We have largely come to accept that our political parties are ideologically driven and geographically aligned. Yet, only a short time ago these stark divisions did not exist.
The 1994 wave election marked the beginning of a Neo-Confederate renaissance that has redrawn our political maps. Look back only twenty years and the shape of American politics is nearly unrecognizable today.
Twenty years ago Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and New York had Republican Governors. The party’s most prominent figure was Jack Kemp. Half of the nation’s ten largest cities had Republican mayors, including New York City and Los Angeles.
There were only three or four states that either party could always count on winning in a Presidential election. There were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Neither party was entirely aligned on almost any issue.
Now Republicans hold the mayor’s office in only four of the country’s thirty largest cities. The South is Republican from top to bottom, but the country’s major economic and population centers are solidly Democratic. Our politics is now defined almost entirely by geography and demographics – a dangerous division not seen since the 19th century.
Barring some remarkable occurrence in the next few months, we are about to have our first Presidential election in which the outcome is determined by demographics before the candidates are even selected. We have had plenty of blow-out elections, but that isn’t what we’re facing in 2016.
Candidates in the coming election will probably be separated by less than six or seven percentage points, yet the outcome is not in doubt. In only twenty years the GOP has entirely lost the ability to influence national policy.
Republicans’ Neo-Confederate makeover has given us serious clout in the South and in rural areas, but that appeal is too narrow to allow us to compete for the Electoral College. The Blue Wall of reliably Democratic states means that no credible Republican candidate has a chance at the White House. If things shape up as expected, we may in 2016 see a disturbingly large delta between the popular vote and the Electoral College.
It isn’t clear how this situation can be reversed. If Republican politicians can earn a living winning state and local elections in the South and the rural Midwest they may cease to care what happens in Washington. The losers in the culture war seem content to retreat to Alabama. Until they are dislodged by changing demographics, we may remain geographically divided in a manner less red or blue than blue and gray.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had near-total one-party dominance at the federal level, it’s just the first time in living memory. The same thing was true from the end of Reconstruction until the 1932 election, but with the party identities switched. (Technically, it was true from the 1860 election until 1932, but the three presidential elections 1860, 1864 and 1868 were anomalous for obvious reasons).
Starting in 1872, the country had 15 presidential elections before the game-changing 1932 election. Republicans won 11 of those. The Democratic victories featured two very narrow wins by Grover Cleveland and two wins by Woodrow Wilson. Cleveland was practically a Republican with the wrong party label, being very pro-business and downplaying all of the issues that normally came from Democratic candidates. He just barely won, then lost his reelection bid, then barely won again. Wilson should have lost. The only reason he won is because of one of the coolest stories in U.S. election history.
Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, succeeded William McKinley in the White House in 1901 after McKinley was assassinated. As that was in the early months of the first year of McKinley’s second term, for all practical purposes it was actually Roosevelt’s first term. He was reelected in 1904, being immensely popular. He decided not to run again in 1908 (today, of course, he wouldn’t have been allowed to). Dissatisfied with the presidency of Taft, Roosevelt ran for president again in 1912. He won most of the primaries but the GOP machine gave the nod to Taft instead. TR stormed out of the Republican convention, taking his delegates with him, and ran on a third party ticket, founding the Progressive party, popularly known as the Bull Moose party. Between them, Roosevelt and Taft won more general-election votes than Wilson by a wide margin, but because they divided the Republican vote, Wilson gained an electoral college majority.Wilson was reelected in 1916 mostly on the strength of having kept the U.S. out of World War I — and then promptly took us into it. (Lyndon Johnson would do something similar in 1964-65.)
Aside from those four anomalies, all presidential elections during this period were decided in the Republican nominating process. No Democrat stood any realistic chance. If you want to see the consequences in terms of political activity, legislation, foreign policy, etc. we do have history to guide us, although in many other respects that was a different world.
Brian, I always learn something from your posts. Thanks for the history lessons!
John, Here’s a few thoughts that parallels your posts:
(1) initiate public funding for elections
(2) change the length of Congressional terms, say, 4 yr for House, 6 yr for Senate
(3) change the electoral process nationwide
(4) eliminate state legislative control of electoral districts in favor of independent bi-partisan commissions at the state level
(5) Revise the filibuster threshold for judicial nominees
(6) initiate mail-in ballots in all states as option to voting at polls
(7) eliminate Citizens United political non-profits
(8) require all votes to be roll call – no “voice” voting
(9) mandate up or down votes within 30 days or less for all Presidential authorizations for military action
(10)amend Constitution to require automatic dismissal of any member of Congress convicted of a felony.
