Democrats are feeling cautiously optimistic about the 2018 midterms. The evidence from polls and special election results suggests that they are likely to win back the House. There’s even a small hope of taking back the Senate, where the number of Democratic incumbents in states that Trump won once made regaining the majority seem unthinkable.
It’s still a long way off, but things look even better for 2020. The Senate map will be much more even. Trump’s approval numbers are at or near historic lows and are likely to slide further if Democrats do regain a House majority this fall and use it to launch aggressive investigations into Trump’s manifold improprieties. Among the dozens of potential presidential primary candidates, the party ought to be able to find one who can beat him. If they do, then Democrats could find themselves in control of both the White House and Congress in January 2021.
But how long would that power last? Well, here’s a quiz for you: Since 1981, for how many years has the Democratic Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress?
The answer is four: the first two years of Bill Clinton’s first term, and the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term. That’s it.
As Democrats think and argue about how to win back power, and what policies to implement when they do, one crucial fact is missing from the conversation: it will take something very special—some very new thinking—to avoid the fate that always befalls Democrats, namely, losing control of government after two years.
There was a time when divided government didn’t have to mean bad government. That time has passed. If the Obama years showed anything, it is that, when in opposition, the modern Republican Party has no goal beyond blocking the Democratic agenda, whatever that may be, and will transgress hitherto undisputed democratic norms to do so. Operationally, the GOP’s governing objectives have devolved to two base goals: transferring wealth upward, and staying in power. Because the former goal is unpopular, achieving the latter increasingly requires the party to rely on anti-democratic means: voter ID laws and voter roll purges designed to suppress minority and youth turnout; hyper-partisan gerrymandering; filling the federal judiciary with ideological conservatives committed to weakening the power of unions and enhancing that of corporations; and so on. (That’s all on top of constitutional features, like the Electoral College and the Senate, that give the GOP representation that is out of proportion to its votes.)
Here’s a quiz for you: Since 1981, for how many years has the Democratic Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress? The answer is four: the first two years of Bill Clinton’s first term, and the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term. That’s it.The election of Donald Trump has pushed the Republican Party even further in this direction, to the point where it is now openly enabling corruption and autocracy. Republican leaders have tried to stymie the Russia investigation. They have supported Trump’s effort to get the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies. They have refused to investigate his brazen violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (from, among other things, foreign governments spending lavishly at Trump hotels). They have barely raised a word of protest, much less taken meaningful action, when Trump undermines relationships with America’s democratic allies, does favors for authoritarian adversaries, and says nice things about white nationalists here and abroad. Republican lawmakers uncomfortable with their party’s drift are being forced either to fall in line or leave office, because base GOP voters, fed by right-wing media, demand nothing less. Under such circumstances, no good—and a lot of harm—can come from Democrats losing Congress in 2022 and sharing power with the Republicans.
The fact that America now has only one party committed to small-d democracy changes everything. It’s no longer acceptable for Democrats to look at politics as a way to win the next election so as to jam through a bunch of their preferred policies before the Republicans inevitably take back power. They must instead see the purpose of politics as building sustained power for Democrats, period—but, unlike the other side, they must do this in part by strengthening the democratic process, not by undermining it. If passing this or that liberal policy helps in that effort, fine, pass it. If not, don’t. The overriding aim has to be getting and holding power—not for its own sake, but to keep the flame of democratic self-government alive unless and until the Republican Party abandons its authoritarian ways or is replaced by a new, small-d democratic party. Indeed, such a transition, which many committed conservatives and lifelong Republicans are now desperate to see happen, is only likely to come about if the Republican Party is locked out of power for several cycles in a row.
Since 2016, various factions on the left have debated whether Democrats’ strategy should revolve around boosting turnout among its base while drawing in more highly educated suburban white voters, or, on the other hand, trying to regain the support of rural and working-class whites.
They’re asking the wrong question. The truth is, a Democrat could probably eke out a win in 2020 by following either approach. But merely winning isn’t enough. To save our democracy, Democrats need to win big. They not only have to beat Donald Trump in 2020, but also have to achieve majorities in the House and Senate that are big and stable enough to survive the 2022 midterms. Doing that will require winning back states and districts that they lost in 2014 and 2016, taking others that have long been in GOP hands, and governing in a way that keeps those states and districts from turning red again. That will mean both turning out their base and making inroads among the white working class.
