• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Party Realignment Fantasies

us-politics-republicans-democrats-flag

Since the collapse of the Whig Party on the eve of the Civil War, the Democratic and Republican parties have completely dominated American politics.  That’s mostly because of the structure of our electoral system but also because they’ve generally acted as catch-all parties vying for a majority of the vote rather than ideological parties. Both parties have continually evolved with the political culture of the times and neither have much to do policy-wise with their namesakes of 1960, much less 1860. Occasionally, we experience “realignments,” wherein major voter blocks shift from the party they have traditionally supported to the other in recognition that the other best supports their values or interests.

David Brooks contends that we may be on the verge of such a realignment:

The Republican Party is now a coalition of globalization-loving business executives and globalization-hating white workers. That’s untenable. At its molten core, the Republican Party has become the party of the dispossessed, not the party of cosmopolitan business. The blunderers at the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable bet all their chips on the G.O.P. at the exact instant it stopped being their party.

Now imagine a Republican Party after Donald Trump, led by a younger candidate without his bigotry and culture war tropes. That party will begin to attract disaffected Sanders people who detest the Trans-Pacific Partnership and possibly some minority voters highly suspicious of the political elite.

The Democratic Party is currently a coalition of the upscale urban professionals who make up the ruling class and less-affluent members of minorities who feel betrayed by it. That’s untenable, too. At its molten core the Democratic Party is the party of the coastal professional class, the 2016 presidential ticket of Yale Law and Harvard Law. It’s possible that this year the Democrats will carry every state that touches ocean.

Just as the Trump G.O.P. is crushing the Chamber G.O.P., the Clinton Democrats will eventually repel the Sanders Democrats. Their economic interests are just different. Moreover, their levels of social trust are vastly different.

The problem with this analysis is that there’s nothing new about any of that.

It’s true that the Republican Party’s platform is now much more dominated by the Tea Party wing than the Chamber of Commerce wing. But it was never primarily “the party of cosmopolitan business” in terms of its membership. There simply aren’t enough members of that cohort to comprise a major party. Similarly, while the Democratic Party may be more appealing to “the coastal professional class,” that’s hardly its chief constituency.

In modern American politics, we saw a pretty major realignment with the rise of Franklin Roosevelt, who managed to attract both the white and black working class with his policies to respond to the Great Depression and then cement the coalition with his leadership in World War II. Black voters have been loyal ever since but the white working class began slowly realigning with the Republicans during the civil rights era, accelerating under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who appealed to patriotism and cultural conservatism.

There’s been talk for awhile about a realignment sparked by demographics. We’re fast becoming “majority minority.” Republican appeals to traditional American cultural values are very powerful among older white voters, particularly those losing to globalization and related economic trends, but that’s a declining cohort. The GOP will have to become more appealing to black and Hispanic voters to survive as a major party, but in doing so will have to undergo a transformation so radical that it will be virtually unrecognizable.

Brooks tacitly acknowledges the latter:

This sort of divide is being replicated all around the world. The distinctly American feature is race. If the Republicans can drop the racial wedges — which admittedly may be a big ask — and become more the party designed to succor those who are disaffected from the globalizing information age, then it might win over some minority voters, and the existing party alignments will unravel in short order.

Donald Trump is trying to have it both ways here, simultaneously running as an anti-globalization populist and stroking racial wedges. Pure anti-globalization populism minus racist undertones was Bernie Sanders’ brand. While clearly appealing, it wasn’t enough to secure him the Democratic nomination. Still, that party seems to more natural home for that message than the GOP. Indeed, since Brooks, like me, is a pro-globalization guy who has traditionally aligned with the Republicans, it strikes me as odd that his proposed fix for the party is to make it one neither of us would support.

He concludes:

Polls suggest Democrats will win among college-educated voters and Republicans among whites without college degrees. The social, mental and emotional gap between those two groups is getting wider and wider. That’s the future of American politics. Republicans are town. Democrats are gown. Could get ugly.

It’s already pretty damned ugly. But I suppose it could get worse.