And, that’s just off the top of my head. It could be a very long list but this would be a great start. A girl can dream, right?
I think #2 would be a great benefit to this country. It might put an end to the perpetual campaign, which I think is possibly the single biggest problem with American politics next to the problem of funding (I’m a fan of #1 too).
You are a dreamer 1mime! That list would be great, but a lot of the things on it would require constitutional amendments (#2, 3, 4, 7, 10, at least), which is a pretty daunting threshold.
So? If the Vox article is correct, we may be looking at an opportunity any time now to shape a whole new system of governance in America. I’m just collecting my thoughts so I’m ready (-;
It can be tempting to have very short limits on congressional terms but keep in mind there is a trade-off, the longer they are in office the more experience they have. Short terms means that while the new people may be more genuine they will be much more ineffectual. Essentially four years may be too long for a bad congressman but is way too short for a potentially good one.
Griffin, what I am suggesting is to “lengthen” terms for the very good reason you stated – allow people to put their expertise to work for the people. House members are constantly running as their current two year terms necessitate. I’d rather they spend more time legislating and less time fundraising. Same with Senators who I feel are typically (tho not always as we can see with likes of Ted Cruz) more “seasoned”, broader thinking individuals. I’d extend their 4 year terms to six year terms. I’m not so worried about the bad apples. We’ll always have them. But I agree with you completely that experience counts even tho I think 30 years is a stretch (-:
Does that make sense to you?
I’m not sure I buy the idea that the GOP has no influence over national policy. They clearly do, or at least they would, if the party were itself not so profoundly dysfunctional. It will be interesting to see what the party burns its political capital on over the next two years. Even with filibuster power (which is lately being challenged) the GOP could at least present reasonable legislation to address various things like infrastructure and the like. It’s simply not sensible to believe there is nothing the GOP and the Dems could agree on. If the GOP fixates solely on immigration or repealing the ACA, then we’re probably in for some Congressional constipation.
Anse, there are many issues of common agreement, but Repubs are loathe to allow any constructive legislation to be passed during a Dem Presidency that will upset the GOP 2016 tea cart. Remember the Republican health plan that was the model for the ACA? Infrastructure, duh? Tax reform? – O has offered many times to work with them on this. Immigration reform – remember the bi-partisan Senate bill passed over a year ago?
And, as noted earlier in the Hill post – Repubs have complained loudly and long about how impotent O’s foreign policy is (despite the fact that America has had a relatively safe run for the last 6 years), and they complain that he goes around them when he has the temerity to try diplomacy instead of military force….then they do NOTHING for over 30 days about his formally tendered Authorization to use Force proposal to combat ISIL!
Geography and demographics aside, I’m concerned about the here and now of this Republican Congress. We’re so focused (understandably) on the crazy things the GOP IS doing, that we’re not paying enough attention to what they are “NOT” doing.
(The Hill, Juan Williams) “It is close to a month since the President sent Congress a draft bill that would authorize him to fight the terror group known variously as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS or ISIL.
Congress has failed to vote or even debate it.
There has been nothing close to Congressional debate. Instead, senators and members of Congress, specifically Republican hawks, appear on television to condemn the President and call for more action — more bombs, more troops, a more clear strategy for killing the terrorists. But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, there is no urgent vote on the president’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).
The failure to act is astonishing for its lack of logic. Top Republicans say they oppose the proposal because the president is not giving himself enough power to fight the terrorists.”
BECAUSE THE PRESIDENT IS NOT GIVING HIMSELF ENOUGH POWER TO FIGHT TERRORISTS!!!!!
What can I say?
And, this inaction: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/transportation/234273-on-infrastructure-we-cant-wait-any-longer
But the GOP has plenty of time to develop a transition plan when their friendly SCOTUS overturns the ACA which they firmly believe is in the cards: ” Their first idea – which they say is their top priority – is giving people money to help them “keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period.”
“It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year,” they wrote. The senators do not say how the “financial help” would differ from the current tax credits under ObamaCare.
Or, to endanger the Constitutional safety net on revenue legislation by a possible use of the nuclear option to bypass Democratic opposition to an amended Homeland Security bill.
So this is how Republicans govern.
I don’t think the Supremes are going to overturn the subsidy thing. The wording in the law is poor, for sure, but having validated the law itself, I don’t see them basically yanking out a crucial plank because the wording is unclear.
