The Strange and Slow Death of Democratic and Republican America
Tod Kelly pointed out a new paper by conservative Bruce Bartlett in Off the Cuff. Bartlett’s paper argues that Fox News is a disaster for the GOP in terms of national electability. Bartlett also believes that the Fox News is a pox on conservatism in general.
In Contrast, The New York Times Magazine has an article on The Great Democratic Crack-Up of 2016. The article is about the divisions between moderate and liberal Democrats and how it will play out in various 2016 primary battles. Robert Drapper points out that the chances of the Democratic Party regaining the House of Representatives by 2022 are slim at best. More dismal is that only 18 of the 50 Governors are Democratic Party members right now. Most of these Governors are currently in control of the bluest of the blue states like California, Hawaii, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island. The Purple or Red States with Democratic Governors are Pennsylvania, Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, and Missouri. Draper points out that the Democratic Party has not this been out of power since Hoover. Of course the Great Depression caused the Democratic Party to coming roaring back into power in 1930 and 1932.
The fight in the Democratic Party is between those who want a swing to the left and more economic populist candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Al Franken against those who argue for a more technocratic and moderate Democratic Party that does not voice for Labor. We saw this in the fight over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Another example is the progressive attempts to throw out Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel via primaries. Neither Cuomo or Rahm Emmanuel are very popular with liberal Democratic voters. Both are seen as being too beholden to corporate interests at the expensive of the common good.
Politics is a capricious and arbitrary beast. Dreaming of a permanent majority or total victory in a representative democracy is probably a fool’s errand but people are people and it is bound to happen. Karl Rove dreamed of a permanent majority for the Republicans in 2004 and probably had enough data to back him up. 2006 and 2008 proved him wrong. Democrats were also probably wrong when they thought 2008 could be a game changer. This doesn’t mean that long-term majorities are impossible. The Progressive Conservatives of Alberta controlled for 44 years. 40-50 years seems to be the most that a party can consistently win majorities in a representative democracy before things break down.
The thing about political parties is that they can seem robust and strong until they are not. They can also die very slow deaths with bouts of seeming to be on the mend. The Liberal Party of England ruled from 1906-1918. They seemed invincible. By 1922, Labour replaced the Liberals as one of the dominant parties in the UK. The Liberals were able to stay around in reduced numbers until the 1945 General election reduced them to irrelevance.
My theory is that both the Democratic and Republican parties have strengths and weaknesses that they can keep hidden for a long time. Eventually both parties are going to need to deal with these short-comings and weaknesses but that usually happens in a too little and too late kind of way.
The Republican Party has a geographical advantage. There are a lot more rural and suburban states where the GOP is still pretty popular. The GOP also seems to still be gaining from various changes in both parties from being big tent to little tent. The problem for the GOP is that they still largely appeal to a demographic that is much whiter, much older, and much more socially conservative than the United States overall. This makes it hard for them to take somewhat more liberal stances on issues like birth control, drug legalization/criminal reform, and same-sex marriage. Ron Paul seems to be an outlier on the drug war and criminal justice reform issue. Republican candidates still find themselves in a bind over gay rights and same-sex marriage. The GOP is going to discover that there base is dying off in around 5-15 years probably and they are not attracting enough younger voters to fill the void.
The big problems for the Democratic Party is that Democratic voters tend to concentrate in urban areas. There are parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and New York that are just as conservative as Alabama. The issue is that the big cities in those areas tend to hold most of the population and vote. There are Democratic cities in purple and red states but those cities tend to be gerrymandered into permanent minority status for congressional and state legislative elections. The Democratic Party is more popular with younger Generation X and Millennials but those voters don’t always make it out to the polls reliably. Policy-wise, the Democratic Party does have a fight between the progressive and moderate wings on economic issues. There are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who are fairly conservative on economics but they have no where to go because they see the GOP as being uninviting and unwelcoming for other reasons. These Democratic voters might not care about income inequality and might think taxes are too high but they absolutely dislike the GOP stances on gay rights, abortion/birth control, climate change, foreign policy, and a host of other issues.
I don’t have any predictions about what is going to happen in 2016. The stakes seem pretty high for people on both sides of the aisle. Both sides probably really care that there could be a lot of changes to the Supreme Court in 2016-2020. Gingsburg, Breyer, Scalia, and Kennedy are likely to die or retire from the Bench during that time. The Democratic Party is also concerned about the fate of the ACA (which Democrats still support despite GOP wishful thinking otherwise), Same-Sex Marriage, and birth control. The GOP is also concerned about these issues but in other ways. The big issue is that there is not really a party in the wings to replace the Republicans or the Democratic Party. Labour agitated for years before becoming dominant in 1922. The American Whig Party was quickly replaced by the Republican Party in the 1850s. The Greens and the Libertarians are still not strong enough or organized enough to be viable alternatives to the Democratic or Republican Party.
The Republicans are going to need to find a way to modernize or become more moderate on gay rights and climate change to attract younger voters. Democratic Party members are going to need to find a balance between neo-liberalism and economic populism to help the blue-collar and working-classes. School Reform seems to be an issue that divides both parties but is probably more of a pit for the Democratic Party with a fight between Common Core and Charter School supporters like Michelle Rhee and Jon Chait and those who are suspicious of the movement as being nothing more than privitazation and union-busting. I am not sure either party has the ability to make these changes before things get really bad.