The emerging majority that did not emerge?
Didn't someone say that the problem with predictions is that sometimes they don't come true? Do you remember the talk after the 2008 election about the end of the GOP and the permanent ascendancy of Democrats?
Well not so fast! You may want to pull back that obituary. And maybe stop talking about the Obama coalition as we talk about the FDR and Reagan realignments.
It's the Democrats who are looking at each other and wondering what happened, as Jeff Greenfield pointed out:
Under Obama, the party started strong. “When Obama was elected in 2008, Democrats were at a high water mark,” says David Axelrod, who served as one of Obama’s top strategists.
“Driven by antipathy to George W. Bush and then the Obama wave, Democrats had enjoyed two banner elections in ’06 and ’08. We won dozens of improbable congressional elections in states and districts that normally would tack Republican, and that effect trickled down to other offices. You add to that the fact that we would take office in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and it was apparent, from Day One, that we had nowhere to go but down.”
The first signs of the slowly unfolding debacle that has meant the decimation of the Democratic Party nationally began early—with the special election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy’s empty Senate seat in Massachusetts. That early loss, even though the seat was won back eventually by Elizabeth Warren, presaged the 2010 midterms, which saw the loss of 63 House and six Senate seats. It was disaster that came as no surprise to the White House, but also proved a signal of what was to come.
The party’s record over the past six years has made clear that when Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017 the Democratic Party will have ceded vast sections of the country to Republicans, and will be left with a weak bench of high-level elected officials.
It is, in fact, so bleak a record that even if the Democrats hold the White House and retake the Senate in 2016, the party’s wounds will remain deep and enduring, threatening the enactment of anything like a “progressive” agenda across much of the nation and eliminating nearly a decade’s worth of rising stars who might help strengthen the party in elections ahead.
When Obama came into the White House, it seemed like the Democrats had turned a corner generationally; at just 47, he was one of the youngest men to be elected as president. But the party has struggled to build a new generation of leaders around him. Eight years later, when he leaves office in 2017 at 55, he’ll actually be one of the party’s only leaders not eligible for Social Security. Even as the party has recently captured more young voters at the ballot box in presidential elections, its leaders are increasingly of an entirely different generation; most of the party’s leaders will fade from the national scene in the years ahead.
Its two leading presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are 67 and 73. The sitting vice president, Joe Biden, is 72. The Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi, is 75; House Whip Steny Hoyer is 76 and caucus Chair James Clyburn is 75, as is Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, who will retire next year.
It’s a party that will be turning to a new generation of leaders in the coming years—and yet, there are precious few looking around the nation’s state houses, U.S. House or Senate seats.
So what's going on?
First, Obama's so-called transformational victory of 2008 was hyped by PR-savvy Democrats and very friendly journalists.
Mr. Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote – a victory, but not the landslide that we were led to believe. It was not really a national victory, since most the margin came from California, Illinois, and New York. He won, but it was nothing like VP Bush in 1988, President Reagan in 1984, or other landslides before.
Second, President Obama's coalition made it possible to win, but not to govern. For example, he had Senate majorities but could never get them to pass immigration reform, gun control, or climate change legislation. In other words, there were lots of "Ds" around, but not a lot of agreement among them.
Third, the Democrats are too dependent on minorities – namely, African-Americans and Hispanics, and especially Mexican-Americans. It means that they need huge turnouts from these groups, since 73% of the voters are white.
Fourth, the so-called minority districts have made it impossible for centrist Democrats to win House elections.
It's true that demographic changes will give any Democrat 47% of the popular vote. The question is: can they get to 51%, or 270 electoral votes? Time will tell, but this is not the place that most Democrats thought that they'd be in the night they cried in Chicago!