Interestingly, those with a college education—but not postgraduate degrees—were the only educational cohort that Mitt Romney won in 2012. Trump will certainly lose that cohort but may pick up some lower cohorts. I don’t think it’ll be enough to win the election.

Given the systemic advantages alluded to at the outset, the Republican Party will almost certainly survive as a major party. Given that the same party has won the presidency four times in a row only three times and five times in a row only once, it will almost inevitably win back the White House within an electoral cycle or two. But I haven’t the foggiest what that party will look like.

Related Posts:

  • None Found

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Pch101 says:

    The one constant in the history of the Republican party is that it has been the party of industry. In its early days, the GOP supported trade tariffs for the same reason that it generally opposes them now — that was what its industrial supporters wanted.

    Much of the anti-globalization sentiment isn’t anti-trade per se, but is really a cry for help about jobs and job security. A Republican party that was generally business-friendly but that also accounted for worker fears could succeed, but it would have to convince the business wing that such compromises were ultimately for its own good. This laissez-faire/ libertarian callousness toward the workforce doesn’t do the establishment any favors, but ideology is hard to shake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Barry says:

    The short reply is ‘David Brooks is never right’. The man’s a true gasbag.

    The slightly longer reply is that he’s pulling the classic GOP pundit fantasy. He’s pretending that the odious elements of their party aren’t the ones running it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: No, I think he’s acknowledging at this point that the old fringe is now the center of gravity and wistfully hoping that it’ll change and the GOP will somehow bring blacks and Hispanics into the coalition by appealing to their concerns about globalization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    Polls suggest Democrats will win among college-educated voters and and all people without a college degree besides white males. Republicans among white males without college degrees. The social, mental and emotional gap between those two groups is getting wider and wider. That’s the future of American politics. Republicans are town. Democrats are gown. Could get ugly.

    Fixed that for you, David.

    I’ve noticed among nearly every pundit who wants to show the two parties as being somehow similar in their tenuous coalition grasp, they add and drop “white” and “male” when it suits them. (See Steven Taylor) I can’t tell if this is deliberate, or (more likely) the fact that white maleness is seen as the norm, other demographics can be discounted.

    However if David’s premise is that Republicans are “town” and Democrats “gown” then that “town” is mightily segregated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: While I understand Steven’s point, I’m not sure I understand yours. White males are part of various demographics and their input into those demographics counts. So, if overwhelming support for Trump among white male college graduates contributes to the larger class of college graduates supporting Trump, it’s still true that they support Trump.

    I’m not sure I buy Brooks’ town/gown divide as a useful one but, if it is, the above applies. White males are a diminishing group in terms of power and proportional contribution to the national demographic, but we still count as part of larger cohorts to which we contribute.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Something Brooks misses her, I think, is something that a good friend of mine labeled The Westboro Baptist Church Effect.

    Essentially what we saw with the same sex marriage shifts in public acceprance was a whole segment in the middle of the populace that looked at gay people asking to get married and looked at the WBC and said “I’m not really comfortable with these gay folks, but there is no way I want anyone to think that I am on the same side as the the WBC.”

    That’s how you got much of the current Democratic coalition that seemingly looks odd when examined in a vacuum. Ethnic and racial minorities, Jews and Muslims and athiests, and non-heterosexual people have all gotten the message loud and cleat they they we aren’t wanted. And then, you layer on the fact that most educated white folks in Gen X and Gen Y don’t want to be seen in the same room as Bill Frist diagnosing Terri Shiavo, or Tom Tancredo ranting about Mexicans, or Ted Cruz being Ted Crux or Donal Trump being Donald Trump. And there you are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I wish people would stop with the “majority minority” thing. It’s not true as to voters, not any time soon. The majority minority point is projected as 2043, which is 27 years and 6 or 7 presidential election cycles from now, depending on how you want to count it.

    In 2043 we will reach majority minority because of children, not voters. So the m-m point among voters is probably 18 years after that, so around 2060. Everyone in this comment thread is pretty likely to be dead, and we’ll have had eleven presidential elections. That’s the same as the gap between today and Richard Nixon.

    I think Democrats started buying into this notion and decided they no longer needed white votes which simply isn’t true. In fact if Hillary wins it will be on the votes of educated coastal whites as much as any other group.