Though shrinking as a demographic, whites without a college degree still make up 45 percent of the electorate, and they dominate in many swing states and in exurban and rural areas where Democrats need to make inroads. As the Center for American Progress has shown, if Hillary Clinton had enjoyed the same high turnout among African Americans in 2016 as Obama did in 2012, she still would have lost, but had she matched Obama’s share of the white working-class vote, she’d have taken Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, and Ohio and won easily.
The dilemma for Democrats is that many of the issues that resonate with their base—gun control, racial justice, support for immigrants—hurt them in exurban and rural areas. That leads many moderates to advise downplaying “identity politics.” The problem with that advice is that, besides being wrong on principle, following it would risk alienating the base voters whose votes are crucial to winning.
How, then, do Democrats square that circle?
The answer is twofold. To maximize the voting power of its core supporters, the party must get over its squeamishness and aggressively push policies designed to raise turnout among young people and minorities. At the same time, to expand its geographic reach, it needs to introduce new ideas into its agenda that appeal both to the base and to rural and working-class whites, or at least to the persuadable among them, such as the millions who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.
Fortunately, if Democrats do take back at least one house of Congress in November (and I’m well aware that this is far from guaranteed), they will have a powerful platform from which to formulate new ideas. The question is whether they will use that power shrewdly. The future of American democracy may ride on the answer.
Use the Other Bully Pulpit
A congressional majority gives a party the power to reframe its policies, reset voters’ expectations, and define the terms of the next presidential election. In the 1990s, then Speaker Newt Gingrich pioneered a new style of far-right partisanship, attacked official expertise, and promoted the privatization of Social Security—paths George W. Bush followed as president. During Obama’s second term, congressional Republicans normalized partisan investigations of non-scandals (Benghazi and IRS), fetishized the repeal of Obamacare, and, at the instigation of House conservatives, blew up bipartisan immigration reform, leaving that issue to fester—all actions that paved the way (intentionally or not) for Donald Trump.
Should Democrats win in November, they too can use Congress to shape the political landscape to their
advantage—not nihilistically, like the Republicans, but not naively, either. They need to understand that moving policy must take a back seat to building their long-term power. They shouldn’t be afraid to force Republicans to take vote after tough vote on such popular-with-the-public issues as infrastructure and gun safety. The legislation should be as strong as the Democratic caucus will allow and aimed not at winning the president’s signature but at drawing his veto. In that way, voters in 2020 can decide who’s on whose side.
Even more importantly, Democrats should use their control of Congress to hammer out a positive policy vision that appeals both to the base and to persuadable Trump voters. This they can do even if they only win back the House (winning the Senate, though highly unlikely, would give them the additional power to block Trump’s judicial nominations and end the legislative filibuster).
The first step is to tell a clear and accurate story of what has gone wrong in the country economically, something they utterly failed to do in 2016. With Barack Obama still president, Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, felt compelled to tell voters that they should feel good about the economic progress of the previous eight years, even though, as they knew, wages had barely budged.
Into that vacuum stepped Donald Trump, who had a simpler story: Average Americans were suffering from long-term downward mobility because elites and Washington had abandoned them to the depredations of immigrants and China, and he would put things right. The particulars were wrong, and dishonest, but the overall portrait of generational decline hit home for much of the country.
In 2019 and 2020, the burden of defending the status quo will be reversed. That will give Democrats an opportunity to finally take the lead on telling the story of the deeper trends that actually explain the past two decades of wage stagnation. The most important part of that story is the concentration of corporate power. With more and more industries controlled by fewer and fewer big firms, corporate managers face little pressure to raise wages, since many workers, especially in rural America, have nowhere else to go. Combine that with the continuing decline of unions, the erosion of the real value of the minimum wage, and the spread of employment contracts with anti-worker provisions—like mandatory arbitration and noncompete clauses—and you have an economy in which workers have little or no bargaining power. A growing chorus of economists now thinks that this phenomenon—more than trade, and certainly more than immigration—is the best explanation for why real wages aren’t rising even after nine years of economic expansion, near-record-low unemployment, and record corporate profits.
