Second of a Series
1. The Democrats Assess
In previous articles, we explored the Democrats’ likely trouble in the near term, and also the Democrats’ potential for a comeback in the long term. As the wise say, there are no final victories.
Next, we’ll consider how Republicans can hold on to their grip on the White House and on to their majorities in Congress. And we’ll consider these matters in two parts:
First, we’ll look at how parties have stayed on top in the past.
Second, and even more importantly, we’ll look at how a governing party can truly earn its enduring majority.
To be sure, in the immediate here and now, there’s good news—and more good news. For instance, The Washington Post reports that in the wake of the recent elections, no fewer than 25 states will have both a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature.
Moreover, Hillary Clinton’s defeat seems to have let loose a whole farrago of Democratic reckoning, score-settling, and maybe even confessing.
For example, on Election Night, November 8, MSNBC host Chris Matthews said that Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump was because “He’s on the popular side of trade, immigration and stupid wars.” And then, for good measure, Matthews used the phrase “stupid wars” again, thereby underscoring that Clinton, not Donald Trump, was the candidate of more vainglorious Middle East misadventure. (If the reader wants some fun, click on this link and watch the stricken body language of Matthews’ fellow panelists as he made his points.)
Two days later, on November 10, Matthews was right back at it, speaking of the Democrats’ snobbery:
Did they disdain the sort of middle class Catholic voter, for example, that turned off Hillary. Did they look down on them? I think they did. I get the feeling that a lot of it’s cultural, not just economic.
But wait! Want more recriminations? We’ve got ‘em! Post election, conservative blogger Dan McLaughlin sent out a mordantly understated tweet, “Maybe, in retrospect, mocking Jim Webb out of the party was not a great idea.” The tweet was referring, of course, to former US Sen. James Webb (D-VA), who epitomizes the old kind of Democrat—the flag-waving Democrats who supported Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. And so of course Webb had to be purged by Democrats. And just as predictably, most Webb-type Democrats voted for Trump.
And there’s more. On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Face the Nation, “Democrats have focused too much with a liberal elite while ignoring the working class.”
Sanders then added that the Democrats lost because while they have been “raising incredible sums of money from wealthy people, they have ignored to a very significant degree, working class, middle class, and low income people in this country.”
Talk such as that, we can observe, won’t get Sanders invited to any Clinton campaign reunions.
Meanwhile, here’s New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, issuing an ex post facto confessional:
Democrats adopted a strategy . . . that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a “basket of deplorables” who aren’t all deplorable. Some are hurt. Some are confused. Liberals miss this by being illiberal.
That’s a strong final phrase from Bruni, eh? Liberals are illiberal.
Indeed, Bruni went further, declaring that a typical middle-aged Southern woman who is not on board with gay marriage should not be characterized as a “hateful boob.” As Bruni noted, opposition to gay marriage was the ostensible position of Barack Obama and Clinton just five years ago. Continuing to let fly, the Times man continued with this critique of a guiding ideology of the Democrats and the left:
Political correctness has morphed into a moral purity that may feel exhilarating but isn’t remotely tactical. It’s a handmaiden to smugness and sanctimony, undermining its own goals.
Virgil can only say: While it’s fun to read all this after-the-fact acrimony, it would have been nice if we’d been able read this sort of candor before the election.
In fact, such truth-telling might have even been good for Hillary Clinton, because it might have popped her and her team out of their solipsistic bubble. Instead, Democrats made the biggest mistake a campaign can make: They believed their own propaganda.
Yet of course, with apologies to James Carville, the big issue in 2016 was the economy, stupid. In particular, as Peter Thiel said on the eve of the election, the gap between the connected and the unconnected has deepened into a chasm:
Not everyone is hurting. In the wealthy suburbs that ring Washington, D. C., people are doing just fine. Where I work in Silicon Valley, people are doing just great. But most Americans don’t live by the beltway or the San Francisco Bay. Most Americans haven’t been part of that prosperity. It shouldn’t be surprising to see people vote for Bernie Sanders or for Donald Trump, who’s the only outsider left in the race.
Once again, after the election, Democrats are acknowledging this bifurcated reality. Former Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who had been tapped to run Clinton’s White House transition team, had this to say to The Hill as he packed up to leave Washington and return to his ranch in Colorado:
There were people who felt left out of he economy over the last eight years who were never able to get back on their feet, blue collar men and women. Donald Trump was able to capture them in terms of emotion and sentiment. . . . Democrats have not done very well in rural America and I don’t understand why that has happened.
