The Democratic Party is divided, with the Biden administration often stuck in the middle, on a wide range of election and political issues. But these tensions often boil down to one question: With the GOP becoming more radical, should Democrats position themselves largely as the “normal” party? Or should they push an aggressive view, as the Republicans do, but from a liberal point of view?

Right now, the Democrats have a big opening to run as the status quo party because the Republicans have given up that space.

Traditionally, in countries around the world, there has been a conservative party whose political program is generally aimed at, well, maintaining traditional norms, policies and hierarchies. This type of conservatism is defined less by new policies than by their absence – the main goal is to leave things as they are, to oppose radical change. George HW Bush was arguably the last Republican president to clearly fit that mold. Other modern Republican presidents, especially Ronald Reagan, weren’t trying to maintain the status quo, but rather sought to aggressively shift the nation to the right – not just to halt liberal advances, but to reverse those that had stalled. already produced.

Donald Trump’s aggressively right-wing campaign and presidency was the culmination of this approach. Trump was not looking to retain anything.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr.the opinions ofFollow

This kind of disruptive republicanism has destabilized many wealthy people, big industries, and political figures who might otherwise either support the GOP or remain on the sidelines of politics. So a long list of prominent Republican officials, such as former Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, Joe Biden in 2020, or both. Employees of Wall Street corporations, who gave Mitt Romney more than Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race, gave Clinton and Biden far more than Trump. Donations from people at Facebook and other Big Tech companies went overwhelmingly to Democrats. Moderate and conservative figures, such as billionaire and former Republican Mike Bloomberg, have spent millions supporting Clinton, Biden or both, as have other ultra-rich people, like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and co- Facebook founder Dustin Moskovitz, who were previously not involved in politics.

And seeing this openness to the political center, many Democratic candidates, such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Virginia) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), ran effectively in the 2018 and 2020 cycles as nonpartisan figures. They emphasized their experience in government and their willingness to work with people from both parties more than their commitment to Liberal policy priorities.

Of course, it’s not just Trumpism that has made the Democratic Party more hospitable to billionaires, former GOP officials and moderates. Under Bill Clinton and Obama, the Democrats gradually evolved into a pro-business party that in many ways reinforced the economic status quo in the United States. This posture left the party conservative enough to win the votes of Republicans turned away by Trump. At the same time, many industries and wealthy individuals had shifted to more multicultural positions, such as same-sex marriage and a more racially diverse workforce, which aligned them with the Democratic Party.

All of this helped Biden win in 2020, and it appeared that Biden and the Democrats were poised to maintain and potentially grow a broad, united coalition that would generally maintain a pro-business, pro-diversity status quo. But that didn’t happen. Instead, under Biden, the Democratic tent isn’t growing and those inside are quite unhappy. The Democrats have not become a strong status quo party.

So why not? First of all, it is very difficult for a party or a leader to make maintaining the status quo their main mantra. No one comes to the presidency saying, “I won’t change much.” One of the reasons Trump was able to rise to power in the Republican Party was because he offered more of the same at the presidential level – after all, one of his main rivals for the 2016 nomination, the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, was the brother and son of former GOP presidents.

You clearly see this tension in the Democrats’ intraparty debate over whether to cancel student loans. During his 2020 campaign, Biden positioned himself as the least disruptive Democratic candidate, but he always felt compelled to respond to his rivals with a long list of policy ideas, including proposing legislation to undo all undergraduate student debt for people earning less than $125,000 a year. Now, left-leaning Democrats are demanding that Biden implement some kind of student debt relief by executive order, while centrist Democrats say it would alienate non-progressives and make it even harder to hold the coalition together. left.

Second, it is particularly difficult for a Democratic president to be a leader of the status quo because the fundamental identity of the party is one of change and progress. For example, when Biden last year proposed expanding child care, paid vacations and other provisions that were later bundled into the Build Back Better bill, many people were surprised. As a more left-leaning person, I was pleasantly surprised — I expected Biden to be a little president. Some more moderate Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans were significantly less pleased — they, too, expected Biden to be a little president. Spanberger memorably said of Biden last year, “Nobody elected him FDR.”

Biden’s campaign had left ambiguity over whether his moderation meant he wouldn’t do great things at all or whether he would do great things, just as not as great as progressive rivals such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would fit the bill. But really, it should come as no surprise that Biden’s definition of moderate has mostly turned out to be the latter — Democratic politicians like to push policies through. The problem, however, is that Democrats now have a strong “don’t change too much” wing — a lot of those ex-Republicans, wealthy individuals and moderate Democrats. This wing led opposition to the BBB, making the bill divisive in the party even before Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) actually killed it.

Third, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is louder and more powerful than it was under Clinton or Obama. He strongly opposes the Democrats becoming the party of the status quo, creating tension with the wealthy who might otherwise be more aligned with the Democrats. Billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk, once an enthusiastic Obama supporter, said he now supports Republicans, arguing the Democratic base is too left. Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, who was a vocal Trump critic, criticized Biden’s economic policies; progressives, meanwhile, are attacking Amazon for opposing the unionization of its stores. LinkedIn’s Hoffman now focuses some of his political spending not on the GOP, but on defeating leftist candidates in the Democratic primaries.

Fourth, the Republican Party is moving right, which creates pressure for Democrats to move left. For example, after the Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights, the Biden administration sought to put Democrats in a safe position, defending broad abortion rights but sticking to policy responses. quite limited. But with Republicans moving to make abortion much harder for women, many Democratic activists want more from Biden, including aggressive and innovative moves such as putting abortion providers on federal land in the red states.

Biden and his aides seem hesitant to embrace policies on abortion and other issues that would move them from simply opposing Trump-style conservatism to implementing Warren-style liberalism. But as Republicans adopt more extreme policies, demands for Democrats to respond with equally aggressive measures will grow.

For 18 months now, Biden has tried to walk a fine line — to be a president of change but not too much of a change. This has led to frustration among conservative Democrats and progressives. Sometimes you just have to choose: maybe Bloomberg and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), who says America shouldn’t have an economic system that allows someone to hoard a billion dollars, can still vote for the Democrats. But whether billionaires should exist is a binary question with no middle ground.

Do Democrats want to be a progressive party that some status quo supporters hold their noses up and vote for or a status quo party that progressives hold their noses and vote for? It’s time for them to decide.