You have your head on straight, John, so your opinion is valuable to me and others who post here. If SCOTUS does not do GOP bidding on the ACA, there are still problems within the act that need to be resolved and require cooperation between Congress and O. One can only hope that eventually, the GOP will do the right thing. Frankly, their governance so far is even worse than I expected, and, believe me, I didn’t have the bar set very high.
Ignoring Obama’s request for military authorization to address ISIL is amazing given all the noise they make about how poor O’s Commander in Chief role has been. Ignoring our crumbling infrastructure is unforgivable. Milking the immigration issue through subterfuge and hysteria is damaging and taking up valuable legislative time. Obama can handle the attacks; America may not be able to handle the neglect of the nation’s business.
Here’s what really bothers me. In their effort to continuously make O look bad, they have harmed American security, badly slowed economic recovery, and added significantly to a more polarized nation. Pragmatism has been ignored. Common sense has been absent. Vitriol has been present in large doses. America is losing valuable time to rebuild following a devastating economic event and people are hurting.
I’m not henny penny but I am concerned with the fragmentation of America.
Thanks, 1mime. The SCOTUS is not entirely a partisan body. Yes, Scalia can be counted on to rule with the conservative side most (all?) of the time, but we’ve already seen them telegraph their decidedly unconservative ruling on gay marriage. If they wanted to toss the ACA, I think they would have already done it.
I do agree that Congress needs to get its act together soon and actually take action on some of the problems that can be fixed, with the ACA and everything else.
As a complete aside, I somewhat subconsciously used the word “telegraph” in the last comment, in the sense of giving a prediction of the future. When was the last time someone sent a telegraph? 50 years? More? It’s interesting how some words stick in the language. Bill Bryson has an awesome book on language quirks and trends in this country (Made in America).
It seems to me that the simplest ruling would be: Hey Congress, you have the means to fix that wording issue, you’ve done it before with other bills, so why don’t you just do your jobs and not take it to us?
Fly, the research I have seen indicates it would require four (4) words be added. Evidently, that is too heavy a lift, but, the GOP would lose all the benefit of hate mongering to their base.
I guess I am an innate worrier, but the conservative members on this Supreme Court have been so openly political that I have lost all confidence in them to do the “right” thing, constitutionally. I hope JG is correct and I am a worry wart.
They do not govern, I repeat, they do not govern they manhandle. Narcissist on parade.
Using the nuclear option would be pretty stupid (for the GOP) because then with precedent set, the Dems would obviously use it too. And since every major trend in politics is going against the GOP, senate majorities are likely to be more and more Democrat.
You’ll never get me to call the GOP the party of “smart” (-: Right now, it’s more “stupid is as stupid does”.
Redistricting commissions as solutions to gerrymandering are frequently mentioned here. Generally, we posters appear to be in favor of them.
Here’s how the Republicans in Arizona, where a commission appears to have made political races much more competitive, reacted: they sued.
Now the current crop of supremes gets to decide.
In my opinion, the reluctance of moderate Rs to declare their party dead and to form a new party is doing damage that will last for generations.
Why can’t moderates act? Is it because they’re moderate?
I think this is overly pessimistic, but it’s hard not to be with as irresponsible as Congress has been recently. But I think with some common sense reforms the process could be made cleaner and more representative. California has done two of these, with an open primary system and independent redistricting committee, but it’s too early to tell how effective this will be. I used to be dead set against public funding of elections, but now I think it would be a good move to reduce the influence-buying (John Oliver’s bit that fly posted about Comcast spending more on lobbying than anyone other than the “military-industrial complex” was funny, but the real surprise is that it didn’t work).
It is hard to imagine that the radicals in the GOP won’t drive the bus off a cliff at some point; perhaps that will be the impetus for reforms.
I agree in that it’s premature to be writing obituaries for our system just yet. We are in a transition period, from certain groups having privileged status to something more egalitarian, at least in terms of race/ gender/ religious preferences/ etc., and transitions are turbulent. The one thing that does concern me are the growing socioeconomic divides.
Fly, I found the Vox article a fascinating read! Thanks! And, I agree that there are incredible discussion possibilities within it. The links to other works look very interesting too….just wish I needed less sleep or had more free time (-; to read everything I want to!
Hope Owl read it due to his deep interest in the 3rd party concept. What really struck me is the breadth and depth of the thinking on macro and micro levels. I plan to read it again before commenting as it was a lot of information to absorb and it certainly deserves serious contemplation. One paragraph struck home:
“The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems… (corruption/disenfranchisement) and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it’s set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.
We are definitely there.
