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It isn’t easy keeping either of America’s big coalitions together. In the opening months of the Trump administration, Republicans divided over foreign policy (neoconservative hegemonists vs. Jacksonian isolationists), trade policy (traditional Republican business interests and libertarians vs. Trumpian protectionists), immigration (ditto), health care (everybody against the Ryan plan) and, it now seems, even taxes. The Democratic Party was better able to unify around opposing Trump and the Republican desire to repeal Obamacare, but the division between its social-democratic and neoliberal wings – exposed by the surprisingly effective primary challenge of Bernie Sanders – reemerged in the struggle for Democratic National Committee chair between Keith Ellison and Tom Perez. The Trump era looks set to realign the partisan and ideological system that has characterized American politics for the last half-century.
But one issue was an exception. The nomination of the mild-mannered Neil Gorsuch as junior justice of the U.S. Supreme Court united each party internally and totally polarized them against each other. The U.S. Senate – long a bulwark of individualism and cross-party back-scratching, with at least ten Republican members who have publicly feuded with President Trump – divided almost perfectly on party lines. The minority Democrats took the politically risky step of filibustering a nominee whose professional qualifications were difficult to question. And then the majority Republicans took the equally perilous step of rewriting the body’s rules to eliminate the ability of a minority to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee (the so-called “nuclear option”).
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