For roughly two decades, the Democratic Party was content to rest on its laurels. After all there was a demographic deluge coming that would guarantee the election of Democrats just as assuredly as the election of a Republican governor in Wisconsin would guarantee Republican victories forever in the state. It always won the popular vote for presidency in the baby Boomer era save for post-9/11. The “emerging Democratic majority” meant the future was theirs for the taking. All they had had to do is wait for it to happen.
But events have not worked out as expected. At the beginning of this year, The New York Times joined in sounding death knell for the “emerging Democratic majority.”
The On Politics Newsletter
Confessions of a Liberal Heretic
Ruy Teixeira was co-author of one of the most influential political books of the 21st century. Now, he says, Democrats are getting its lessons all wrong.
By Blake Hounshell and Leah Askarinam Jan. 25, 2022
A funny thing happened on the way to the emerging Democratic majority. Twenty years on, the co-authors of a hugely influential work on the subject acknowledge that their party took a detour.
In 2002, the political scientist Ruy Teixeira and the journalist John B. Judis published a book that struck a chord among liberals despondent over the success of George W. Bush, a president who was then so popular that he gained seats in that year’s midterm election.
“The Emerging Democratic Majority” took note of the demographic change pulsing through the country, and boldly predicted that the Democratic Party was poised to dominate American politics for the foreseeable future….
But it unraveled quickly with the election of Donald Trump, who not only discovered pockets of white working-class voters that few knew existed, but also appealed to more voters of color than anyone had expected….
Teixeira is unsparing about the party strategists who he believes are leading Democrats astray — and unapologetic about offending many on his own side. His newsletter has become a kind of samizdat for like-minded liberals who aren’t as willing to speak their minds.
“The second thing we didn’t anticipate was the eventual effect of professional-class hegemony in the Democratic Party — that it would tilt the Democrats so far to the left on sociocultural issues that it would actually make the Democratic Party significantly unattractive to working-class voters.
It’s a huge liability for the Democrats, because the people who staff the party, the people who staff the think tanks, the advocacy groups, the foundations, the staffers, they’re all singing from the same hymnal to some extent. They live in this liberal cultural bubble, particularly the younger members.”
By April of this year Ruy Teixeira was quite despondent about what is going to happen a scarce few days from now.
How bad will the 2022 election be for the Democrats? In all likelihood, quite bad…..
So there are not a lot of good signs here. In fact, hardly any. The prospect of a very serious wipeout does seem plausible.
And one might add, exposing the party’s lack of understanding of what the American people most wanted, which was very simply the return of normality not transformation.
That teachable moment should be, above all, about re-acquainting the party with the actually-existing demographics and politics of the country they live in. Given patterns of educational and geographical polarization, they are now at a crippling disadvantage in what remains an overwhelmingly working class and non-urban country. There are simply too many districts and states in the country where that polarization redounds to their disadvantage and makes them uncompetitive. That is not a problem that can be solved by “mobilizing the base”. It calls instead for expanding your coalition by persuading more working class and non-urban voters you share their values and priorities.
It is either do that or brace yourself for a really bad 2024. And you know what that means.
Today we wish a belated and maybe not-so-Happy 20th Birthday to “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” the book that famously argued Democrats would gain an enduring advantage in a multiracial, postindustrial America.
There are countless explanations for the rise of Donald Trump and the growing dysfunction of American political life. This book does not necessarily rank at the top of that list. But when historians look back on this era, the book’s effect on American politics might be worth a mention.
The thesis that Democrats were on the cusp of a lasting advantage in national politics helped shape the hopes, fears and, ultimately, the conduct of the two major parties — especially once the Obama presidency appeared to confirm the book’s prophecy.
It transformed modest Democratic wins into harbingers of perpetual liberal rule. It fueled conservative anxiety about America’s growing racial diversity, even as it encouraged the Republican establishment to reach out to Hispanic voters and pursue immigration reform. The increasingly popular notion that “demographics are destiny” made it easier for the progressive base to argue against moderation and in favor of mobilizing a new coalition of young and nonwhite voters. All of this helped set the stage for the rise of Mr. Trump….
In retrospect, gun control and environmental issues were harbingers of one of the major themes of postindustrial politics: White working-class voters were slowly repelled by the policy demands of the secular, diverse, postindustrial voters who were supposed to power a new Democratic majority.
The book is all but silent on the issues that fit into this category, like same-sex marriage, immigration, climate change, inequality or racial justice. …
In the real world, things aren’t held constant. Demographic change can provoke backlash. And, even if it doesn’t, a party courting new voters might still find itself losing ground among its old supporters, who were brought to the party by a different set of messages, issues and candidates. And even if a party does everything right, and manages to squeeze a point or two out of demographic shifts in a given election — the way President Obama probably did in 2012 — it might just tempt a party to cash in its electoral chips on an agenda that costs support from a key group. It might even convince a party that demographics are destiny — and that the hard work of persuading voters and building a broad and sometimes fractious coalition just isn’t necessary.
What does the Republican Party stand for? Make America Great Again (MAGA). True that means help rich people get richer, ban abortion, and rule by the immature whim of Trump. At least it is something. It enables Republicans to fake being patriotic even as they trash the Constitution and adhere to the wildest conspiracy fantasies one can imagine.
What does the Democratic Party stand for? It is not for Trump and it is for abortion. Where is the New Deal? Where is the New Frontier? Where is the Great Society? Build Back Better just doesn’t cut it as a catchy slogan that resonates with the voting public. By contrast “Woke” works well but for all the wrong reasons if you want to win an election. The Democrats were counting on the emerging Democratic majority. So far all it has done is to scare Republicans and alienate former Democratic voters. What if any lessons will they learn from the upcoming election? Maybe they will get lucky and Trump will declare his candidacy just as he is being indicted.