How Obama Broke the Democratic Coalition

 

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.

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  1. Mendel Member
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    I don’t find anything particularly new in the situation York describes.

    People tend to be sick of the incumbent party any time a president has served for 8 years. Whenever we get to this phase of a presidency, obituaries for his party start to pop up. Then that party spends a few years wandering through the desert before reinvigorating itself just as people start getting sick of the new incumbents.

    I think Obama’s main long-term injury to his party was that by neglecting it, he allowed everything to stagnate. He could have insisted on shake ups in leadership or more policy initiatives from Congress. But instead, the Democrats are left with a bench full of aging, unattractive politicians and a slate of stale ideas.

    • #1
  2. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    The counterpoise problem for the Republicans is they simply don’t understand that they didn’t win big in 2014 because people love them, they won big in 2014 because people are sick of what the Left is doing to this country and want it put back on track. They won big because their “base” decided to go for the Hail Mary pass and give the stinking, corrupt, rotten husk of the party of Lincoln one last chance.

    National Republican office holders to this minute have given no indication whatever that they understand that they are on a timer to deliver results. Not sponsor bills that go nowhere, not conduct hearings that accomplish nothing, not sign letters that nobody reads, not open post offices and visit daycares. Deliver results.

    At a minimum that means passing bills out of Congress and putting them on the President’s desk to either sign or veto, and then pushing back. It means actively fighting.

    It means not going out and mocking the people who put them in control.

    To end on a hopeful note, my hope is they get a clue, find some gonads and some brains somewhere, and get in the game. But like jackalopes, leprechauns, Big Foot, mermaids, and unicorns, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • #2
  3. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Troy Senik, Ed.: gay hispanic web designers with extensive vinyl collections

    ” But how’m I supposed to keep my Husker Du albums in mint condish?”

    • #3
  4. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Mendel: People tend to be sick of the incumbent party any time a president has served for 8 years.

    Yeah, but the point is that for many people, what you (and Troy and Byron) are saying is news. Completely unbelievable news. They’ve been telling themselves that demographics will gift-wrap the presidency for the Democrats for the next 100 years, and when Hillary Clinton’s walker leaves her well short of the finish line in 2016, they will be flabbergasted.

    • #4
  5. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Troy Senik

    (Because) 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.

    Exactly right, Troy. It wasn’t all ideology, or political calculation; it’s more a case of Dems seeing what they want to see. An obsession with race that would have been considered peculiar outside of Central Europe in the 1930s helped that along, of course, but the other elements of the coalition also represented wishful thinking.

    Republicans have to be wary of its mirror image: thinking that inside every working class caterpillar, there’s a beautiful entrepreneurial butterfly waiting to be born. GOP business elites don’t just mouth those words, they really believe them, because those are the circles they travel and live within, because those are the kind of people that in much of the country staffs GOP offices, and the kind of people that Republicans find it easiest to represent.

    When you can turn a steel mill worker into a steel mill owner, great…but the vast majority of them will not be making the jump, and they know it.

    • #5
  6. user_278007 Member
    user_278007
    @RichardFulmer

    It will be interesting to watch Democrats who applauded Obama’s every move now turn around and attack the President’s record (Chuck Schumer is leading the way).  Will the press aid and abet their about-face?  Sure.

    • #6
  7. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    The problem is that Obama has been courting these demographics ans then delivering nothingburgers. This means he hasn’t transferred his support to the Democrats in general.

    • #7
  8. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    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.

    If Jeb Bush has his way, there will be no coalition in the Republican party, and the photo with Rupert Murdoch and Valerie Jarrett is worth a thousand words.

    • #8
  9. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    I think Democrats are in trouble more because they sacrificed seats on the altar of Barrycare than anything else, and a host of other issues that are smaller in scope but just as telling (Benghazi, NSA, IRS, insert alphabet-soup scandal here).  The party that tells you that gov’t is the answer turns out to be correct, except the question wasn’t “What’s best for America?” but rather “What’s best in terms of me getting re-elected?”.

    It turns out that health care wasn’t the Republican-slaying golem that Democrats thought it might be, that once it was put into place, everyone would, if they didn’t love it, would at least accept it.  All going back to an idiot’s faith in an unaccountable system (the USG) being able to do much of anything right, well, if there’s such a thing of political malaise, Democrats have tubs of it and they’re smearing it all over their paunchy selves right now.

    Bonus points if you picture Pelosi doing the smearing.  But essentially, Captain LightBringer threw the party under the bus to establish his “legacy”, which will be:

    Less trust than ever in gov’t.

    A nationalized failure in the form of “universal” health care.

    New precedents set for unilateral power in the president’s office.

    A weakened military, with weakened alliances.

