The “Emerging Democratic Majority” Theory Goes Bust

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Berra, as only he can, put an inadvertently absurdist twist to a fundamental truth. Predictions are hard because the future is malleable. Nowhere is this more true than the world of politics, where parties, prognosticators and pundits all love to predict the future fate of our two-party system.

Perhaps most famous is John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which predicted that the Democratic Party would knit together progressive’s populism with the New Democrats’ recognition of markets into a new majority coalition that would go unchallenged for decades.

Republicans are not immune from similar ideas. No less a political genius than Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s electoral strategy, believed that he could use the levers of government to stoke a political realignment that would give Republicans a lasting majority. By pursuing a legislative agenda, he believed, consisting of audacious policies that would appeal to some core Democrat supporters, Republicans could build an unstoppable coalition.

Obviously, neither of these things happened. Frustration with Bush’s brash approach to policymaking, and inability to work with a Democratic Congress, led to Barack Obama’s election in 2008. And Obama’s willingness to forego bipartisan compromise in favor of bold executive unilateralism led to the utter decimation of the Democratic party, particularly at the state and local level. All told, more than 1,100 Democratic officeholders have been tossed out on their ear by voters who were fed up by the insufferable ivory-tower elitism of today’s progressives. Today’s Republican Party is in the strongest position it has been in since the 1920s.

But as Jonah Goldberg wrote for Townhall, real lesson here is that it’s just silly and presumptuous to attempt to understand which way the arc of history will bend.

“[History] doesn’t move in anything like a straight line,” he writes. “It zigs and zags and U-turns all the time. And there’s no telling how long any detour will last.”

Likewise, parties are not purely static entities, they evolve in ways that respond to the politics of the moment. Republicans successfully swept the 2010 midterms largely based on a reactive turn from President Obama’s overplayed policy hand.

Parties also devolve in completely unforeseeable ways. Take for instance, the Democrat’s recent evolution from a party of blue-collar populists to one of elitist ideologues clustered in coastal citadels who have lost touch with the struggles of everyday life. Presumably, this was Democrats’ attempt to appeal to the high-minded, multi-cultural experience of the Millennial Generation, and yet it came off as closed-minded, combative, and paternalistic. Liberalism, perhaps ironically, became the most illiberal of ideologies.

This sort of political decay seems inevitable when you rely solely on demography as destiny. As it happens, no demographic remains a reliable party-line voter when the party fundamentally changes beneath it. But that line of thinking fosters a sense of entitlement. A feeling that you can focus on niche issues of the fringe and ignore your base.

“You stop listening to those people, and 30 states from the Eastern Seaboard to the Western Slope go red,” Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster told the Wall Street Journal. “[Clinton] never had an economic message. And without an economic message, all that was left was experience which is like a pair of twos in poker: A winner until any other hand comes along.”

So what do Democrats need to do? Kimberley Strassel expresses her ideas in the Wall Street Journal:

What Democrats should realize, because everyone else does, is that voters rejected both their policies (which have undermined middle- and low-income families) and their governance (which has fueled rage at a power-hungry federal government). Hillary Clinton proposed more of the same. Coal workers said no. Blue-collar union workers said no. Suburban moms said no. Small businessmen, drowning under Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare, said no.

Instead Democrats think last week was an accident. Mrs. Clinton tells donors that she only lost because of FBI Director Jim Comey. Barack Obama faults Hillary’s tactics—she didn’t spend enough time in the right states. Michael Dukakis says Democrats only lost because of the Electoral College. Rachel Maddow blames third-party candidates.

Self-reflection would serve Democrats well. The future that they foresaw no longer exists. The electorate no longer looks like they assumed it would. They can keep on waiting for that permanent majority to be delivered at their feet, but in the long and winding arc of history, there’s no telling if or when that may be.