Future Of Political Parties Discussed At Last Seminars In Steamboat Event

Aug 19, 2018

Two of the nation's most notable political science scholars predict the Democrats will take over the House of Representatives this fall, with one of them telling a Steamboat Springs audience that if President Donald Trump is going to be impeached, she hopes Nancy Pelosi will be speaker of the house.

"She's one of the most savvy, inside players that we've ever had in the United States Congress," said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution and well-known Harvard lecturer.

Kamarck's remark followed an audience question about why Pelosi is being "demonized" by Republicans and why Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from her.

Morris P. Fiorina, the other political science scholar at the Seminars at Steamboat talk Monday night, agreed Pelosi is an easy scapegoat since Hillary Clinton isn't running. He noted that Pelosi is what he calls part of the "liberal elite," who pontificates about liberal values from atop their wealthy lives. Fiorina is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Stanford professor.

NPR's Ron Elving, who moderated the discussion.
Credit Robert R. Stein / Seminars at Steamboat

National Public Radio reporter Ron Elving moderated Kamarck and Fiorina's discussion for "The Future of the Democratic and Republican Parties," the final Seminars talk of the season.

Morris also explained why the "polarization" of the country isn't really factual. He explained how a very small political class has taken over public perception by monopolizing the cable TV shows and sparsely attended primary elections.

He shared statistics that reveal about 70 percent of the population fall in between "radical" voters from both parties with radical being measured by things such as "never abortion" or "no abortion restrictions." He also reminded the Steamboat audience that only about 1 percent of the voting public watches shows like Hannity or Rachel Maddow.

"Ten times as many watch Sunday night football than watch the top cable news shows," Fiorina said.

Kamarck discussed how several things have led to the "radicalization" of the Republican party including getting rid of "pork." She said pork projects, or earmarks, were a tiny portion of the government's money but helped the two parties compromise and vote for bills they may have had trouble supporting.

She also said when voting takes place in "safe districts," sparsely attended primaries can produce "extreme" candidates. She cited the Tea Party movement that eventually led to the Freedom Caucus in Congress, which has given power to a small vocal portion of Republicans. She said it's still too early to see if the radicals from the Democratic party will take over how their side of Congress is run. For example she cited recent calls for eliminating Immigrations and Customs Enforcement - ICE - as "stupid."

Fiorina and Kamarck agreed that the "nationalization" of political funding is affecting elections. Fiorina said, for example, a huge amount of funding for "national" causes will come out of just a few states and go toward congressional districts all over the country. He said although unconstitutional, if funding was limited to people who lived in those districts, the politicians would better reflect the beliefs of constituents and not some national agenda.

Kamarck went so far as to say more nomination power should be returned to "institutional political parties … the way it used to be for most of American history."

"If you go back and look at the presidents nominated, that we all loved, they were all nominated by Republicans and Democrats" in conventions, Kamarck said.

Both scholars predicted the Robert Mueller investigation would not have a big effect on upcoming elections. However, Kamarck said studies and polls show women and young people are increasingly disillusioned with President Trump himself, and that while the economy is doing great, there's still a "queasy" feeling about this president.