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2014: The Year the Democratic Party Death Watch Resumed


I’ve recently been counting down the top stories of the year, and there was no real competition for what should go in the #1 slot: it’s the Republican wave in the mid-term congressional elections—and, just as important, the unprecedented Republican wave in the statehouses, which may have an even greater impact over the long term.

We first began to get an idea that something big was happening when my own congressman, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, lost one of the country’s safest Republican seats to a low-budget primary challenger, Dave Brat, who challenged Cantor from the right. As I explained at the time:

Here’s my favorite Eric Cantor story. At the Republican Convention in 2008, I approached Cantor after an event, introduced myself as a constituent, and told him where I lived. It’s a tiny place, more of a wide spot in the road than an actual town, so this was partly a test to see how well Cantor knew his own district. I turns out that he did recognize the town, and to prove it, he started to tell me about how he had worked on getting us an earmark for a local Civil War battlefield park. An earmark, mind you, just after Republicans had officially renounced earmarks in an attempt to appease small-government types. Cantor suddenly realized this and literally stopped himself in mid-sentence. Then he hastily added: “But we don’t do that any more.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, was Eric Cantor: the soul of an establishment machine politician, with the “messaging” of the small-government conservatives grafted uneasily on top of it.

So yes, you can now tear up all those articles pronouncing the death of the Tea Party movement, because this is the essence of what the Tea Party is about: letting the establishment know that they have to do more than offer lip service to a small-government agenda, that we expect them to actually mean it.

So this was an indication that the swing to the right was so strong it could even take down insufficiently committed Republicans.

But this wasn’t just a vague, anti-establishment, throw-the-bums-out sentiment. It was directed much more strongly against Democrats and particularly against the president.

This is the year when the public began to give up on President Obama and concluded that he has been a failure as president. In September, I noted some revealing poll results.

A poll released last week had some pretty bad news for congressional Democrats heading into the midterm elections. But buried in the poll numbers was a figure that just might constitute an even more important turning point.

Respondents were asked: “On balance, do you feel that Obama’s presidency so far has been more of a success or more of a failure?” More than half, 52%, said “failure.” Only 42% said “success.” And it gets worse. Only 22% were “strongly” convinced Obama is a success, while 39% are strongly convinced he’s a failure. And the American people have pretty much made up their minds on this; only 6% of respondents had no clear opinion….

On behalf of long-time critics of Obama, let me say to the American people: welcome to our world.

I went on to count down all the valid reasons for marking Obama down as a failed president. Morning again in America this ain’t.

The loss of confidence in the president and his party is right on schedule. It tends to happen in an administration’s sixth year, as with George W. Bush. But Bush’s “shellacking” in the 2006 midterms also, ironically, contained the seeds of this year’s blowout, because Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid built their majority on inherently unstable foundations. I discussed how that strategy had its inevitable denouement this year.

It’s important to remember how Democrats bounced back in 2006, after my premature report of their demise: Nancy Pelosi went out and recruited a bunch of conservative Southern Democrats to run for seats in the House. You can see why that strategy ultimately failed. When they got to Washington, the role of these “conservative Democrats” was not to stand for the centrist policies they had campaigned on. Their role was to be foot soldiers for Pelosi and Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank and the rest of the far-left Democratic leadership. Their job was to lay down their political lives in order to cast partisan votes on legislation like ObamaCare.

The result was that most of these recruits got wiped out in 2010, and the last of them were mopped up this year.

There was a lot of crowing by Democrats in the past few election cycles that the Republicans were becoming a mere “regional party” that could only win majorities in the South. But the actual truth is that Democrats are being shut out of whole regions. This midterm election saw the defeat of the last white Southern Democrat in the House of Representatives. If Mary Landrieu loses her run-off in Louisiana [update: she lost], they will be extinct in the Senate, too.

What makes this all the more hopeful is the other electoral trend this year.

It’s not just that Republicans have a new crop of talented young politicians. It’s the fact that so many of them are from the three demographic groups on which Democrats have staked their future: blacks, Hispanic voters, and younger women.

That’s why it was so delicious to see Jon Stewart melting down over the new crop of Republican winners, who give the lie to the caricature of the Republicans as the party of old white men.

This gets us closer to the day I’ve been working toward, when questions about free markets and the welfare state are finally de-racialized, and the Democratic Party loses its death grip on these voting blocs.

But the rise of black and Hispanic Republicans is more of a future promise at this point. What is much more certain is the implications of the enormous Republican wave on the state level.

Republicans now hold both the governorship and legislative majorities in 23 states, 24 if Parnell pulls through in Alaska, which means that they have the ability to write their own agenda in nearly half the states in the union. Democrats can do the same in only seven states.

RCP’s David Byler puts that in perspective, showing how it reverses Democratic dominance at the state level through most of the 20th century, including up through the 1980s….

This has a big long-term impact because state and local governments are where rising young politicians gain experience, learn how to win elections and build a constituency, and establish the credentials they will use to rise to higher office. If Bill Clinton hadn’t been able to get elected as governor of Arkansas, for example, he would have had no basis to run for president. So just think how many young Democrats are now being shut out of the first steps of their political careers.

