There is a deep pull in political punditry toward asserting symmetry between the two political parties -- whatever sins one party is guilty of, surely the other party is no better. But this was a week in which the pretense of symmetry between the modern Democratic and Republican parties fell away. The Democratic Party is acting like the political parties we have traditionally known in American politics: It is backing familiar politicians with deep institutional ties and, amidst divided government, nominating compromise figures with the potential for bipartisan appeal. The Republican Party, however, is moving in a different and worrying direction: It is nominating an inexperienced demagogue whose appeal is precisely that he has no institutional ties, and it is refusing to even consider compromise with the sitting president.
Almost immediately after President Obama introduced Judge Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee, congressional Republicans said their unprecedented blockade strategy would remain in effect. It led National Journal's Ron Fournier to say something unexpected.
For those unfamiliar with Fournier's work, the zealously centrist pundit has an unhealthy preoccupation with blaming "both sides" in every possible instance. But on Wednesday, the National Journal columnist declared, "I rarely come across a story where one side deserves 100% of blame. Congrats, GOP." When it comes to the Republicans' obstructionist tactics towards the Supreme Court vacancy, Fournier's message to the party was simple: "You've stumped me."
Putting aside why any professional observer feels the need to examine a story while trying to blame both sides, Fournier's concession was a rather striking reminder that even those who want to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt in the midst of their unprecedented tantrums can't think of a credible defense.
It's been that kind of week, hasn't it? While Senate Republicans were struggling to explain why they must reject a moderate Supreme Court nominee chosen to get their approval, Republican voters took another step toward making a bombastic political amateur and former reality-show host the party's presidential nominee.
Vox's Ezra Klein raised an important point yesterday: "The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties has never been clearer."
Ezra pointed to the critically important 2012 thesis from Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who famously wrote that the contemporary GOP "has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.... When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges."
Ornstein and Mann couldn't have known this week was coming, but their thesis has never looked more compelling.
It's sometimes convenient to consider this dynamic in quantifiable terms. Political scientists can point to data such as DW-Nominate scores that prove with great clarity just how radicalized the modern Republican Party has become.
But as instructive as the data can be, weeks like this one offer the public even more powerful evidence of just how different the parties have become. (And I haven't even mentioned the ridiculously far-right House Republican budget plan, which the House GOP's Freedom Caucus declared too liberal this week.)
Among lazy observers, there are tiresome cliches about the parties and politicians all being the same. We're occasionally reminded just how wrong they are.