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The freedom of factionalism

Someone holding several small American Flags with other flags and a crowd in the background. Photo credit: KathyKafka at iStock.com

Political parties are strange animals. One cycle they seem like an unbreakable phalanx of united voters, rallying behind an inspiring leader (or rallying against the other teams boogeymen), and the next their internal factions are tearing each other apart. 

The reality is that no political coalitions are ever permanent or stable. There is plenty to complain about in our two-party system, but the benefit is that winning candidates have to put those coalitions together ahead of time in order to win, rather than cobbling them together after an election like the Europeans. This is not a bad thing – the debate among all sorts of different interests and points of view is chaotic, but healthy. Good ideas resonate, bad ones are exposed to the sunlight and hopefully disinfected. It is how it should be.

The national Democratic presidential debates have been a great window into this phenomenon, mostly to show what happens when bad ideas are dragged out into the sunlight. But a few local stories this week are good reminders as well.

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Is Congressman Steven Horsford about to switch parties? Maybe not, but the on-again-off-again lawmaker definitely recognizes he represents a vulnerable swing district and showed it this week by telling The Indy that he’d never get behind a single payer health-care system because it would be punishingly expensive for taxpayers. He also has so far refrained from seeking to impeach the president and thinks people who go to college ought to help pay for their own tuition.

Compared to the increasingly leftward lurch of his party, he’s practically a Reaganite. 

He’s right, of course, that the cost of a single-payer system – at least one anyone would actually want – would be obscene and unworkable. But the bigger objection is and should be that “single payer” really means “single decider.” I don’t want Donald Trump to make health-care decisions for me any more than I wanted Barack Obama to do it. I get my health insurance these days from the VA, and while so far (I’ve only been enrolled a few months) they’ve been pretty great, there are enough red flags that I’m glad I have other options if I ever have concerns about the level of care I’m getting — or just want a second opinion. 

Still, good for Horsford for taking such a pragmatic approach and resisting the partisan tribalism. With just shy of 40,000 Republicans having announced campaigns to attempt to unseat him, it will be interesting to see if this centrist stance will keep him in office, or see him “squish just like grape.” 

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As Horsford’s interview and its reactions reveal, Democrats are seeing their factions grow farther apart from each other while inviting chaos into their caucus process. Republicans, in the meantime, seem to be letting the pendulum swing a bit too far in the other direction by functionally doing away with the presidential caucuses altogether. The state party has proposed rule changes that will essentially allow the party officials to re-nominate the president by acclamation. This seems like an awfully dumb idea.

No one doubts that Mr. Trump will once again be the GOP presidential nominee in 2020, defeating any potential challenger by a wide margin. But if support for the president is not in doubt, why fear a vote? It’s true that it takes time and money to put caucuses together, but it’s also an important tool for neighborhood political organizing and networking, something Democrats do very well in this state, and Republicans… don’t. And avoiding a vote just makes the president look more vulnerable than he actually is. 

And for the Republicans out there who don’t like Trump and would like to vote for an alternative? Let the grievances be aired. And in four more years, if we’re still foolish enough to be doing caucuses, someone is going to have to organize them. It would be nice if there was some experience in putting them together that wasn’t eight years out of date.

Once again, the state Republican Party apparatus shows itself to be short-sighted and poorly led. Any success the GOP has in Nevada in 2020 will have to do entirely with the strength of the individual candidates and the work the Trump campaign itself puts in to winning.

In the meantime, do we need further proof that we need to return to a regular primary election?

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At least the Democrats and Republicans have status as political parties, though, unlike the nascent WTF Party the secretary of state has refused to officially recognize. The reason? The name may be “offensive to a substantial portion of the electorate.” Jeffrey Berns, the would-be founder of the WTFers, is suing for violations of his First Amendment rights.

It’s a bit of a silly flap, really. The WTF Party isn’t likely to dig into donkey or elephant hegemony any time soon, and if seeing a goofy acronym on a ballot gives you the vapors, you’re too delicate to vote in a vibrant democratic republic anyway. 

But by trying to strike it down, the secretary of state’s office has made it more powerful than you can imagine. Well, maybe not, but it has certainly raised the profile of both Berns (the CEO of Blockchains) and his little movement. And now there’s a lawsuit to contend with, which, by the way, Berns should win.

Here’s the lesson for governments and party apparatchiks at every level: Let people speak, let them be heard, let the market maximize their choices, and life will be better for both the government and the governed. The more diverse voices that are in the mix, the better off we all are. Whether it’s giving Nevada Republicans a chance to weigh in on their next president or not making health-care decisions for people from Washington, D.C., the impulse to control a free people (especially when it’s for our “own good”) must always be resisted.

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at [email protected]

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