by Kim Moody Kim Moody is a co-founder of Labor Notes. He is the author of numerous books about the American labor movement, including In Solidarity: Working-Class Organization and Strategy in the United States. Originally posted as From Realignment to Reinforcement | Jacobin Reforming, realigning, or refashioning the Democratic Party into a vehicle for social democracy is one of the oldest, oft-repeated, and frustratingly unsuccessful strategies of the US left. The Populists tried it in the 1890s, only to be absorbed and disarmed. The new industrial unions of the CIO attempted it beginning in 1936, just as the New Deal began to retreat. The Democratic Socialists, led by Michael Harrington, pursued the realignment strategy in the 1970s at the very moment the “party of the people” began its trek to the neoliberal right. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition launched two highly visible runs for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s even as Democratic National Committee (DNC) chief Charles Manatt recruited big business and its money. Then came Bill Clinton. Could it be different this time around? The hope that the Democratic Party can be pushed substantially to the left has been given new life by two wholly unexpected political events: Bernie Sanders’ spectacular showing in the Democratic presidential primaries, and Donald Trumps’ terrifying election as president. Hope, on the one hand, and fear, on the other, have sent a new wave of activists toward or into the Democratic Party. Several decades ago, realigners argued that the Democratic Party wasn’t really a party at all — just a loose coalition of disparate elements. At the time, the institutional basis of the Democratic Party was the alliance of northern urban machines and southern (Dixiecrat) courthouse gangs, with organized labor as a junior partner. By the 1970s, however, the city machines were mostly dead or dying; the Dixiecrats were beginning their exit; and labor, Northern liberals, and the rising African-American vote seemed to provide the foundation for US social democracy. The would-be realigners had other things going for them: party organization was weak; state parties were part-time and populated with amateurs; straight-ticket voting had fallen from 74 percent in 1952 to 50 percent by the mid-1960s; discipline in congressional votes had slumped from 70 percent of major floor votes in both houses during the 1950s to 58 percent of votes in the House and 51 percent in the Senate by the early 1970s; and after 1968 party leadership fell to a less than impressive cadre. Yet this seemingly feeble party repelled the would-be reformers. And today, due to large-scale changes over the past few decades, the Democratic Party appears even more impregnable. The party has become a well-funded, professionalized, multitiered hierarchy capable of intervening in elections at just about every level. It selects candidates, provides funding, furnishes endorsements, offers media relations, and supplies computer and digital campaign and get-out-the-vote services. In Congress and most state legislatures, its leaders impose a high level of party discipline, such that for the last two decades 90 percent of floor votes in both houses have been along strict party lines. The party structure and establishment has been fortified against its rivals, external and internal.