But most Americans don’t know any of this, because their leaders haven’t bothered to tell them. They may have seen firsthand the number of potential employers in their hometown shrink because of corporate mergers, or they may have been turned down for a raise even though their company is making huge profits. They may have tried to expand their small business, only to be blocked by market barriers erected by larger corporations. But most folks perceive such setbacks as private tragedies. They don’t know that millions of fellow citizens are suffering them, too. Nor do they understand that their plight is not some inevitable result of “the market.” Rather, it is the consequence of choices made in Washington—especially the decision, beginning in the Reagan administration, to abandon tough antitrust enforcement and instead green-light wave after wave of corporate mergers and anticompetitive practices to the point where a handful of oligopolistic firms have enormous power not only over markets but also, through their lobbying and campaign cash, over the machinery of government itself. Finally, they don’t know that these conditions can be changed—that, in fact, the American economy produced broad-based prosperity for much of the twentieth century with strict rules that made markets more competitive.
The advantage of centering policy debate around this narrative is that it’s both true and new. It counters the GOP’s scapegoating of immigrants and foreigners, and it allows Democrats to transcend their tired role as advocates of increased welfare spending. This story has begun to be told in corners of the press (including this magazine), but control of Congress provides a much more powerful megaphone. Armed with subpoena power, committees will be able to unearth hidden industry and government documents and data about these problems, commission studies into them, and hold public hearings in which victims are invited and bad actors compelled to tell what they know. Fresh information and captivating witness testimony will draw the attention of the press, and if that attention is sustained, the public will slowly begin to connect the dots.
Consolidation is infecting nearly every sector of the economy—from agriculture, where it drives down farmers’ incomes, to social media, where Facebook’s role as a vector for fake news and Russian election meddling is now widely understood. Democratic leaders could easily schedule a hearing or release a report on these issues every week of the 116th Congress. If they do this right, then by 2020, voters will be educated enough on the issue to begin demanding action. By then, Democrats should have drafted legislation that would, among other things, strengthen the rules of antitrust enforcement, and the Democratic nominee for president should promise, if elected, to sign it.
Health care provides another opportunity to tell a story that’s both true and new—it’s just not the familiar one about insuring the uninsured. Most working Americans, who overwhelmingly get insurance through their jobs, know painfully well that their out-of-pocket health care expenses have been rising fast. What should concern them even more is that the other four-fifths of the cost of their health insurance—the part paid by their employers—is rising just as steeply. That’s money that employees would likely have gotten in the form of wage increases flowing instead into the pockets of health care providers. As Paul S. Hewitt and Phillip Longman recently wrote in these pages , “the hit to middle-class families with employer-sponsored insurance has been roughly the same as if the government had imposed a 4.5 percent payroll tax increase beginning in 2010.” But most Americans don’t realize this, because no one sees the wages they aren’t paid.
Health care is notoriously complex, but the cause of these rising costs is shockingly simple: doctors and hospitals are raising the price of treatment. Pills, scans, surgeries—all of it. They’re able to because of our old friend, industry consolidation. Hospitals and practice groups have been merging like crazy, creating local and regional monopolies that allow them to dictate how much money they charge insurance companies—money which, as we’ve seen, ultimately comes out of employees’ paychecks.
The vast majority of Americans don’t grasp these connections, but it wouldn’t be hard for them to if their leaders explained it. If Democrats take the House this fall, they’ll have the next two years to fill in the picture and devise a solution. Fortunately, a pretty simple fix is at hand. One of the unsung successes of the Affordable Care Act is that it dramatically tightened the fees doctors and hospitals can charge Medicare and Medicaid. As a result, unlike care purchased by commercial insurance, the price of health services delivered through federal programs has actually been declining relative to the average wage.
The solution, then, is to cap prices for all health care at what the federal government pays. (The wonky term for this is “all-payer rate setting.”) A Democratic Congress and a Democratic president should make such a mandate the law in 2021, while requiring employers to pass the savings along to their workers. They can phase the change in gradually to give the health care sector time to adapt, while still ensuring that voters see the effects in lower out-of-pocket medical costs by the fall of 2022.
Write a New Voting Rights Act
Republicans are attempting to maintain their long-term power by subverting democracy. The corollary is that Democrats can win long-term power by strengthening it. When it comes to elections, the modern GOP generally tries to make it harder to vote, because obstacles to voting tend to hit key Democratic constituencies—young people, low-income people, minorities—the hardest.
The first big idea that Democrats should pursue once they control Congress, therefore, is to champion an electoral reform agenda centered around increasing the number of citizens who cast ballots. They should conduct wide-ranging hearings on every aspect of the electoral system, including its vulnerability to hacking. They should then seek out the best ways to make the system more secure and voter friendly and incorporate those solutions into a major piece of proposed legislation, a New Voting Rights Act.
