If they are not awfully careful, the Democrats' reversion to their time-honored penchant for turning on one another may make their control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue short-lived. President Joe Biden's approval ratings are plunging, evidently because he withdrew American troops from Afghanistan in accord with his predecessor's deal with the Taliban and because almost half of Americans eligible for a vaccination that would save them from severe illness or death decline to get one. A razor-thin Democratic majority in the House of Representatives appears very likely to be washed away in next year's midterms, and the country has House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to look forward to. And the party's ability to keep control of the Senate by the grace of a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris is likewise in grave doubt.

You might imagine that this prognosis would be sufficiently sobering that Democrats would wise up and get unified. You'd be wrong. On the contrary, they have resumed doing what they do best: fighting with one another over whether they can get half a loaf, three-quarters of a loaf or the whole loaf of bread. The internal fight over how much of America's badly decayed infrastructure and tattered social fabric can be repaired and how quickly threatens to tank Democrats' electoral prospects and pave the way for the Republicans to return to power.

The tensions between congressional Democrats self-classifying as "progressives" and those self-classifying as "moderates" have variously simmered, cooled and resumed simmering ever since candidate Biden sewed up the Democratic presidential nomination last spring. With Biden's domestic agenda on the line in Congress, Democrats have seized the opportunity to put his presidency in jeopardy by permitting their disagreements to obscure their common goals: addressing the historic damage both caused and exposed by the pandemic that former President Donald Trump maintained was a hoax. The House Democratic caucus, split between members and nonmembers of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, spawns claims and counterclaims that it is the other side's position on Biden's spending bills that is eviscerating the president's credibility.

Progressive stalwart Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota contends that progressives are the ones who are "trying to make sure that the president has a success." Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey counters that "th(e) far left faction is willing to put the president's entire agenda at risk. They've put civility and bipartisan governing at risk."

Meanwhile the GOP rubs its hands together in glee at the shortsightedness and hubris of the Democrats, whose discord makes it even likelier that Republicans will retake control of at least one branch of government. That will guarantee not only that Americans will not receive the help they need for the next two years, but also that the country will be treated to nonstop congressional investigations into Hunter Biden's personal life and other urgent matters. The idea will be to gut any hope Biden has of winning reelection, assuming that the 46th president, who will be 82 in 2024, decides to run.

Even in the best case, Democrats' challenges in 2024 will be daunting. The odds are that they will face a Republican Party unified behind Mar-a-Lago's answer to Don Corleone. Democrats have soothed themselves with the fiction that they handily defeated our country's Mussolini wannabe, but they didn't. Had a mere 22,000 Biden voters spread strategically among Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia voted for Trump, American democracy would be on the ropes, hanging on for dear life. The truth is that a narcissistic clown who bungled the pandemic and thereby tanked the American economy increased his support in 2020 among women as well as Hispanic, Black and other voters in comparison to 2016.

Against this backdrop, a small squadron of progressive Democrats ardently believes that if their party only moves left it will improve its electoral prospects rather than torpedo them. Moderates are growing openly contemptuous of this analysis, and it shows. If the two sides cannot find a way to keep the big picture in mind, the picture that is going to emerge, first in 2022 and then in 2024, won't be a pretty one.

•••

Jeff Robbins, an attorney specializing in the First Amendment, is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

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