Reflecting on political parties post-election

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Turmoil in the United States House of Representatives has drawn attention to the presence and power of political factions or parties in the national government. 

Bethlehem City Council President Michael Colón said the dysfunction in the House covered by national news has caused people to lose confidence in government and ultimately distrust local officials.

“Most people watch more of what’s going on at the federal level, and then that trickles down and spills into local politics,” Colón said.

Devin Brunges, a former Republican candidate for Bethlehem City Council, said the split in the Republican party stems from Trumpism, the ideological system behind Donald Trump and his supporters. 

He said this is “the great fight” between traditional conservatives and the Trump populists, as he has heard local and federal leaders say the Republican Party is “the party of Donald Trump.”

“If you’re not behind this populist movement, (proponents of it) will try to work you out of various leadership positions, even at the county level, the state level and city level,” Brunges said. “That’s not good for the party.”

Stephen Kelly, the president of Lehigh College Republicans, said before Trump’s presidency, there were more factions holding power in Congress. Since then, he said the existing groups had to decide which of the two larger ones they wanted to support.

This divisiveness is not the worst in the history of the United States, Kelly said, but he thinks it’s becoming a problem. 

“Republicans are spending more time fighting amongst each other than actually doing things,” Kelly said.

Jack Willard, the vice president of Lehigh College Republicans, said he likes the current infighting because it proves everyone is not acting only as a blind follower. 

“People actually form their own opinions of how things should be done (that way),” Willard said. 

He said this infighting is not present with Democrats.

Sam Denison, the vice president of Lehigh College Democrats, said he also thinks it’s good to have differing opinions.

“But there’s a way to do it that demonstrates unity once you get to the floor rather than complete and utter chaos, which the Republican Party is,” Denison said.

For Republicans, Willard said unity is not the top priority. 

He said Republicans prioritize leading efficiently at every level of government, and unity is not always a part of that process.

“If you have a reason to disrupt — there’s a policy you really think is important that it goes one way rather than the other — then you should take the time to discuss that before making a decision,” Willard said. 

But he also noted disruption should not be caused just for the sake of it.

Brunges said the recent events surrounding the election of the Speaker of the House and Trump’s continued influence in Republican politics are negatively impacting the Republican Party.

“The Republican Party is losing value because people are seeing it as an obstruction to the function of government,” Brunges said.

This, he said, makes running for office in a Democratic-dominated area like Bethlehem even more difficult because his affiliation with the Republican party may turn voters against him regardless of his platform.

Brunges said Democrats outnumber Republicans in Bethlehem, but he believes Republican moderates like himself can bridge the gap and appeal to a wider range of voters.

All three Republican City Council candidates ran on similar platforms, Kelly said, avoiding national politics and instead focusing on Bethlehem and local changes.

Brunges said his platform centered around addressing deficient funding and attention to public works and services like the police, emergency services, and the fire department along with issues like the pollution of the Lehigh River and a need for more green spaces, similar to other Republican candidates.

In Northampton County, Denison said representatives are more hesitant to ascribe to extreme beliefs so they may maintain popularity among a diverse spread of constituents. 

“(The councilmembers) are much more representative of the people, and I don’t really believe that factions exist to an extent in local government,” Denison said. 

However, Kelly said partisanship is further complicated by the historical perception of Republican leadership in Bethlehem where the city council and the mayor happened to both be Republican when Bethlehem Steel shut down.

“People really haven’t gotten around to forgiving them,” Kelly said. “Being a Republican is a bit of a dirty word.”

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