One key component of that legislation should be universal vote by mail, otherwise known as vote at home (VAH). Under VAH, all registered voters are mailed their ballots several weeks prior to an election, which they either mail back or drop off at a secure site. The system is almost impossible to hack, leaves a paper trail, and neutralizes suppression techniques like voter ID. Best of all, it increases turnout, especially among young people and low-turnout voters generally—exactly who Democrats need to mobilize. When Colorado first shifted to VAH in 2014, for instance, overall turnout grew by 3.3 percentage points; the eighteen-to-twenty-four cohort saw a double-digit increase. In 2016, Utah allowed counties to conduct their elections totally by mail. The counties that did so saw turnout rise 5 to 7 percentage points—and nearly 10 points higher among voters twenty-five to thirty-four—compared to the counties that didn’t.
The New Voting Rights Act should require that every state do what Utah did and give its counties the choice to hold their elections completely by mail. Even Republican-controlled counties (as nearly all in Utah are) will likely opt in, because it’s much cheaper than staffing a polling place—especially if Congress mandates free postage for mailed ballots. Democrats should include other provisions in the bill to ease voting, such as automatic voter registration and same-day registration, and should pass it on the first day of the 117th Congress if they win control of both branches in 2020. No piece of legislation will do more to increase the party’s chances of retaining their majority after the 2022 midterms.
There is another, even bolder action they can take in the service of expanding democracy: spend the next two years preparing the ground to add two new states to the union, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, in 2021. The principled argument for doing so has long been obvious: the residents of each are American citizens but lack voting congressional representation. Puerto Ricans don’t even get to vote for president. The consequences of this political powerlessness have never been more tragically obvious than in the weak federal response to last year’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
All it takes is a majority vote in Congress and a presidential signature to add a state, and the country has done so
thirty-seven times since its founding. The danger for Democrats if they grant statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico in 2021 is a backlash in red states that could cost some Democratic lawmakers their seats in 2022. The upside is four additional Senate seats and six additional House seats that would almost certainly be added to the Democratic column in 2022 and for many years to come, plus seven additional Electoral College votes.
Rebuild Trust in Government
When it comes to crafting policy, Democrats face a dilemma. They’re the party that believes in the power of government to solve problems. But while polls consistently show that most Americans want Washington to do more on a number of fronts, from health care to infrastructure to education to the environment, polls just as consistently show that voters, and especially the white working class, don’t trust Washington to do these things right—because it’s too bureaucratic, too wasteful, and too corrupt.
Conservatives like to focus on the latter findings to make themselves feel better, liberals on the former. But if they want to win, Democrats need to get out of their comfort zone, stop telling themselves that the voters are being inconsistent, and start hearing what they’re actually saying: if you want their support for more government action, first show them your plan for government reform.
How do Democrats thread the needle of urging government reform without falling into the trap of trying to outdo conservatives on bashing big government? One promising way out of that pickle is to focus on where some of the most egregious waste and fraud is really happening: private contracting. Today, the biggest profligacy in government contracting is in “service contracting”: that is, outsourcing to private consulting firms quotidian work (say, procuring new software and training staff to use it) that could be, and often was, done in-house. “Walk into any federal agency office and you’ll see service contractors and civil servants sitting side by side, doing the same work, indistinguishable other than the employer listed on their badges,” Gilad Edelman reported in these pages last year. The only difference is that service contractors cost the government, on average, nearly twice as much as civil servants, with typically no improvement in outcomes.
Polls show that the average American thinks the federal government wastes fifty cents out of every tax dollar, up from thirty-eight cents on the dollar back in 1986. While both estimates may be excessive, the upward trajectory tracks remarkably well with the costly rise of outsourcing government work that began under Ronald Reagan. Reversing that trend could save hundreds of billions of dollars each year. More importantly, it would allow Democrats to signal that they’re serious about ending waste without abandoning their good-government DNA.
Democrats should also use their command of Congress to take another run at limiting the influence of money in politics—a mission that’s popular with the public but difficult to execute. The Citizens United decision isn’t getting overruled anytime soon, and even if it was, money in politics would remain a colossal problem. The only real way to reduce campaign donations is for campaigns to voluntarily limit the money they raise, and they’ll only do that in return for comparable public funding. But public financing of campaigns isn’t so popular. That’s another one of those seeming contradictions in the public mind that drives liberals crazy, but it isn’t that hard to understand: if you don’t trust the government to spend tax dollars wisely, you’re really not going to trust it to spend them on politicians.
