden's appointees for various positions in his new administration has been met with reasonable approval from all sides; however, some suggestions have aggravated the progressive wing of the party- namely Rahm Emanuel. The former mayor of Chicago drew in considerable criticism, with Ocasio-Cortez suggesting that his appointment would 'signal a hostile approach to the grass-roots and the progressive wing of the party'. Ocasio-Cortez went on to explain her position, posting a tweet highlighting dissatisfaction at the then-mayor of Chicago's handling of the case of Laquan McDonald, a young black teenager who was killed in a police shooting in 2014.


It's clear that Biden has a challenging task ahead of him. The formation of a coalition brings the inevitability of intraparty disagreement, but whether Biden is the man to quell these disagreements and satisfy both sides remains to be seen. Republicans, on the other hand, will look on at the apparent volatility in the Democratic party so soon after an election win and feel somewhat optimistic despite the presidential election outcome. America is almost evenly divided, and the electoral margins are agonisingly close. Many of those on the right will be eager to now rebrand the face of the party- minus the brashness of Trump, with the hope of capitalising when the unstable base of the Democratic party begins to break apart.

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