The “Long Realignment” Continues….Part One

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Since 1968’s breakup of the New Deal coalition, a 50 year journey that spans the adulthood of the first cohort of baby boomers, we’ve been in the Sixth Party system. However, as 2008 through today have shown, the “Long Realignment” continues and history is still up for grabs, as it always has been.

It was a #BlueWave … no it was a #BlueRipple … it was a #RainbowWave …. it was a #CamouflageWave … it was none of those things, and all of those things.

In the sense that it was none of those things, the 2018 Midterms represented what has traditionally happened in midterms, especially the first midterm of a new President. The party in power, the President’s party — loses seats, and sometimes loses so many seats that they lose one or both Houses of Congress. It happened to Bill Clinton, the first boomer President, in 1994 during the Gingrich revolution. It happened to Barack Obama in 2010. Only in the peak era after 9/11 was this trend bucked. George W. Bush lost both houses of Congress in 2006. 2006 was the first midterm I was eligible to vote. I was in college and it was around this time I had decided to major in political science, chosen from among 5-6 other possibilities, all of which are still interests to this day. In its most basic terms, the Democrats were supposed to do well and pick up seats, and probably were supposed to pick up the House given the incredible weakness of the 2016 Trump victory (lost the popular vote by 2 percent, won the electoral college by less than 1 percent in three states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Last month, all three of those states elected Democratic Governors, picked up down-ballot state legislative seats, and got to about even in their Congressional delegations.

In the sense that it was all of those things the Democratic Party finally began to achieve some of the victories and movements that this website, started in 2015, had hoped for and called for from the beginning. The party got younger in the House, building a bench and in one cycle going from the older party to the younger party in the House. Given that the Democratic Party is more dependent on youth votes, both from Millennials, the younger cohort of Gen X, and now the oldest cohort of Gen Z, we argued that this was bad optics, bad politics, and represented a failure to pass the baton on behalf of party elders. Through choice or through competition, this is beginning to change. Good. Matching that youth is the diversity of the younger cohorts of Americans. We now have more women in Congress than at any time in US history, and the big-tent, broad-based movements whether driven by opposition to President Trump or more ideologically-based movement-politics, organized, got the vote out, and won by a record-breaking 8+% in the generic ballot. Turnout was at a record pace and for those who began to doubt the health of our democracy, myself included, we gained a hard-earned reprieve and answer. Democrats turned out. Republicans also turned out. Americans turned out to vote and that’s a good thing. What also happened is “blue areas” got bluer, and “red areas” got redder. Independents, moderates, and suburban women swung heavily against the President. What does this mean for 2020 and what does this mean for the “Long Realignment”? Actually, not much.

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Historically speaking (within the paradigm of the Sixth Party system and post-Southern Strategy and Dixiecrat exodus from the Democratic Party, a rather “Long Realignment” process in its own right) those same midterms of ’94, ’06, and ’10 were answered with Bill Clinton being easily re-elected, and Barack Obama being easily re-elected. The successor candidate to George W. Bush lost in what is the closest we can get to a modern day landslide (7+% win, the largest popular vote total in the last 30 years in a presidential election) to Barack Obama. I previously wrote in early 2016 how historically difficult it is for a “successor” candidate of the same party to beat a “challenger” candidate. Within the Sixth Party system it has only happened once in 1988 with the recently departed George H.W. Bush who succeeded Ronald Reagan with relative ease. It should be noted that while that was going on the Democrats still held Congress though (just as they have throughout much of the first half of the Sixth Party system, before mostly being the minority party in Congress post-1994).

I believe we’ve been in the midst of a “Long Realignment” out of the Sixth Party system and into the Seventh Party for some time now, but it’s been taking and will continue to take awhile. The reason for this is simple. Baby Boomers are a large and dominant generation, and they are slowly being replaced in the voting booths by another large and dominant generation, the Millennials (insert what they’re “killing” here ____). The result of this tit-for-tat, along with the relative movement within the recessive (relatively smaller, by timespan and demographic size) generations on each side of the dominant ones, will be but one of many demographic factors that determine the eventual nature of this “Long Realignment.” In the next two articles (two and three), I’m going to go into how this has been playing out so far via which states are “swinging” (from one election to the next) and which states are “trending” (over the long run) as well as states that are “bucking” against the general trend, for example, the country voted 2 percent more Republican in 2016 but states like Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and Utah voted less Republican and more Democratic relative to the general trend. That will be the focus of Part Two.

Part Three will focus on what history tells us about “demographics” (they matter, but only to a point), candidates (they matter, but not as much as they used to), and end with some conclusions and predictions about where things might go once we get to the Seventh Party system (spoiler alert: I think it will be either 2028 or 2032). I will also throw in some commentary about where the parties should go (in general: a place toward sanity and away from insanity).

For those reading this that are Democratic partisans: I believe it’s best for the party and the country for a large, diverse, and “big tent” field to debate it out throughout 2019 and the first two states at minimum. The reason for this is that it’s better for party building, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, which will both be important states in 2020 for different reasons (a strong candidate in Iowa is insurance for not winning back either Wisconsin or Michigan, and a win in New Hampshire, as well as the Maine Congressional-district is necessary defense).

For those reading (congrats for jumping outside the “bubble“) this that are Republican partisans: winning re-election is Donald Trump’s best chance to avoid his mounting legal challenges, as the Presidency is the best protection money can buy. However, for him to win re-election at this point, there can be no recession between now and the 2020 election (we’ll see, although if your interested: here’s when I think it’ll hit), he can have no serious primary challenge (win or lose, a sitting President primaried by a candidate in his own party ends up losing in the fall, see Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and remember that LBJ said he would not seek the Democratic nomination after Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing in the ’68 New Hampshire primary) and the 85 to 90 percent base has to hold, plus he has to grow on it or get back to his 2016 levels in the Upper Midwest. All three are plausible, but looking more difficult than a month ago. Historically, he has a greater than 50% chance of being re-elected, but I would put it right at 50-50 given the narrow 2016 victory. The “margin of error” is tight. Just like it was for 2016.

See you for The “Long Realignment” Continues …. Part Two. Where we’ll take a look at which states are trending, swinging, and what that means for the Electoral College (which is not going away any time soon, deal with it, learn the rules, they’re published well in advance). 

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