In 2016, Mitt Romney was persuaded by the conservative establishment to enter the presidential race in order to provide a base for conservative Republican values in opposition to Donald Trump. This gave Bernie Sanders the go to run as an independent and provide progressive voters with a choice of their own. The ensuing 4-party race threw the election to the House of Representatives, and a consensus candidate emerged as President.
In American history, politicians with special gifts have managed to join together factions and smooth over the tensions between them. Franklin Roosevelt was able to join white southerners, frequently segregationist, with African Americans, and have the coalition hold for 30 years. Similarly, Ronald Reagan was able to add ‘Reagan Democrats’ to the Republican coalition, whose members and policies were generally not tailored to working-class interests. This coalition has held until the recent Trump phenomenon, which is now exposing rifts in the Republican party. Bill Clinton was able to use his extensive political skills to move the Democratic party rightward without alienating its progressive base; until Bernie Sanders lighted on the stage.
The United States is fundamentally a two-party system, but American political values don’t bifurcate themselves into two convenient factions. Conservatism has many stripes, fiscal, neoconservative, social, and libertarian. The Democratic race of 2016 pit the more aggressively interventionist foreign policy views of Hillary Clinton vs the more isolationist views of Bernie Sanders; it pit Sanders and his revolution against the economic elite with the more business-friendly Clinton.
In the four years since the 2016 election, the four blocs have coalesced into two. Two candidates with extraordinary political gifts have emerged to unite their factions in spite of differences. One party has united Sanders and Trump supporters to address income inequality and oppose corporate influence in politics; it also generally opposes foreign military intervention. Its candidate has managed to minimize the tension around Trump supporters’ ‘nationalistic’ tendencies; it has de-emphasized liberal social issues. The second party has united Clinton and Romney supporters, promising individual, civil, and gay rights while promoting business interests and a more muscular foreign policy. Its candidate has managed to minimize the tension between Romneyesque social conservatives and Clintonite social liberals.
It’s now the election of 2020. You’re a progressive. Who are you going to vote for? The party promoting, if only for business advantage, respect for individual and civil rights and a social liberalism you approve of, while furthering continued business influence in politics and more war abroad, of which you might be sceptical? Or the party which promotes the economic values you approve of, retreats from foreign interventionism. but ignores social liberalism in order to hold its coalition together?