Before you start screaming “WTF?” and hurling things, hear me out. Donald Trump could be good for America if he is defeated soundly. An ease-by won’t do, but if Trump is thumped, it could pave the way for long overdue party reinventions.
Polls reveal an electorate fed up with both Republicans and Democrats, which is why the ranks of the un-enrolled is greater than those registered with either. The electorate still votes Republican or Democratic, understandable given that the United States doesn’t apportion representation as in parliamentary-style democracies. Personally I’d welcome a 21st century version of the Populists, but winner-takes-all and Big Money elections put a damper on third parties. The next bet thing is if Trump is soundly defeated and both parties are forced to rethink their respective missions.
Contrary to what Fox News and similar loonies tell you, there is lots of room for parties to expand their base—but to the left, not the right. This isn’t necessarily because Americans are becoming more liberal—though it’s probably true of younger voters, when they exercise their suffrage franchise. There's more room on the left because the USA has already shifted as far to the right as it can safely go without sliding toward fascism. Both parties are right of center these days—with “Reagan Democrats” espousing low taxation, strong defense, global capitalism, free trade, minimal regulation, and chest-thumping nationalism. To be sure, Democrats still place more emphasis on social issues, civil liberties, and diversity; Republicans speak of business, morality, and order. These “values” issues are what largely fuels passion and leaves voters susceptible to the lure of emotion-driven sound bites. But when we scratch deeply, the parties agree on quite a lot and that’s a problem. GOP memo: Ronald Reagan left office 26 years ago and it’s naïve to imagine that era’s politics as a blueprint for the future. Grab hold of this fact: since 1990, the US population has grown by seventy-five million, an increase analogous to the Baby Boom that took place between 1946 and 1964. Expect corresponding upheaval.
|The road to 270|
Were I Republican, I’d want Trump to lose badly so the party can jettison the evangelical and Tea Party conservatives that drag it down. Party leaders won’t say this, but economic conservatives actually run the GOP and they despise social conservatives—they’re bad for business. They rightly feel that the party’s pro-growth economic agenda plays best on the national stage. Values issues do well in local and state races when the voters are throwing hissy fits, but can you imagine someone like Paul LePage, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, or Mike Lee in the White House? Of these, only Cruz is from a state (Texas) that matters. With today’s Electoral College, there are only two ways a Republican can win the White House: by winning at least a few blues states, or if the Democrats screw up.
|Cartograph of where Americans actually live|
Forget all those red states you see on the map. To put it bluntly, no Democratic candidate for POTUS quakes at the prospect of losing North Dakota or South Carolina—they simply don’t matter. Just five states—CA, IL, PA, NY, and PA—take you half the way to the 270 electoral votes needed. Republicans riding Tea Party waves aren’t likely to win those states. This means a Democrat can walk into the White House by winning the right combination of just 10 other states, which is easier now that population growth and immigration no longer make Florida or North Carolina reliably red, Virginia is now blue, and Democrats like Bill Clinton taught how to out-Reagan Reagan. A Republican reinvention begins with abandoning policies perceived as sexist, nativist, anti-choice, and personally intrusive. In other words, the GOP needs to disenfranchise the evangelicals Reagan courted.
The Democrats’ problem is they rely too much on math and often field very flawed candidates. Do you associate the word “excitement” with Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry, or Hillary Clinton? Probably not; they as they appear to be: insider careerists. Clinton will probably win this fall’s election but if she has no coattails, will it matter? Democrats also need a makeover. Step One is to recognize that Bill Clinton’s blueprint is as outdated as Reagan’s, especially if Republicans shift gears. Republicans don’t need to go big—just a small shift makes them as “moderate” as most Democrats.
The Democrats should heed what Bernie Sanders taught them: go progressive or go home. Democrats behave like it’s still 1972 and anyone speaking too forcefully is another George McGovern. They’d do better to recall New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society—back when they actually knew America had a working class. Instead of acceding to the GOP’s Social Darwinian economic views, Democrats need to connect with average Americans, not just high-salaried professionals. They do terribly in poor states; the only explanation for why they can’t convince working people they won’t benefit from government by the 1% is that they’re not trying. A Democratic platform that addressed both the programs favored by professionals and the economic populism embodied in the Sanders campaign would make Democrats formidable. Merge that with ongoing appeals to immigrants and Millennials and you potentially have their most potent alliance since the New Deal coalition. The cost? Putting old warhorses out to pasture, building more of the grassroots organizations Barack Obama pioneered, and playing social class cards retired after John Edwards self-immolated.
The alternative is stasis, the likely outcome if the November election is close. A Trump victory encourages Republicans to become even more regressive; if Clinton squeezes through, Democrats will oil the same old machine. We are two and half decades into a new century. It’s time for Democrats to stop behaving like it’s the early 20th century and for Republicans to realize it’s not the late 19th. A Trump trouncing could be just the ticket.