Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Democrat Partisan Realignment

Sometime early this morning it dawned on me that the Democrats are consolidating a partisan realignment in American politics. It's not a full realignment --- the party would need unified control of Congress for that --- but the demographic shifts are so substantive, and the Tuesday victory so decisive, that there's no doubt that some tectonic movement is at work in today's polity.

So cruising around the web today I've seen folks hinting at a realignment here and there. Mostly it's in the raft of horrible dread that's been plaguing movement conservatives, which I noticed first on Twitter and then more lastingly at Memeorandum. Among those found in the latter category is Ross Douthat's piece at Campaign Stops, "The Obama Realignment":
When you do it once, it’s just a victory. When you do it twice, it’s a realignment.

The coalition that Barack Obama put together to win the presidency handily in 2008 looked a lot like the emerging Democratic majority that optimistic liberals had been discerning on the political horizon since the 1990s. It was the late George McGovern’s losing coalition from 1972 finally come of age: Young voters, the unmarried, African-Americans, Hispanics, the liberal professional class – and then more than enough of the party’s old blue collar base to hold the Rust Belt for the Democrats.

But 2008 was also a unique political moment, when George W. Bush’s immense unpopularity was compounded by a financial collapse, and when the possibility of electing the country’s first black president fired the imagination of the nation (and the nation’s press corps). So it was still possible to regard the Obama majority of ’08 as more flukish than transformative – or at the very least, to see it as a fragile thing, easily shattered by poor choices and adverse developments.

There were plenty of both during the president’s first term....

But the lesson of the election is that the Obama coalition was truly vulnerable only to a Republican Party that took Obama seriously as an opponent – that understood how his majority had been built, why voters had joined it and why the conservative majority of the Reagan and Bush eras had unraveled.

Such understanding eluded the Republicans this year. In part, that failure can be blamed on their standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, who mostly ran as a kind of vanilla Republican instead of showing the imagination necessary to reinvent his party for a new era. Romney’s final month of campaigning was nearly flawless, though. His debate performances were the best by any Republican since Reagan and he will go down in history as one of the few losing challengers to claim a late lead in the polls. A weak nominee in many ways, he was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn’t particularly want to be reinvented, preferring to believe that the rhetoric and positioning of 1980 and 1984 could win again in the America of 2012.
Read the whole thing.

Interestingly, that's exactly my argument, that Romney ran a flawed campaign for most of the year but came on like lightning in the last month. It was very close in the end, but the Democrats outperformed all expectations, and that's after Obama got some political wind at his back ---- really big wind, in fact ---- from Hurricane Sandy.

And the part about not understanding the nature of the Obama beast echoes Jonathan Tobin's penetrating comments from last night.

But the real test of realigning elections --- and realignment theory --- is historical sweep. Folks might be awestruck now at the commanding Democrat victory last night, but the proof of partisan hegemony comes in future elections. The New Deal Coalition that began with FDR's 1932 election lasted nearly uninterrupted until 1968. Only Eisenhower's two terms in the 1950s punctuated nearly 35 years of Democrat Party dominance of the executive branch. And it wasn't until the GOP took majorities in both chambers of Congress in 1994 that the Democrats' half-century legislative dominance was crushed. I'll have more on the demographics of the vote in the next few days. There's no doubt that the share of the conservative white ethnic vote is declining as a powerful force in the overall electorate. An urban progressive voter-of-color coalition has propelled the Democrats to a second term in the White House. It's simply astonishing to so many, and literally soul-crushing for movement conservatives. But it is what it is. There are cycles in American politics, so I'm not one to lose faith whatsoever. The political and economic system literally can't sustain for long the kind of policies the Obama administration has been pushing. The outstanding debt alone is now more than 100 percent of GDP. These are systemic changes to the political economy and the bills are going to come due. Democrats won't be able to deal with them effectively. Conservative realists of the tea party stripe are the only ones currently grasping the enormity of the situation, and people like this made some good showings in yesterday's results. I'll have more on some of those local deviations from the Democrat juggernaut later. The key thing will be whether Obama indeed moderates his extreme partisanship and works cooperatively to solve problems. He needs to be more like Bill Clinton than Franklin Roosevelt. If he's able to shift the party toward rational macroeconomic reforms he'll perhaps pave the way to greater economic prosperity for the nation and another term or two for the Democrats at the helm of the executive branch. This is bitter tonic for conservatives to swallow. But it's going to take a midterm election cycle before folks on the right will have a real sense of where they stand in this new landscape of Democrat consolidation. Tuesday's election was historic. But it wasn't the first time that the ground gave way beneath the parties. Things could well swing back toward the Republicans, sooner rather than later.

More on all of this later...