What if it weren’t up to politicians or the government to decide where public financing dollars go, but to individual voters? That’s the idea behind a bill by Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes that would give each voter a tax credit to spend on any candidate running for federal office. If that candidate agrees to certain limits (no money from PACs and a $1,000 cap on any donation), the federal government will match the voter’s contribution six to one. The point is to make it possible for candidates to raise all the money they need by reaching out to average voters rather than lobbyists and wealthy donors. That, in turn, would make them far more likely to do the bidding of the former than the latter.
Should they win back Congress, Democrats should hold extensive hearings on service contracting and pass, with great fanfare, Sarbanes’s bill. Not because voters are demanding it—campaign finance reform may be popular, but it’s a low priority for most voters—but because without an appealing and robust agenda of reform, too many of the voters Democrats need to reach simply won’t listen to or believe anything else the party says. “Championing reform of government and the political process is the price of admission with these voters,” pollster Stanley Greenberg wrote about the white working class, long before Trump made everyone else care. If the party is going to push big new ideas, and it should, it will have to factor in the reality of low trust and faith in the federal government.
Empower the Individual
Nowhere is distrust of government more of a dilemma for Democrats than in their abiding crusade to achieve universal health care. The political challenge of any such plan is to convince voters, the vast majority of whom already have insurance, either through their employers or Medicare, to accept some risk of disruption so that other people can have it too. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, two gifted politicians, both pushed universal health care legislation in their first two years in office, and both efforts contributed to the Democrats’ getting crushed in the next midterms.
Democrats are again gearing up to fight for universal health care. This time, many are rallying around a single-payer system in which all Americans, including the 150 million who now have private insurance, would be covered under a government plan. Whether you agree with single-payer or not, it is undeniably the most disruptive way to achieve universal coverage short of full nationalization. It’s almost the perfect example of a policy you don’t push in a low-trust-in-government environment unless you don’t mind losing power. To the extent that Democrats might want to risk disrupting the health care system, it should be to address the rapidly rising cost of private insurance. That is the biggest emergency in health care right now, and it’s the one that directly affects the lives of the great majority of voters.
That doesn’t mean Democrats can’t advance the cause of universal coverage. They can and should. They would be wise, for instance, to champion a “Medicare buy-in” option for people between fifty-five and sixty-five years old, or go even further with what journalist Steven Waldman calls a “universal public option”: give every individual who lacks health insurance the choice (and subsidies if they need it) to buy into Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA. The beauty of these ideas is twofold. First, they build on existing government programs that voters already know and (mostly) trust. Second, they empower individuals, not the government, to make the choice.
That second feature, not coincidently, is at the center of the Sarbanes campaign finance bill. It ought to be a guiding principle of other big new ideas Democrats want to push. Take, for instance, the idea that several liberal think tanks and Democratic presidential hopefuls have begun advocating for and that this magazine has long favored: creating a modern-day Works Projects Administration. A new WPA could provide jobs and dignity to the hundreds of thousands of Americans in rural areas and the inner city who have still not been able to find employment in an otherwise “full employment” economy. If those additional jobs pay decently, they will create pressure on employers to raise wages for current workers. And when the next recession hits, the program could be scaled up to provide jobs for millions of newly unemployed citizens and in so doing create a Keynesian stimulus that would help ease the recession.
The obvious problem with this idea is that it sounds exactly like the kind of big federal government program that many voters will be primed to distrust. The solution is to make the system radically decentralized and put individual choice at the center of it.
A jobs program designed to overcome distrust of government would look something like this: Individuals would receive a voucher from the federal government that they could use to apply for a community service job at any nonprofit approved by their state. If hired, their salary would be paid for two years by the federal government. At the end of that period, they would receive a substantial monetary award redeemable for education and retraining, along with a framed certificate with the president’s signature thanking them for their service (the latter would have the benefit of making clear that it was Uncle Sam who provided this opportunity). It would be, in essence, a GI Bill for community service. But aside from sending out the awards and writing the checks, the federal government would have no role. All decisions about what projects to undertake—building homes for the poor, delivering groceries to the homebound elderly—would be left to the nonprofits. All oversight would be left to the states. And individuals who didn’t like the project or the way they were being treated would be free to vote with their feet and apply to another nonprofit.