The one point I did have some problem with was the winner take all comment about a President not being re-elected if he didn’t do his base’s wishes. That was pretty much where things were for many Dems with the 2012 Presidential election, but what helped save Obama was that the alternative was so much worse. Other than that one point, without a second reading, I thought the article really got it right. Honestly, except for not clearly knowing “how” the new system would be put in place, I agree that if things continue unabated, a new system will be necessary, and, welcome.
OT, but if you didn’t see John Oliver’s call to arms over Net Neutrality, here’s a clip in the article:
He may well have turned the tide with his calling out of the trolls.
Hilarious, Fly! I like potty mouth Oliver (-:
O thank you, Fly!
The only real wild card that I see in the presidential resurgence of the GOP would be attuned to the Fortunes of War. If and/or how we chose to address the problems arising worldwide, and how we perceive them to be discernible threats to our country and our allies could be key to who is selected by voters concerned with the nation’s safety. Right now, the doves have a slight edge, but it would not take much to tilt to the other side even though war weariness has definitely taken it’s toll. Thankfully, the GOP does have a rather strong candidate in Ron Paul who might serve as a counter to the hawks who dominate the party otherwise, so it might not end up being as dangerous as it could be.
But then, I wouldn’t put it past the overall mood of the nation just to “Glass the Middle East” and be done with it!
Lifer: ” Our politics is now defined almost entirely by geography and demographics”.
The egos I witness in the political arena would never be content with a mere local or state office. Are you saying that you think the popular vote in 2016 will be another GOP sweep while Dems take the Electoral College? Do you not see problems for the GOP in ’16 resulting if their governing continues to alienate that part of their base which is more moderate?
I have to hope that people are paying attention to the antics in D.C. and that there will be pay-back at the polls. I also hope that Dems will GOTV in a big way and demonstrate the clout and the opportunity a diverse voter base offers to the political process.
With the all-or-nothing electoral college method of most states, the likely outcome is a three or four percent difference in popular vote (in favor of the Democrats) but a massive victory in the electoral college.
Red states are getting deeper red, with the percentage voting for Democrats getting pretty small. The GOP will rack up plenty of popular votes in those states, but winning by 25% doesn’t get you any more electoral votes than winning by 1%.
Blue states (for the most part) are not quite as deep a blue, but if the last few elections constitute a trend, they are a very stable blue.
Even in 2010 and 2014 (good elections for the GOP), the GOP candidates were not making much headway in statewide elections in blue states.
To win in 2016 (barring something extraordinary), the GOP has to win all of its base states and steal all of the “leaning Democrat” states. For the Democrats, they just need to maintain their base states and can afford to lose a handful of leaning states will still getting over 270 electoral votes.
The GOP could afford to piss off a whole slew of people in the south, and still win those southern states by 5% to 10% of the popular vote. The more moderate positions (gay marriage, abortion) that would piss off those states might appeal to enough moderates and independents in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. to make a difference.
The GOP could afford to piss off a whole slew of people in the south , and still win those southern states.
They are on their way on the pissing people off part! I’m sure the DCCC will be focusing on those states where they have a chance and let the GOP help them along the way.
Or they could simply change the laws in red states passing winner take all schemes to get what they want.
This came out just after the 2012 elections the one above is more recent.
I have been following that idea and it is concerning. Republicans pride themselves on being strict constitutionalists, except when they’re not. I need to learn more about this.
Yet they were just fine with the whole Electoral College thing back in 2000 when they were behind in the popular vote.
Sure, but there were plenty of Democrats against the electoral college then, and they seem OK with it now.
Homer, I call that bit of hypocrisy “political jitterbug”‘ which I define as your stance on an issue being determined by what’s currently convenient for your party (and subject to a 180 degree reversal). I’ve seen both parties dance that dance on budget deficits and filibuster rules and the Electoral College and judicial nominations and lots of other things.
I personally don’t like the Electoral College because of the possibility of winning the popular vote, but losing the election. But things tend to happen when that occurs. I won’t change that opinion based on which party that system would favor now or in the future.
Should be “BAD things tend to happen”…..
Think about how the freed slaves got screwed over after the 1876 election. Or all the bitterness after the travesty of 2000.
If ever there was a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason, changing the electoral college would be it. Currently, the president is elected by swing voters in a handful of states. My vote in Texas is meaningless, as it was in Massachusetts when I lived there. Changing it to something more proportional would be far more representative, as long as that is done country-wide which, of course, is not what is being proposed. I’d love to ditch the electoral college altogether as an undemocratic 18th century anachronism, but that’s probably not in the cards.