No more going along to get along or meeting in the middle...these days politicians have to go all-in one way or another. President Joe Biden is learning that lesson now, caught between the left and moderate factions of his own party. Back in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton famously moved to the political center after his party was shellacked in the midterm elections. Clinton rode that centrist move to re-election two years later. But those days are long gone, with some political observers noting the death of centrist politics. "These days, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of incentive to getting things done, to compromising, to governing," says Matt Mackowiak, Texas-based Republican strategist. "It's really more about permanent campaigns, and that's true on both sides."
Based on the Democrats' poor showing in this year's elections and Biden's bad poll numbers, Mackowiak believes the president should move toward the center. "But (Biden) really can't do that," he tells KTRH. "He has this progressive base that really controls much of his administration, in terms of the cabinet, the senior White House staff, the outside influential groups."
"The challenge Biden has is he's so weak right now, with 38% approval, that if he were to move to the middle I think he would absolutely see a primary challenge from the left, and he wants to avoid that," Mackowiak continues.
The rise of political partisanship isn't just an abstract theory, either. It is reflected in Gallup poll numbers, showing the percentage of Democrats identifying as liberal went from 25% to 51% since the 90s, while the percentage of Republicans identifying as conservative rose from 58% to 75%.
"There's not a lot of incentive to be in the middle anymore," says Mackowiak. "The incentives are to play to each side's base...that's how you get on cable news, that's how you raise money, that's how you raise your profile, that's even how you run for higher office in many cases."