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Left, right both rush to edges

September 2, 2018

In Texas, it’s Ted Cruz vs. Beto O’Rourke for a Senate seat. In the Florida governor’s race, it’s Ron DeSantis vs. Andrew Gillum. For the presidency in 2020, a good bet would be Donald Trump vs. Elizabeth Warren.

What do these top races, and dozens more across the country, have in common? The answer is simple, and depressing. Both parties are veering toward their edges as quickly as they can go, flooring the gas pedal and ripping out the brakes.

In the GOP, to win a primary you need to rush hard-right, while on the Democrats’ side it’s the loony left. The faster, the better. Don’t pretend that the other side might have a good idea or two. Promise to vote against all their bills all the time.

If you’re an ultra-conservative Republican or a neo-socialist Democrat, you love this. If you’re like the majority of voters somewhere in the middle, you’re out of luck. You get to vote for the lesser of two evils in November. No wonder turnout is dropping.

Take Texas, for example. Cruz first got elected to the Senate in 2012 by running far to the right of the establishment favorite, the former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The fire-breathing Cruz painted Dewhurst as a hopeless compromiser. Over the next five years, Cruz has never veered from that lane.

O’Rourke is not quite as far on the left as Cruz is on the right, but he’s out there. He’s flirted with one of the main talking points of extreme liberals in this cycle, abolishing ICE, the immigration-control agency.

The primary election last week for governor in Florida was another example of this phenomenon. DeSantis won by being the Trumpiest of the Trump-loving GOP candidates. On the Democratic side, former Tallahassee mayor Gillum was way behind more moderate candidates for most of the campaign, often polling in single digits. But he was endorsed by Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders, and he touts things like “Medicare for all” without bothering to figure out how to pay for it.

In that race and in Texas, too, both candidates got the opponents they wanted. They could say that the other guy believes in wacky things that real Texans (or Floridians or Missourians) should fear like Halloween nightmares.

Many non-extreme incumbents saw the mood this year and decided to bail out. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker knew they probably couldn’t win the primaries in their states despite good records. So they quit, depleting the handful of members from either party who just might consider reaching across the aisle now and then.

In two years, the presidency will likely offer voters the same stark choices. There’s some talk of a quasi-moderate like Ohio Gov. John Kasich challenging Trump for the nomination. He probably wouldn’t win a single primary.

It’s hard to imagine now, but it wasn’t always this way. Republicans once had a few liberals in Congress, and Democrats had some conservatives. Actual moderates in both parties were fairly common.

That breed of politician is virtually extinct now. Our politics careen from one side to the other like a hockey puck in an arena. Most voters have to choose who they dislike least, not who they admire the most. Sometimes, they might as well flip a coin. Heck, that might be the only way to leave the voting booth.

Thomas Taschinger is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

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