Partisan nastiness dividing the political parties continues to intensify in Washington, D.C. At the same time, deep divisions within each party are expanding just as fast. These fissures in the political tectonic plates deserve some exploration.
Former White House adviser and far-right nationalist media guru Steve Bannon is leading a massive effort to defeat mainstream Republicans (including Sen. Orrin Hatch), and he apparently doesn’t care if it dooms Republican control of the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, leftist senators and advocacy groups are demanding that Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020 support single-payer health care and other liberal causes, or face intraparty challenges. What is happening to American politics?
Pignanelli: "Politics is the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its opposite halves — sometimes split into quarters — which grind on each other." — Henry David Thoreau.
The frittata is an Italian egg dish that uses any leftovers in the refrigerator. Although lacking an appealing presentation, it is nutritious and economical (and perfected by my Calabrian grandmother).
Like a frittata, American politics is unattractive but efficiently includes odds and ends across the spectrum. A rare phenomenon of four strong political parties or movements currently exists: Trump is leading the faction of nationalists, anti-corporatists, evangelicals and disenfranchised-Democrats; congressional leadership is the face of establishment conservatives; left-wing Democrats/Green Party activists have major influence in urban areas; the “Clintonian” business-friendly Democrats (who survive frequent purges by liberals).
Smothered over this concoction is the massive distrust by citizens of their government and societal institutions. Everyday Americans are bombarded with news and facts from a multitude of sources at an unprecedented rate. Further, social mores are transforming. How we conduct financial, medical, educational and personal interchanges evolves almost hourly. No one can predict the ultimate outcomes.
Our nation appears to be in a horrible mess. But as with a frittata, the results will be nutritious, inclusive and ultimately successful. I suggest readers try the dish and after several bites they will be optimistic about America’s future.
Webb: The extremists on either side don’t have enough power to get their radical priorities passed, but they have enough clout to prevent anything good from happening. Bannon is trying to blow up America and remake it in his image. His politics of destruction is monkeywrenching the workings of Washington.
It’s not much better on the left. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ socialistic litmus tests make centrist Democrats a very rare species.
Utah needs to soundly reject extremist politics on both sides. Instead of wringing our hands over Washington’s ineptitude, we need to focus on taking care of our own challenges and opportunities in Utah.
How does Bannon’s “hit list” impact a possible Hatch or Mitt Romney senatorial candidacy in 2018?
Pignanelli: Hatch is a tough political street fighter and it will be great fun watching our 83-year-old senator slice and dice this obnoxious and dangerous politico. Most Utahns will relish having Hatch (or Romney) push back against this hateful man —who consistently allowed his website to publish awful anti-Mormon rhetoric. Bannon will never recover.
Webb: I have enormous respect, appreciation and even affection for Orrin Hatch. He has been a truly great senator.
But his re-election numbers are very weak. Most Utahns have simply decided that 42 years are enough and it’s time for him to retire.
Thus, a nightmare scenario for Utah is for Hatch to run, challenged by a well-funded right-wing candidate, with no mainstream candidate on the ballot. That’s a precarious position for centrist Utahns.
Thus, if Romney is serious about a Senate race, it’s time for him to step up and say he’ll run if Hatch retires. It’s time to stop playing footsie. Hatch and Romney have successfully frozen out other candidates, but that ploy has run its course. If Hatch and Romney continue stalling, another solid, mainstream candidate needs to get in. It’s possible Hatch could win against a Bannon-backed right-wing candidate, but it’s not a chance I’d like to take.
Utah isn’t Alabama, where Bannon successfully endorsed the ultra-conservative Judge Roy Moore. We generally elect mainstream candidates when they get on the ballot. But I’d hate to see Hatch suffer the same fate as former Sen. Bob Bennett.
Do these dynamics help or hurt Utah Democrats in 2018?
Pignanelli: Utah Democrats have an interesting dilemma. Sen. Sanders captured over 80 percent of the primary in 2016. Major office candidates who support Bernie and other leftists will garner a nomination, yet face a tough general election. Moderate Democrats who choose a different path will not only face a difficult primary, but will need to build a coalition with other political factions to succeed.
Webb: A dream scenario for Democratic senatorial candidate Jenny Wilson would be a race against either Hatch or a Bannon bomb-thrower. Even then, she probably wouldn’t win, but it would throw a real scare into the Republican Party.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.