Democrats are bitterly disappointed with the 2016 election, not just because of Donald Trump’s stunning victory over Hillary Clinton, but because they truly believed their Demographic Doomsday Clock had granted them perpetual power.
Their clock was clearly described in a 2002 book called The Emerging Democratic Majority, by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. It made a huge splash among Democrats despondent over the election of George W. Bush in 2000, because it argued that shifting demographic trends – to put it bluntly, the inflow of immigrants and the collapse of the white middle class – would soon ensure a permanent Democratic lock on federal power.
There was more to the book’s thesis than “growing percentages of black and Hispanic voters will destroy Republican presidential hopes forever,” but that’s how many readers on both the Left and Right understood it.
For example, just after the 2012 election, Howard Fineman and his Huffington Post readers believed their Demographic Doomsday Clock had finally rung the end of GOP power. “President Barack Obama did not just win reelection tonight. His victory signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition,” he wrote.
Fineman backed his end-times triumphalism by quoting GOP strategist Steve Schmidt: “It’s a catastrophe … this will have to be, the last time that the Republican Party tries to win this way.”
Obama won re-election because of a “New America,” Fineman wrote. This coalition “spoke for and about him,” including “a good share of the white vote (about 45 percent in Ohio, for example); 70 percent or so of the Latino vote across the country, according to experts; 96 percent of the African-American vote; and large proportions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Fast-forward to 2016, and, well: President Donald Trump, who ran on an immigration platform that sent New America triumphalists to their fainting couches, and he leads a Republican Party stronger than it has been in a century.
The supposedly inevitable Democratic leaders are almost an endangered species, everywhere from the federal government to state houses. (Hopefully Republicans are smart enough not to fall into the same trap and start believing that’s a permanent condition.)
But the thing is, as longtime Emerging Democratic Majority critic Sean Trende argued at RealClearPolitics this week, Judis and Teixeira didn’t write a prescription for minority voters marching in lockstep under the Democrat banner declaring political checkmate. They were aware of the relative size of the white electorate, and they envisioned a center-left coalition that could loop in professional whites and government employees. (Making the government bigger and richer, so it can hire or contract with people who develop both fiscal and cultural interests in voting for even bigger government, is a fairly effective design for a political perpetual-motion machine.)
Instead, the Democrats rushed forward, swung hard Left, and the polemicists who followed in Judis and Teixeira’s footsteps forgot everything in the book except the part about growing minority populations.
Trende zings them for mistaking Barack Obama’s unusual political career as a massive “realignment,” when in fact Obama actually destroyed the Democratic Party as an institution, by any objective measure. A great many Democrat electoral losses can be traced directly to Obama and his end-times progressive policies. The resulting hunger for change in 2016 was so loud that only Hillary Clinton and her campaign team (which includes much of the mainstream media, of course) failed to hear it. Democrats dismissed the 2010 and 2014 midterms as anomalies, when they should have seen them as hard evidence that no great realignment had taken place.
Trump’s performance with black and Hispanic voters shocked the media, but it really shouldn’t have, because what he actually says to those constituencies is very, very different from the xenophobic media caricature of him.
For example, NBC News sputtered that Trump, “who called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and ‘killers,’” was able to win more support from Hispanics than Mitt Romney, “a candidate whose most controversial position was telling undocumented immigrants to ‘self-deport.’” Trump did not call all Mexicans rapists and killers, and that won’t become true no matter how often the media lazily tosses it off as a caricature. A good number of Hispanic voters heard what Trump was actually saying, understood his argument that their physical and economic security was threatened by madcap Democrat immigration and crime policies, and many liked what he said.
Not only is the Hispanic vote trending slowly more Republican, especially for those who don’t live in big cities, but this whole business of scaring them into voting Democrat by slandering Republicans as racist ogres was bound to get old eventually. It’s interesting to watch it approach its sell-by date against a candidate slandered more vigorously than any other.
Meanwhile, white voters grew tired of race-baiting a long time ago, especially those living in the traditionally “blue” areas Trump stunned Democrats by winning in 2016. There is a point at which any given group of people will grow weary of being told they’re the source of all problems, no matter how much guilt the cultural and educational rackets pump into them.
Some jeered at evangelical voters for swinging to Trump in the GOP primary, but it’s really quite simple: eight years of government-backed progressive proselytization convinced them they needed a strong protector, and they saw one in Trump. Put the evangelicals and Rust Belt working class together, add a few Latinos who want to be fully American, and you’ve got a big enough monkey wrench to wreck that Democratic Demographic Doomsday Machine for a long time to come.
Things can change fast in politics. One presidential term can be an eternity. But from where we sit today, 2016 looks like much more than a temporary setback for Democrats. Surveying the wreckage at the Wall Street Journal, Reid Epstein and Janet Hook argue that Democrats haven’t run a presidential nominee who could “connect with the working class” since Bill Clinton, and Democrats’ “white working-class bass has deteriorated with the diminishing ranks of organized labor,” which in turn isn’t as solidly Democrat as it used to be. In this analysis, Barack Obama was not a herald of realignment, but a political anomaly whose coalition didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton… and might not even have turned out again for him, if he’d been allowed to run for a third term.
Trump has now shouldered open political doors the Republican Party can continue moving through.
Economic vitality is essential, especially job growth, and most especially rising wages. The proverbial rising tide lifts all boats, but if Trump can show minority voters how his rising tide lifted their boats, improving both the quantity and quality of American jobs, 2020 could be an even more devastating election for Democrats.
Democrats likely will double down on the divisive rhetoric and panicked shrieking for the next four years. That’s what they do. Trump can swat all of that aside by showing working-class whites and minorities that he made their lives better. Such economic success would go a long way toward correcting the “gender gap” as well, and that’s another demographic imbalance it looks like Democrats require for their continued political survival.
The important demographic lesson here is that Democrats are the ones vulnerable to small political shifts in key demographics. They need overwhelming majorities from their preferred constituencies to win. They can’t do it with tactics that alienate the white middle class, and they can’t survive even fairly modest Republican gains in minority communities.
The Republican Party should push aggressively through the doors that Donald Trump opened for them, seeking opportunities everywhere from the forgotten Midwest to the inner city. Trump won in places where Republicans weren’t supposed to have a chance. It’s time for them to take some more chances, and to chuck the Democrats’ Demographic Doomsday Clock into history’s trash bin.