This election produced a whole roster of rising stars for the Republicans: Mia Love, Tim Scott, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, Elise Stefanik, and so on. Meanwhile, the Democrats had pinned their hopes on Wendy Davis’s campaign for governor of Texas. Instead, she went down to an ignominious defeat in one of the worst-run campaigns in the country, and Davis’s state Senate seat was taken by a Tea Party activist as Republicans continue their march toward a supermajority in the Texas legislature….

That leaves the Democrats with basically no younger generation of leaders emerging, while the party’s fate is increasingly dependent on a bunch of septuagenarians.

While some on the left are just now starting to realize how big a disaster this is, I went so far as to re-institute my Democratic Party Death Watch.

I am aware of the checkered history of predictions of a “permanent majority,” and I acknowledge that the two major parties’ fortunes could quickly change, as they have done quite recently, from a big Republican victory in 2004, to huge Republican defeats, and back to big Republican victories again.

I don’t think the Democratic Party is really going to die quite yet. That’s partly because its collectivist, big-government ideology still enjoys so many reserves of support in the universities, in the media, and in the entertainment industry. It’s also because political parties have a tendency to eventually adapt and change the way they present themselves to voters (as Bill Clinton briefly did for Democrats in the 1990s).

As for those reserves of support in big institutions, I suspect that the left has achieved such a high degree of saturation, particularly in Hollywood and the universities, that they have reached the point of diminishing returns. Any reversion to the mean—the current situation is by no means normal by historical standards—and the left risks losing these commanding heights of the culture.

As for the Democrats adapting their message to appeal to the voters—I think that is the most devastating implication of the Democratic wipeout on the state level. There have been a lot of calls recently to bring back the Truman Democrats. But where are you going to find them these days? They’ve all been voted out of office—or they chose to go into the Republican Party, instead.

It’s a lot harder to tack back to the center when all of your politicians represent urban, coastal districts with far-left constituents. Inside this far-left bubble, your rising political stars are rewarded for taking positions that antagonize the rest of the country while pandering to the sensibilities of the far left.

President Obama is one of those stars, and this is precisely how he has reacted to the electoral defeat—not by seeking to moderate his positions and find common ground with the new Republican Congress, but by immediately announcing a gift to his base, his unilateral, de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants.

President Obama’s recent rapprochement with the Castros’ Cuba, in which he is pushing for an end to our embargo, is another example. There is certainly an argument to be made that the embargo is ineffective, that Cuba no longer poses the urgent threat it did during the Cold War, and so on. But politically, there was only one faction that was agitating for this move: the far left, which still perversely treats Cuba like it’s some kind of workers’ paradise.

As for the rest of the country, the move rubs a lot of us the wrong way. As the joke goes, there’s an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon can go to China. Nixon could seek a rapprochement with Mao’s China (and use them as a counterbalance against the Russians) because he had a reputation as a fierce anti-Communist. Well, if only Nixon could go to Cuba, Barack Obama is no Nixon. As I observed last year, the essence of his foreign policy is the premise that America has all the wrong allies. So he has set out to downgrade our alliances with countries like Britain, Poland, and Israel, while seeking out friendly relations with Russia, Iran, and now Cuba. This is the worst context in which to pursue a loosening of the embargo.

While their top leader is devoting all of his effort making appeals to the base, Democrats are also getting a lot of terrible advice to abandon the South altogether.

This recently led Walter Russell Mead to describe Democrats as living in a cocoon: “Within the magic circle, liberal ideas have never been more firmly entrenched and less contested. Increasingly, liberals live in a world in which certain ideas are becoming ever more axiomatic and unquestioned even if, outside the walls, those same ideas often seem outlandish.” The same thing is happening politically. The Democrats have more and more leaders who can rest assured of perpetual re-election in safe left-leaning districts—but who regard rural areas and the South as alien territory.

What they don’t realize yet is that giving up on the South will affect them even within their own “bubble.” Writing off rural Southerners and making no effort to speak to them in a language that appeals to them will further alienate people in left-leaning “blue states” who sympathize with traditional values and ideals like self-reliance. This is similar to my observation about the “Reverse Southern Strategy.” By making race-baiting the centerpiece of their electoral strategy, the Democrats hope to keep their death grip on the minority vote—yet this is offset by an accelerating exodus of blue-collar whites to the Republicans. Similarly, by doubling down on contempt for the South and for traditional American values, Democrats accelerate the exodus of their old blue-collar base in the cities.

Consider, for example, the current predicament of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. A lifelong advocate for the far left, de Blasio responded to street protests over the police killing of Eric Garner by expressing sympathy for the protests and seeming to take their side against the police. Then a black Muslim career criminal decided to take revenge for Garner—and act on the protesters’ most inflammatory rhetoric—by ambushing and killing two New York City police. The police are now practically in revolt against the mayor and it is possible he will be forced to resign.

So far, though, the Democrats seem to be heedless of the costs of betting everything on the far-left base while driving away their own blue-collar and middle class constituents. This is a big story to look for in the next year, and especially in 2016.

The Democratic Party Death Watch is definitely back on.

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