Posted by: Chris | February 27, 2012

Why the GOP Lost the 2012 Election

Engaging in some premature extrapolation, John Heilemann performs an autoposy avante morte on the GOP’s 2012 electoral defeat in a recent New York magazine article.  I suspect, upon reflection, that this article will feel very mid-February, but for now it serves as an entertaining synopsis of the race up to this point and I definitely encourage a read.

More interesting, Jon Chait’s accompanying piece on the Republican’s growing demographic problems tangentially corresponds with our own Skowronek-based predictions on the future of American presidential politics:

The modern GOP, the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a natural-majority coalition for Democrats…

Now, there are two points to keep in mind about the emerging Democratic majority. The first is that no coalition is permanent. One party can build a majority, but eventually the minority learns to adapt to an altered landscape, and parity returns. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP. Bill Clinton appropriated some elements of this conservative coalition by rehabilitating his party’s image on welfare and crime (though he had a little help from Ross Perot, too). But it wasn’t until Obama was elected that a Democratic president could claim to be the leader of a true majority party…

[T]he expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition, to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation…

If Heilemann is correct and Rick Santorum* loses in November, then you can be sure that the chatteing classes will be all abuzz about the inevitable disintegration of the Republican party.  But, as Skowronek argues, these circumstances need to be put in perspective.  Looking at political parties in analogous positions in political time, one notices that parties tend neither to fall apart nor upon each other but to cling ever closer to the former orthodoxies as the only pole to prop up the organization and provide it cohesion.  Of course, this process involves sloughing off of adherents to the opposition and, as Skowronek notes, parties in this position tend to elect visionless technocrats removed from the party, provided they kowtown sufficiently to the regnant golden calfs (their lack of ambition or a lengthy political history manages to assuage both the faithful and the median voter).

Instead, as Chait alludes, it is parties in the Democrats’ position that typically experience party-wrenching change.  Expect to see more of this nature as Obama’s (predicted) second term gives way and especially in the current president’s wake.  This is probably the key point where my sense of things diverges from Chait’s.  He seems to think that Obama is the embodiment of the new Democratic party, rather than its vanguard.  We have been down this road before, but I think, given Skowronek, that I am on stable ground on that point.

Finally, on a related note, I encountered this speech on CSPAN while driving last night.  He played up the identity politics angle pretty heavily, emphasizing that the President is engaged in “anti-religious and anti-American bigotry,” amongst other farcical sins.  I am not sure if it fits better with the Corey Robin thread or the Newt is fundamentally unconservative thread, but ouroburos(!) all the same.

*The triple down!


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