Sean's starting point is the 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, by John Judis and Rudy Teixiera, which had as its thesis that a Democratic party employing "progressive centrism" could capitalize on demographic trends and establish long-term political dominance. As Trende describes it:
Progressive centrism was never thoroughly fleshed out, but the basic idea was to combine the goals of populism—harnessing the power of government to do good for the “little guy”—with the New Democrats’ recognition of markets as a powerful tool for achieving those goals. Combined with an incrementalist approach, Judis and Teixeira argued, Democrats would form a new majority coalition. This coalition would be an expansion of the old “McGovern” coalition, and would consist of working-class whites, women, African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as professional whites living in what they called “ideopolises” – high-tech areas filled with state employees and professional workers.From an analytical perspective, Trende is sympathetic to this thesis:
This was mostly sensible, and certainly all very defensible. If this “soft” view of the Emerging Democratic Majority had prevailed, I probably would not have spent a good portion of the past eight years arguing against it. Changing demographics are absolutely an issue for Republicans to contend with, and if Democrats had stuck to the “progressive centrism” playbook, they could have built a powerful coalition indeed.He then proceeds to give us his opinion as to why the "hard" version of this theory that prevailed among Democrats over the past decade has proven to be a failure; a failure masked by the personal popularity of Barack Obama, but the trend since 2008 is unmistakable. Democrats have lost twelve Senate seats, sixty House seats, fifteen governorships, almost 1,000 state legislators and had Hillary Clinton beaten by Donald Trump (I still can't believe I'm writing that last phrase); all this to a Republican Party that itself is in disarray. Some excerpts (the whole article is worth reading):
It’s not just that Republicans have now won four of seven elections since the book was published, although that is, as we would sometimes note dryly when I practiced law, a “bad fact.” It’s more that it is very difficult to shoehorn into the theory this election of a 70-year-old white male with a policy portfolio that is basically the antithesis of what the “Emerging Democratic Majority” recommended. It is even more difficult to do so given that Donald Trump won in the most racially diverse electorate in American history.I think Trende is also on point in discussing how Trump, a tawdry and troubling figure, obtained such a high percentage from white Evangelical voters, who gave him a higher total number of votes than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined:
Part of the problem is that the theoretical underpinnings for “The Emerging Democratic Majority” are rickety at best. Much of what is today thought of as an obvious period of Democratic or Republican dominance now looks more to me like random chance. Contingency drives elections, not “history.”
Analysts should have been skeptical of the Emerging Democratic Majority thesis because the party dominance that proponents of the theory – especially of the “hard” version of the theory – were suggesting was essentially unprecedented in American history. That doesn’t mean that something like that couldn’t happen, or that it can’t happen in the future. It just means that we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t.
The major theme of my book is that all party coalitions fall apart because, well, governing is hard and it inevitably forces parties to choose among members of their coalition. More importantly – and this is where I think realignment theory isn’t just wrong but also counterproductive – parties see their wins as a sign that they’ve finally “won” at politics. But this hubristic take is always wrong, and usually destructive.
I have little doubt that a belief that demographics would save them at the presidential level led Democrats to take a number of steps that they will soon regret, from going nuclear on the filibuster to aggressive uses of executive authority. But one thing deserves special attention. A good deal of e-ink has been spilled describing the ways in which the culturally superior attitudes of the left drove Trumpism. This too, I think, derived from a belief that history had a side and that progressives were on it, combined with a lack of appreciation of just how many culturally traditionalist voters there are in this country.
. . . you may wonder why this group voted in historic numbers for a man like Trump. Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are hypocrites. Perhaps they are merely partisans. But I will make a further suggestion: They are scared.On top of the actions taken and advocated by progressives, their hostile and condescending attitudes backfired. Trende quotes the eye-brow raising remarks of Harvard Law School professor Mark Tushnet, as big a progressive as his former colleague, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cherokee Nation):
Consider that over the course of the past few years, Democrats and liberals have: booed the inclusion of God in their platform at the 2012 convention (this is disputed, but it is the perception); endorsed a regulation that would allow transgendered students to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to their identity; attempted to force small businesses to cover drugs they believe induce abortions; attempted to force nuns to provide contraceptive coverage; forced Brendan Eich to step down as chief executive officer of Mozilla due to his opposition to marriage equality; fined a small Christian bakery over $140,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding**; vigorously opposed a law in Indiana that would provide protections against similar regulations – despite having overwhelmingly supported similar laws when they protected Native American religious rights – and then scoured the Indiana countryside trying to find a business that would be affected by the law before settling upon a small pizza place in the middle of nowhere and harassing the owners. In 2015, the United States solicitor general suggested that churches might lose their tax exempt status if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. In 2016, the Democratic nominee endorsed repealing the Hyde Amendment, thereby endorsing federal funding for elective abortions.
"The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. . . . For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won."As Trende dryly remarks:
Perhaps comparing evangelicals to the Japanese in World War II was a bit much, and helped push evangelicals into a defensive crouch. Before my Democratic friends warm up their keyboards to protest “but we’re correct,” let me say that on some of these issues I agree with you! My point here is descriptive, not prescriptive. An aggressive approach to the culture wars and the sneering condescension of the Samantha Bees and John Olivers of the world may be warranted, but it also probably cost liberals their best chance in a generation to take control of the Supreme Court.He closes by cautioning those on the other side not to over read the long-term implications of Trump's unexpected victory. Remember Karl Rove in the early Bush administration predicting a permanent Republican majority?
** In a grace note for voter sanity, a Democrat lost a statewide race in progressive Oregon for the first time in 14 years, when Republican Dennis Richardson beat Democrat Brad Avakian for Secretary of State. Avakian promised in his campaign to use his office to pursue the progressive agenda. Avakian is also the bureaucrat at the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries who persecuted Sweetcakes by Melissa, a bakery operated by Melissa and Aaron Klein, Christians who politely declined to bake a specialty cake for a lesbian wedding. The Kleins, who had many gay customers, "believed that by participating in the wedding ceremony, they were condoning the marriage, which conflicted with their Christian beliefs". A vindictive Avakian imposed $144,000 in fines on the couple, bankrupting the business. Aaron Klein is working as a garbage truck driver to support the family.