Why Obama Wins: Democrats Purge Moderates, Republicans Purge Conservatives

In Washington, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met privately with President Barack Obama and praised his efforts for “comprehensive” immigration reform.

Note the distinction. Democrats are preparing for a major nationwide fight on the gun issue by purging the party’s moderates–including the very candidates it cultivated in 2006 and 2008 to win seats in conservative districts. Republicans are preparing for a major debate on immigration reform by purging the party’s conservatives, casting opponents of bipartisan legislative efforts as bigots who will doom the party to ongoing electoral failure.

It is true that both parties have shown little tolerance towards moderates lately. Democrats began the purges in 2004, when the left netroots commandeered the Democratic National Committee elections. In 2006, the anti-war movement succeeded in defeating Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut. In 2010, the Tea Party began defeating establishment, moderate Republicans in the GOP primaries before going on to wipe out the Blue Dog Democrats, finishing what the anti-war movement had already started. In effect, Capitol Hill today is divided not by two governing parties but two opposition movements, speaking past one another.

But the Democratic Party has managed to maintain a striking degree of party unity, even amidst grumbling and dissatisfaction with President Obama’s disappointing performance. It has done so primarily through Chicago-style carrot-and-stick patronage dished out by the White House, partly by demonizing Republicans, but also by defeating, silencing or otherwise co-opting the party’s moderates before going into big legislative battles.

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