We may well be at a political tipping point that could mark a dramatic change in American politics.
After decades of Democratic Party dominance that began with the formation of the New Deal coalition, Ronald Reagan ushered in an era of relative party parity. But a deep fracture in the GOP, combined with crucial demographic changes — among Hispanics and Asians, of course, but even more importantly among younger voters — could be about to change that.
If that change is under way, it would confirm the analysis of the late journalist and political analyst Samuel Lubell, who wrote in his award-winning book “The Future of American Politics” (1952), “We find relatively few periods when the major parties were closely competitive, with elections alternating between one and the other. The usual pattern has been that of a dominant majority party, which stayed in office as long as its elements held together, and a minority party which gained power only when the majority coalition split.”
The current Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which owes its existence to the results of the 2010 elections, should not obscure what is happening around the country: The party is at risk of reverting to minority status.
If this happens, it would not mean that Republicans could never win elections — Dwight D. Eisenhower won the White House in 1952 and 1956 — and it certainly would not mean that the GOP can’t win the presidency in 2016. But it does suggest that — unless the party changes its current trajectory — Republican successes will depend primarily on Democratic failures.
The split in the GOP between “establishment conservatives,” who see compromise as a necessary part of government, and “anti- establishment conservatives,” for whom compromise is akin to caving in to opponents, obviously has damaged the party during the past four years. And there is no end in sight to the infighting.
Republicans have looked divided, extreme and inept, and the “anti-establishment” wing of the party has often seemed more interested in defeating establishment Republicans in primaries than in defeating Democrats in the fall.
I was surprised recently when a veteran Republican operative who has no love lost for Democrats or liberals told me that his party would be better off without the gerrymandered control of the House.
His reason was that too many House districts have produced GOP members of Congress who don’t need to appeal to swing voters and don’t even care about the political views of independents and ticket-splitters. His party, he argued, would be better off with more members of Congress who understood the need to appeal to a broad array of constituents.
But if Republican infighting is a problem for party leaders and damages the Republican brand, the long-term demographic trend favoring Democrats is potentially disastrous for the GOP.
Yes, there is plenty of reason for Republican strategists to be concerned about Hispanic and Asian voting patterns and trends, but party leaders can’t afford to ignore what has happened with younger voters.