U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Ideas in American Politics (Post-Election Edition)

As usually happens during the week after a presidential election, journalists, pundits, historians, and other public intellectuals are busily musing about what last Tuesday’s results tell us about the nation today and in the future.  The dominant theme in these analyses seems to be demographic:  the Republican Party, the argument goes, is over-reliant on a shrinking portion of the population–older, white, men. It cannot win elections today with this base; it will have an even harder time doing so in the future.  In a sense, Ruy Teixera and John Judis’s vision of an “emerging Democratic majority” has beaten out Karl Rove and Michael Barone’s prediction of a “permanent Republican majority” (as Judis himself argued last week).*

* I happen to think that predictions of the death of the GOP are wildly overdrawn (and I’m not alone in this view).  Clearly the party as presently constructed has trouble winning presidential elections–it’s lost the popular vote in five of the last six contests.  But just as clearly, the Republican Party is dominant in many states and, with a little help from the way the Senate and House are apportioned, is very competitive in the battle for Congress. What has held the party back from controlling the Senate is not so much its basic make-up as primary voters desire to nominate tea-party firebreathers over establishment Republicans who likely would have won a host of recent Senate races. And if you need a reminder of how quickly things change in politics, take a look at Jimmy Carter’s electoral map from 1976.