Of course, any Republican would be happy to explain to Salazar why that happened, and in fact, Salazar, too, knows the answer, even if chose to profess wonderment. And yet this last quote from him is inarguable:
The broader question is how to have a Democratic Party that can attract those working men and women.
Indeed, here at Breitbart, Virgil has noticed a profound reaction to the election in the reader comments. For example, “SunnyDtap” wrote:
Eight years of being told I am useless. I don’t matter. I am the past. Everything I have is due to white privilege. I am responsible for slavery. I am racist. I am a homophobe, Islamaphobe. I hate women and gays.
The commenter continued with this cry from the heart:
What wrongs did I do? Go to school, get married, have children, go to Church and go to work.
And, another Breitbart commenter, “CrustyChief” offered a “top ten” list of variables that harmed the Democrats this year. As we can see, one or two of these political wounds might count as bad luck, but most fall into the category of “self-inflicted”:
- Colin Kaepernick
- Harriet Tubman on the twenty
- Black Lives Matter
- Multi Gender Bathrooms
- Trans gender Marines
- Turning a blind eye to Chicago murders
- The heroin epidemic
- Calling illegals undocumented
- Making climate change Republicans fault
It will be interesting to see, in the years ahead, which of these injuries, if any, the Democrats seek to heal. As Virgil has written, most likely, the National Democrats will not bother to attend to them, while, by contrast, Local Democrats will be avidly nursing them.
In fact, we can already see some signs of Democratic healing. For example, Democrats seem to have awoken from their Clintonian ensorcellment; now that the Queen of the Rigged Game has departed the national stage, more Democrats are free to speak freely. In the words, again, of the Times’ Frank Bruni,
After Election Day, one Clinton-weary Democratic insider told me: “I’m obviously not happy and I hate to admit this, but a part of me feels liberated. If she’d won, we’d already be talking about Chelsea’s first campaign. Now we can do what we really need to and start over.”
As Virgil has written, Americans do not like dynasties.
2. The Quest for an Enduring Republican Majority
Meanwhile, among Republicans, it’s worth absorbing that Trump won only 47.3 percent of the vote. Okay, maybe we should put that “only” in quotes, because Trump won more than 60 million votes, which is quite a haul for a rookie politician. Yet still, for her part, Clinton appears to have received about 600,000 more ballots. Indeed, Trump’s percentage of the vote is almost identical to that of Mitt Romney in 2012.
The point here isn’t to take anything away from Trump, but, rather, looking ahead, to point out that Trump has yet to build a popular-vote majority. We can say that that’s what re-election campaigns are for, and that’s a good answer—and yet in the meantime, amidst exulting in Trump’s strength, we might yet examine some areas of weakness.
For example, Trump lost six states in the West and Southwest—California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington—with 94 electoral votes.
Stipulating, of course, that Trump won the national balloting, it’s still worth analyzing why Trump lost all that real estate, especially since three of those states—Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada—were regarded as Republican presidential states as recently as 2004.
Of course, there’ll be plenty of time to consider all the possible explanations, but for now, the most obvious immediate answer is Hispanic immigration. It was the Latino influx, mostly voting Democratic, that flipped California in the 90s; the Golden State had voted GOP in nine of ten presidential elections from 1952 to 1988, and yet, since, the GOP is zero-for-seven.
Indeed, if we look to another state, Texas, we see also see signs of Republican erosion: Trump won the Lone Star State with less than 53 percent of the vote and, notably, lost Harris County (Houston) by a dozen points. Indeed, Trump also lost adjacent Fort Bend County.
So what’s happening? Here’s a statistic to consider: A full 68 percent of Texans under age 19 are non-white.
Now of course, we should never fall into the ethnicity-is-destiny trap; that’s a trap for the left, not the right. Nor is Virgil making any sort of argument for “comprehensive immigration reform”; from a Republican point of view, that’s folly, at least until the border is 100 percent secured. Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence that Hispanics, too, want border security, out of concern for crime and chaos, of course, and also because they feel acutely the impact of a wage-lowering rush of new job-seekers.
So what’s needed for Republicans, and for America, is a color- and gender-blind commitment to full opportunity for all; a favoritism-free vision that’s accessible to all Americans who are willing to honestly participate in the civic, economic, and patriotic aspects of American life. (It’s been called “Rainbow Nationalism”–Virgil will have more on this in the next installment.)