    The future of the Democratic Party should probably be a shift from identity politics to economic populism. We should not cede the white vote on the theory that the voter base will be majority minority, it won’t be in our lifetimes. What we will have for the near future is a white majority, a large and growing Latino minority, ditto Asians except smaller, and a large but stable African-American population. Assuming we hold onto the minority vote we are going to continue to need white voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. JKB says:

    Brooks: Polls suggest Democrats will win among college-educated voters and Republicans among whites without college degrees.

    Of course, you can play the percentages, but the reality of voting is in the numbers. If you at the 2012 link, you see the non-college really didn’t show up in mass. They only came it at about 1/3rd the educational cohort, when in reality only about 1/3rd of the population goes to college. If the non-college are brought to the polls, things might be very unexpected.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Thor thormussen says:

    I’ve pondered an upcoming realignment for years, and all I can see happening is the California scenario.

    Republicans are a bunch of dumb racist ignorant christianist assholes and nobody likes them.

    So at some point the gerrymandering and vote blocking won’t work, and the establishment can’t put up a well-polished Romney type anymore to paper over who they really are, and the Dems will go back to being the normal congressional majority, and that’s where all the debate will happen, within the Democratic Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Thor thormussen says:

    That’s how you got much of the current Democratic coalition that seemingly looks odd when examined in a vacuum. Ethnic and racial minorities, Jews and Muslims and athiests, and non-heterosexual people have all gotten the message loud and cleat they they we aren’t wanted. And then, you layer on the fact that most educated white folks in Gen X and Gen Y don’t want to be seen in the same room as Bill Frist diagnosing Terri Shiavo, or Tom Tancredo ranting about Mexicans, or Ted Cruz being Ted Crux or Donal Trump being Donald Trump. And there you are.

    A few years ago I heard all this “How come the asians don’t like us? We think they’re a good minority.” stuff. I just laughed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    If the non-college are brought to the polls, things might be very unexpected.

    And if the GOP had nominated a competent politician capable of organizing a campaign with a GOTV operation, that might have happened. But they chose to nominate an orange baboon with the organizational skills (and temperament) of a hyperactive toddler.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: I find it hilarious that the Republican Party assumes that any ethnic group that is “conservative” (which in their minds boils down to being anti-gay and anti-abortion) will automatically drift over to their side. They’ve been wringing their hands for YEARS about the fact that fewer and fewer Asians vote for them and Can’t Understand Why.

    What they refuse to admit, over and over again, is that there is only one party that is pro-science, believes in evolution, and insists on dealing with reality. And that’s not the Republican Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. dennis says:

    … the white working class began slowly realigning with the Republicans during the civil rights era, accelerating under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who appealed to patriotism and cultural conservatism.

    Ha! Patriotism and cultural conservatism, huh, James? Are those code words for racism, bigotry, and xenophobic tribalism?

    I’m going to pop some popcorn, cuz this is gonna get good downthread …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Jen says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: The extreme religious right (not just the WBC) has often unnerved me with some of their calls for Dominionism, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, etc. Trump seems to be openly courting this group, including yesterday’s call to repeal the Johnson Amendment (prohibits tax-exempt orgs from endorsing candidates). Heck I think many of them skirt this law closely enough that they should lose their tax-exempt status as it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Tyrell says:

    Party realignment : probably not, but a new party is possible and desirable. A lot of people are disenchanted and just plain
    fed up with the two parties : cronyism, huge costly promises, antagonistic social statements, narcissim, self centered, insulated.
    The middle class, average wage earner in both parties feels neglected, on the outside looking in, passed by, and an afterthought. People are seeing a future of half the population not working, three job couples (two full time + a part time job to make ends meet), half of pay going for health insurance, retirement age of 70, no possibility of any savings account*, yearly declines in the standard of living, no American Dream.
    * Remember saving money back for a rainy day ? Gen X’ers would not know what on earth that is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Thor thormussen says:

    the white working class began slowly realigning with the Republicans during the civil rights era, accelerating under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who appealed to patriotism and cultural conservatism.

    actually according to pat buchanan, he and nixon toured the south in the wake of brown vs board etc and saw the white rage “peel the paint off the walls” and, according to Buchanan, nixon said, “We can use this.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Thor thormussen says:

    “If the non-college are brought to the polls, things might be very unexpected.”

