With Schisms In Both Parties, Midterms Will Offer Key Test

Dec 24, 2013
Originally published on December 24, 2013 8:02 pm
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So the Republicans have their divide and though, in recent years, Democrats have appeared more united, they have their own schisms. These internal party politics will factor heavily in the elections of 2014. And in close elections, the party that manages its internal politics most successfully has an advantage at the polls. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now. Hi, Mara.


SIEGEL: And we just heard Don describe a deep split between the Tea Party and establishment Republicans, but off-year elections typically favor the party that doesn't hold the White House. How do you see the balance in next year's midterms?

LIASSON: Actually, you're right, Robert, the party that doesn't have the White House is usually set up to make some gains in the midterms and I think, despite this internal feud on the part of the Republicans, they still are set up pretty well to make gains. There are a lot of reasons for that. Historically, the party out of power, out of the White House, picks up seats. The map favors the Republicans this time in the Senate.

The Democrats are defending more Senate seats in red states. Also, in the House, the way districts are drawn, often called gerrymandering, just protects Republicans. The other big factor that's gonna help the Republicans next year is the damage the Democrats have done to themselves with the Obamacare rollout.

SIEGEL: So what role will this Republic intraparty feud play in the midterms, do you think?

LIASSON: I think it will play a role. There will be primary challenges from Tea Party candidates to incumbents or establishment Republicans. But I think where it really comes into play is in the 2016 presidential primaries. You have a deep philosophical split between Republicans who think the problem is government run by Democrats versus conservative activists who think government is the problem, period. And this is all part of this difficult rebranding process, rethinking process that the party's been trying to go through since the crushing defeat of 2012.

SIEGEL: Well, what is the status of that rethinking, rebranding effort of the Republicans? I thought the GOP decided that it had to find a way to reach out to young people, women, minorities, in order to win a national election again.

LIASSON: Well, it did, but then, the rebranding process was basically put on hold. They weren't able to pass immigration reform in the House. That was something that many in the establishment wing of the party thought was important, to reach out to Hispanic voters. Also, most Republicans feel that they can put it on hold because they feel so good about their prospects next year, mostly because of how bad the Democrats are doing.

And that makes it easier to put off the intellectual work of repositioning the party or coming up with new conservative policies that will appeal to the new electorate, the younger, browner, more diverse electorate. And that's a real irony because Republicans could do very, very well in 2014 when the electorate is generally older, whiter and more rural and more Republican-friendly.

But then, two years later, find themselves facing all the same demographic challenges that the party still hasn't mastered.

SIEGEL: What about the Democrats and their splits?

LIASSON: The Democrats have a split for sure. Left wing populism in the Democratic Party is growing. You have what you might call the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party. They're disappointed with the president over NSA spying, over the drone policy, over the fact that Wall Street seems to have paid no price at all for the financial crisis. But I would say those splits in the Democratic Party are just not as deep or fundamental as the ones that Republicans are facing.

For instance, you just don't see the same number of left wing challenges to Democratic incumbents in primaries, for instance.

SIEGEL: Mara, thank you and Merry Christmas.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert. Merry Christmas to you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.