Give Congress Back Its Brain
To be able to develop smart and effective new policy ideas—as well as to conduct the absolutely vital investigations and oversight of the Trump administration—Democrats will first have to repair and strengthen the institution they are inheriting. That means doing something no Democrat on the campaign trail today is talking about: hire more and better congressional staff.
In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich, fearing that the House’s professional staff would get in the way of his conservative revolution, decimated their ranks. (The Senate followed suit, though the cuts were less draconian.) Subsequent congressional leaders have been afraid to replenish them for fear of being seen as “growing the government.” The consequences have been disastrous. Without sufficient staff, Congress has effectively ceded policymaking to well-funded lobbying shops manned, in many cases, by former Hill staffers. And Congress’s ability to monitor the executive branch and hold it accountable has withered.
Lessening the relative power of lobbyists and increasing its leverage with the executive branch are strong good-government reasons why Congress should rebuild its staff capacity, and thoughtful lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for it. But should Democrats win the majority in November, it will also be a raw partisan necessity.
Does Policy Really Matter?
Are you not sold on the concept of increasing congressional staff or creating a decentralized jobs program? That’s fine. My aim is not necessarily to convince you of the wisdom of this or that particular policy idea. It is to convince you of the necessity for the Democrats to have new policy ideas, and to base them at every step on the imperative of winning by margins big enough to ensure the continuation of American democracy. If you don’t like my policy ideas, I invite you to come up with your own.
A realistic objection to my argument that Democrats need new ideas to widen their appeal is that there simply aren’t many voters willing to cast ballots for the other party. The once-wide pool of swing voters in America has shrunk considerably. As the two parties have sorted themselves into more ideologically distinct camps, voters have largely chosen sides. Moreover, political scientists find little evidence that the average voter responds to or even understands specific policy messages. Most voters, rather, cast ballots based on identity—they vote for the party they feel represents “people like us,” and, equally important, they vote against the party that doesn’t. Those identities—white, Christian, rural; nonwhite, non-religious, urban—increasingly align completely with one party or the other.
All that is true—on average. But Democrats don’t need to win all white working-class Trump voters, or even most of them. There’s still a sizable chunk of white working-class voters who aren’t very attached either to the GOP or to Trump. We are already seeing support for Trump weaken among white working-class women, a group that helped elect Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama.
The point of championing new policy ideas is not so much to persuade voters of any particular policy, but, rather, to remake the Democratic Party into one that is more in the interests of average Americans, that does truly put more power in voters’ hands. If the party does this, and gets the message out using the power of Congress, then it has a shot at convincing more Americans that Democratic candidates are on their side. Policy ideas are important not because most voters will learn the details and think through the implications, but because they can give a candidate and a party an identity that voters can, well, identify with.
Over the last four decades, American politics has been trench warfare. With voters more or less equally split between the parties, neither side has been able to dominate the other for long. Since 1981, the GOP has controlled both branches of the government for six years, only two more than the Democrats. But for most of American history, one party dominated. In political scientist Samuel Lubell’s coinage, one is the “sun” party, the other the “moon” party, which reflects the glow of the former. From the 1890s through the 1920s, the Republicans were the sun party. From the 1930s through the 1970s, the Democrats were.
Republicans, looking at their control of Washington and most state governments, and considering the rise of conservative regimes and ethno-nationalist parties in Europe and around the world, may see themselves as the new sun party. But changing demographics cut against that story. It is possible that a decade or two from now national politics will resemble California’s. Four of the state’s six governors from 1967 to 2011 were Republicans. But since then, thanks largely to continuing demographic change, Democrats have controlled both the governor’s mansion and the legislature, and in 2016 gained a legislative supermajority that has rendered the GOP effectively powerless at the state level.
Demography, however, isn’t destiny. And even if the decisive demographic shift in politics Democrats are hoping for comes, it is still several election cycles away. For now, Democrats are going to have to manufacture a majority under difficult conditions, and hold on to it, or America a decade from now might not have a democracy at all.
The author would like to thank the following experts whom he interviewed for their ideas, information, and pushback: Alan Abramowitz, Jonathan Bernstein, Lee Drutman, Joshua Green, John Halpin, Stefan Hankin, Jeff Hauser, Ed Kilgore, Francis Lee, Suzanne Mettler, Seth Masket, Lilliana Mason, Hans Noel, Larry Sabato, Walter Shapiro, Theda Skocpol, Neera Tanden, Ruy Teixeira, Steven Teles, and Steven Waldman.