    Someone calculate that every white non-college male could show up and trump still wouldn’t win.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    Over at Washington Monthly, David Adkins has a essay on why Brook’s fantasy won’t come true. http://washingtonmonthly.com/2016/09/10/david-brooks-realignment-wont-happen/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. MBunge says:

    I think people are being a bit short-sighted. We’ve all lived through a realignment in the South moving from Democrat to Republican. LBJ saw it coming in the 60s, it didn’t really get going until the 70s and Democrats were still very competitive in Southern politics until the early 90s. And when Bill Clinton massively accelerated the realignment, it had little to do with race.

    It’s certainly going to take more than just Trump to do it, but it could be done.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Spartacus says:

    @michael reynolds: I think Democrats started buying into this notion and decided they no longer needed white votes which simply isn’t true. In fact if Hillary wins it will be on the votes of educated coastal whites as much as any other group.

    I agree with the larger point you make about economic populism and Democrats’ continuing need of white votes, but I don’t see any evidence that Democrats of any note hold the view that white votes are unnecessary. Instead, I hear lots of white conservatives claim that they won’t vote for the Democratic party because it has become the party of identity politics, but these are people who have always voted for the GOP and are looking for a party to escape to because they now find the GOP to be full of clowns.

    When asked what specific statements or policy positions from Democrats of note that they find odious, they refer to some statement made somewhere by some BLM activist, transgender or so-called social justice warrior. That suggests to me that these voters don’t dislike Democratic politicians or policy positions. Instead, they dislike many of the people who vote for Democrats.

    So, yes, I agree that Democrats should remain a party that recognizes its dependence on white votes, but if the price of getting a majority of the white vote is the adoption of rhetoric and policies that are harmful to large swaths of current Democratic voters, I think that will prove to be a losing strategy for the Democratic party just as it is proving to be for the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. An Interested Party says:

    And when Bill Clinton massively accelerated the realignment, it had little to do with race.

    And, um, if race played so little of a factor, what was the main factor? The blow job, perhaps…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Thor thormussen says:

    That’s the most wrong line in MBunge’s comment, but honestly, the whole thing is just gibberish so why bother.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Dazedandconfused says:

    I wonder if race will fade in prominence after Obama has been gone for awhile. There were still too many people who could not stomach a black president and his election drove them a wee bit bonkers. They became obsessed with racial status and thus easy to manipulate. That demographic was low hanging fruit for any unethical enough to pick it and the cue to do so was long. We are still at least a couple of generations away from being ready for a black man to hold that office IMO. It was too soon.

    When they feel more secure they will reshuffle their priorities. The D brand is tainted in their eyes now and that will take some time to fade. How much and how fast is an open question. My guess is the speed of that process will be proportional to how poor they feel they are becoming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Thor thormussen says:

    So, yes, I agree that Democrats should remain a party that recognizes its dependence on white votes, but if the price of getting a majority of the white vote is the adoption of rhetoric and policies that are harmful to large swaths of current Democratic voters, I think that will prove to be a losing strategy for the Democratic party just as it is proving to be for the GOP.

    California’s a little ahead. In california the GOP became a bunch of dumb shitheads trying to wreck everything, they did wreck everything, California’s budget was a mess, but at some point they lost Superminority status and couldn’t stop the Dems on policy. Within 2-3 years California fixed most of their urgent problems.

    The GOP hasn’t gotten there yet because of gerrymandering, vote suppression, etc. As soon as it happens this retarded national nightmare will be over. I just hope it happens before the Republicans manage to ruin the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. gVOR08 says:

    @MBunge:

    We’ve all lived through a realignment in the South moving from Democrat to Republican. LBJ saw it coming in the 60s, it didn’t really get going until the 70s and Democrats were still very competitive in Southern politics until the early 90s.

