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Writing in his column in today’s Washington Examiner, Byron York hits a note that Democrats would do well to take very seriously: “Now that the 2014 elections are over and national politics is all about 2016, Democrats have good reason to worry that, for all his success at the polls, President Obama will leave his party with a toxic legacy…”
The Obama damage is two-fold. First, his success relied on a coalition that likely will not survive, or at least survive at full strength, without Obama himself on the ticket. Secondly, Obama drove a significant portion of white voters away from the Democratic Party.
As Byron notes: “Put those two things together — smaller Obama coalition and more alienated whites — and the result could be huge trouble for whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is in 2016.”
Here’s the problem: parties are coalitions. And successful parties are big, rollicking, often contentious coalitions. The country is too heterogenous to get to majority status any other way. The bigger that coalition gets, however, the harder it is to thread the needle in the way that keeps everyone happy (or at least pacified). And Barack Obama broke the Democratic coalition.
One of the reasons that the media and Democratic elites (if you squint really hard they look like distinct entities) have been so obsessed with the “coalition of the ascendant” — the cohort of minorities, young people, and unmarried women that are often held up as the key to future liberal success— is that that’s the group that politicians like Obama want to represent. Those are the circles they mix in. Those are the people who staff Democratic offices.
They’re not enough though. The Democratic Party can’t win national elections purely with the support of gay hispanic web designers with extensive vinyl collections. It’s a coalition that really needs guys in denim jackets who drive work trucks in order to capture governing majorities. Bill Clinton used to flatter them as people who “work hard and play by the rules.” Barack Obama went to Iowa and tried to commiserate with them about the cost of arugula at Whole Foods. You don’t really need any more detail; those previous two sentences basically capture the whole dynamic in microcosm. After six years, it’s starting to wear thin.
This isn’t just a liability for Democrats; it’s an opportunity for Republicans. Sure, going after these voters that Democrats have neglected is an electoral opportunity, but it also gives you a shot at building a better Republican Party: one that focuses just as much on people who sign the back of checks as people who sign the front. Democrats have opened up a huge opportunity for the GOP in 2016. Let’s hope they take it.