Yet of course, sadly, we are far from any positive vision nowadays, as some noisemakers continue to do nothing but attack Trump and his followers. Indeed, the level of vituperation is so intense that Joe Scarborough said on Monday’s Morning Joe that if it kept up, it would boomerang on the Democrats. That is, if they persist in hurling over-the-top epithets at Trump, then they will surely lose in future elections, because that in political terms, that wad was shot this year.
Yet as Virgil has predicted, the smarter Democrats will forgo the cheap attacks. Indeed, the smartest and most ambitious Democrats—the ones, perhaps, with their eye on running for president in 2020—are going out of their way not to insult the voters.
Here, for example, are the words of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); we can observe, below, that she specifically exculpates Trump voters—most of them, at least:
There are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite the hate. They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change.
Yes, some Democrats are adjusting. And in politics, adjustment—as opposed to dogmatism—can be a prelude to victory. Indeed, for the opposition party, victory can happen surprisingly quickly.
For example, in 1984, President Ronald Reagan was re-elected, winning 49 states for a total of 525 electoral votes. And yet just two years later, in the 1986 Congressional midterms, the Senate Republicans, enjoying all the fundraising advantages accruing to the majority, nevertheless hit an iceberg. That year Senate GOPers lost eight of their seats, thereby allowing the Democrats to regain the majority.
We can further recall that even after that disastrous midterm result, the Republicans nevertheless remained potent; two years later, George H. W. Bush won the White House in a landslide. So yes, the GOP was strong—but so were the Democrats, controlling, as they did, both chambers of Congress. Politics is like that: Someone is always gaining on you, or at least, desperately trying to.
So yes, it’s possible that Trump Republicans could face some tough midterms—perhaps in 2018, more likely, in 2022.
So what’s the answer? There’s only one answer.
3. The Overprotection Solution
There’s an interesting concept from the game of chess that proves useful in politics: It’s called overprotecting your position. That is, if you’re playing chess, and you’re not quite sure what to do, it’s almost always a good idea to build up your position in the center of the board. That is, buttress your pawn structure with a knight, or a bishop, or a rook.
That’s because in chess, as in most things, the center is the most important space: It’s the crossroads, it’s where most of the action will be found. Thus the injunction: Protect, even overprotect, your position, and you’ll be better able to deal with whatever comes next.
And so, too, with politics. The center is important, because that’s where the most votes are. So if a party controls the center, it will control the most votes, and thus the most political offices.
Thus it’s control of the center that enables a party to withstand the storm. To illustrate this point, we might consider the Democrats of yore. Back in the middle of the last century, Democrats were a motley crew: they had Northern liberals, and Southern conservatives; they had Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. And while the various Democratic factions might not always have liked each other very much, they liked power more, and so they stuck together, because unity is strength.
Yet even so, the Democrats went through severe political storms. In the 1938 midterms, House Democrats lost a stunning 78 seats. And in the 1942 midterms, they lost another 45. Those were staggering losses!
But here’s something interesting: Even after those two devastating midterms, the Democrats were still in charge. Yes, when the 78th Congress convened in January 1943, it was House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Democrat of Texas, who was bringing down the gavel.
And how did this happen? How did the Democratic majority survive? Answer: mathematics—the happy math of having won so many earlier elections.
Here’s how it went: In the early-to-mid 1930s, in response to both Herbert Hoover’s Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the House Democrats had built up a monster majority. Crucially, while they took firm control of the House after the 1932 election, they kept going and going, adding more seats in the 1934 election—it’s almost unheard of for a party to gain seats in a midterm—and then added still more during FDR’s massive (46 out of 48 states) 1936 re-election. Thus it was that in the 75th Congress, which first met in January 1937, the Democratic majority had soared to more than 350, including allied third parties.
So that’s how the Democrats could survive those deep losses in ’38 and ’42. They had built themselves a big fat cushion.
Indeed, in the 62 years from 1932 to 1994, the Democrats held a majority in the House for all but four of those years. Now that’s domination! That’s the sort of political success that a party gets when it has a strong apparatus, including a deep bench.
Now to Trump and the Republicans today. As we think about GOP strength, we must ask ourselves: Are we there yet?
And the answer, alas, is “no”—at least not yet.
So as we can see, there’s more work to be done. To keep our majority, we need a big majority, a growing majority, and a replenished majority. That’s how Republicans will be able to absorb the inevitable losses that come along the way.
So how to build such an enduring majority? We’ll get to that next.
Next: Earning that majority.