    LBJ “saw it coming”? Saw it coming?! LBJ caused it and he knew it. Why did he say Dems would lose the South for a generation? Because he saw some little understood demographic or social change? No. Because he and Dem leadership pushed through the Civil Rights Act, thereby alienating the white South and opening the door for the Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy Republicans claim never existed as they continue to practice it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Kari Q says:

    @Thor thormussen:

    California, as always, is a little ahead. I keep wondering when the GOP will wake up and become a functional party again, but I keep looking at the California GOP and seeing no signs of resurgence. If Republicans haven’t revitalized themselves here, where they cannot win a single statewide race and are so insignificant that the Democrats almost always have a legislative super-majority, then it’s going to be a long time coming on the national level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Kari Q says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    I wonder if race will fade in prominence after Obama has been gone for awhile.

    Only to the extent that it is replaced by sexism, assuming that the expected happens and Hillary wins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. gVOR08 says:

    Indeed, since Brooks, like me, is a pro-globalization guy who has traditionally aligned with the Republicans

    No. Brooks is not a guy with reasonable, moderate policy goals who just happens to find he fits more comfortably in the Republican tent. Brooks is a hard core Republican activist. His moderate centrist act is part and parcel of being The World’s Greatest Concern Troll. In this piece he expresses great concern for the “less educated America”, but his real message is that those people should align with the Republican Party, not those Democratic elitists whose “economic interests are just different.”

    Of course this all revolves around the convenient conservative definition of “elite” as someone you believe thinks you’re an ignorant redneck, whether there are any quotes to that effect or not. A fantasy land in which some unknown lefty blogger is the elite while the Koch Bros and Donald Trump are just regular folks.

    But it was never primarily “the party of cosmopolitan business” in terms of its membership. There simply aren’t enough members of that cohort to comprise a major party.

    Which is why Republicans have had to rely on conning the rubes to get a majority, and the Southern Strategy was an effective way to do it. Now the rubes have realized they didn’t get anything out of voting for Rs. Yet somehow the Rs continue to be able to paint the Ds as the villains in this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. the white working class began slowly realigning with the Republicans during the civil rights era, accelerating under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who appealed to patriotism and cultural conservatism.

    And, unfortunately, appeals to white working class resentments of non-whites getting social benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. DrDaveT says:

    @dennis: You beat me to it, Dennis — we all know what Nixon and Reagan were appealing to, and how very well it worked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. James Joyner says:

    @dennis: @Steven L. Taylor: @DrDaveT: Clearly, resentment on the part of Southern and rural whites over desegregation/integration/affirmative action and the like were exploited by Nixon and his successors. The post acknowledges that directly. But there was a lot more to it. Democrats were painted as too soft on Communism/weak on defense. Post-Earl Warren, they were painted as soft on crime. There was also the post-Roe banging of the abortion drum. Resentments over court-ordered secularization and “taking God out of the schools” and the like. Successful Republican leaders have leveraged the general sense that the values of “real America” have been under assault from big city liberal elites for generations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. dennis says:

    @James Joyner:

    But there was a lot more to it. Democrats were painted as too soft on Communism/weak on defense. Post-Earl Warren, they were painted as soft on crime. There was also the post-Roe banging of the abortion drum. Resentments over court-ordered secularization and “taking God out of the schools” and the like. Successful Republican leaders have leveraged the general sense that the values of “real America” have been under assault from big city liberal elites for generations.

    Morning, James. I don’t disagree with anything you said; however, for the sake of clarity:

    “Too soft on Communism/weak on defense” = bigotry/tribalism
    “Post-Roe banging of the abortion drum” – bigotry/tribalism
    “Resentments over court-ordered secularization” = bigotry/tribalism
    “Taking God out of the schools” = bigotry/tribalism

    And one you forgot:

    “Getting over-the-top angry at the audacity of Dem politicians pushing for equal rights for ‘colored folk'” = racism/bigotry/tribalism

    All those complex and nuanced factors that shifted Southern politics boil down to those three things: racism, bigotry, and “you’re not in my tribe, so piss off!” I know it’s crass, JJ, but irreducible in explanation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Thor thormussen says:

    Reagan really started his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi to show the Dems were “weak on defense” LOL.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0