With Donald Trump in the White House, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of opposition emerges on the left. It’s been half an year, and we’ve seen plenty of protests, although there isn’t the unified message of the early Tea Party. It’s early yet, so it’s worth considering the possibilities and the precedents.
An analogue to the tea party might be the left in the 70s and 80s, and that didn’t work out well for the Democrats. Jimmy Carter, the only President the party elected in a 20+ year period found himself primaried by two top-tier candidates: a well-known Senator—Ted Kennedy, brother of a former President—and a big state Governor—Jerry Brown, the Governor of California.
There’s always going to be a market in pandering to the base. Changes in media consumption and transparency laws do make it tougher to bullshit the activists, but not impossible. Part of the hope for a Republican is that the fervor would decrease when the party holds the White House, and that the left would face similar problems in terms of divisions. Some of this has happened with base voters supporting things under President Trump they opposed under Obama, but there have still been significant divisions for the GOP that became apparent during the efforts to repeal Obamacare.
If a GOP President can stay popular, that would prevent a lot of the problems. But it requires political savvy and luck, since circumstances that require difficult decisions tend to result in politicians making enemies. It has been a while since we had a really popular President. George HW Bush lost reelection with less than 40 percent (it was a three man race thanks to Perot, but that’s a terrible showing for an incumbent.) Bill Clinton had the sex scandals. George W Bush came into the presidency under controversial circumstances and made some mistakes. Obama bypassed Republicans while pushing significant changes. It wouldn’t take too much for President Trump to surpass those four, but he may lack the ability.
The parties are a bit different due to who votes for them. Christian white parents are a massive chunk of the Republican party, so when they mobilize they can get people elected. The Democratic party is a coalition of different groups, many of whom would have difficulty winning majority support in elections. A homophobe can win in a conservative state, while a gay man who has said nasty stuff about breeders has no shot in hell of winning any congressional district. This is going to complicate the primary process.
White conservatives are typically the majority of Republican primary voters in a given state, so tea party candidates could win elections that way (although this led to some general election defeats.) There are some states where minority groups are a majority of Democratic primary voters, which can result in primary wins by individuals who lack the ability to get swing voters on their side for the general election. A further problem for Democrats is that a party that is a coalition may have divisions that come out during primaries (IE- if one candidate is a white feminist, and another is Hispanic, with neither gaining support outside of their group) allowing for Republicans to swoop in in November. That said, it will will have to be a really divisive primary for the losing coalition to seriously consider backing the party of Trump.