    Oh, and 18 trillion in debt now.  Double the debt in 6 years.  How does that happen?

    • #9
  10. Drusus Coolidge
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    Nick Stuart

    National Republican office holders to this minute have given no indication whatever that they understand that they are on a timer to deliver results. Not sponsor bills that go nowhere, not conduct hearings that accomplish nothing, not sign letters that nobody reads, not open post offices and visit daycares. Deliver results.

    Or what?

    I mean, seriously, or what? You won’t vote? You’ll support the primary challenger? I’m sure they are trembling. I’m sorry to be so snide and cynical, but this just seems like a threat without teeth.

    • #10
  11. otherdeanplace@yahoo.com Member
    otherdeanplace@yahoo.com
    @EustaceCScrubb

    O comparing himself to Mrs. Clinton in 2007:  “I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can.” Fun with nostalgia: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pure-horserace-a-uniter-not-a-divider/

    • #11
  12. user_50776 Member
    user_50776
    @AlKennedy

    Troy, I agree with you and Byron York.  President Obama has bifurcated the Democrat party into a coalition of the wealthy elite (environmental concerns and crony capitalism) and those receiving a transfer of wealth from the rich and the middle class.  The middle class constituency is increasingly absent.  Jay Cost described this in his book Spoiled Rotten.  Demographics will not save the Democrat party.

    I would add one other way that Obama has hurt the Democrat party and created an obstacle for its 2016 presidential candidate.  He will leave numerous foreign policy problems that are at a critical stage.  This completely undoes what Bill Clinton did to reestablish that the Democrat party could be trusted to defend America’s interests abroad.

    This is a major opportunity for Republicans and they may not get another.  I agree with Nick Stuart that beginning in January, they need to demonstrate they can govern as adults.  I also agree with Gary McVey that they need to focus on the worker more than the entrepreneur.  Republican policies must place a large emphasis on solving problems for America’s middle class.

    • #12
  13. user_2967 Member
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    Just remember that a solid red state Republican is the one you will need to build this coalition. That coalition already exists in red states, and not by accident. Blue and purple state GOPers haven’t figured it out, won’t figure it out, and shouldn’t have the chance to figure it out; most of them really don’t believe all that much in what they’re selling, anyway (possible exceptions awarded to Ron Johnson and Scott Walker, who are blessed with a liberal opposition determined to model every lefty caricature).

    • #13
  14. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Drusus:

    Nick Stuart

    Or what?

    I mean, seriously, or what? You won’t vote? You’ll support the primary challenger? I’m sure they are trembling. I’m sorry to be so snide and cynical, but this just seems like a threat without teeth.

    Yes. Just ask House Majority leader Eric Cantor.

    • #14
  15. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Drusus:

    Nick Stuart

    Or what?

    I mean, seriously, or what? You won’t vote? You’ll support the primary challenger? I’m sure they are trembling. I’m sorry to be so snide and cynical, but this just seems like a threat without teeth.

    Or What? – See UKIP . There will be a third party that will siphon votes from the GOP. Short term it will hurt the limited gov’t advocates. Long term? I’m getting to the point of willing to roll the dice. Nick Stuart nailed it.

    • #15
  16. Casey Member
    Casey
    @Casey

    Bill Clinton saw this coming 8 years ago. That’s why he hates Obama so much.

    Clinton spent all of the 90s building a new coalition. At the end of Clinton’s term people were tired of the nonsense and flipped parties. But barely. If Dems had kept their cool and followed Bill’s lead they would’ve kept power a long time.

    But they completely overreacted to Bush and in the process destroyed everything Clinton built.

    • #16
  17. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    I get a tingle running up my leg watching the thoroughly vile and deceitful democrat party stumble into disaster, but that does not necessarily mean the republican party will be the ultimate beneficiary.

    As one of those despised working class Americans, lacking even one Ivy League degree, I get the sense that the GOP establishment regards me as a sour stench in their wealthy nostrils. They bitterly resent that they need votes from people like me, and they can’t really manage to hide their contempt for us. For example, note how the establishment treated Sarah Palin- even though Sarah Palin and her family had a successful business and she had also managed to get elected governor of one the fifty states.

    Believing that, I turned out and voted as Nick Stuart described- giving the festering carcass of the party of Lincoln one last chance. I suspect they will reward me with yet more betrayal, more pocket-stuffing favors for crony capitalists, more lectures about how loathsome I am to oppose policies which will make the GOP donor class richer but will make me poorer, more globalism, more open borders mania, more of the relentless failure of the sort that made George Bush so unpopular before Barry’s bottomless incompetence made him look good by comparison.

    To state the obvious, I feel no loyalty to the Republican party, even though I voted GOP straight ticket last election. The base always shows up, as Mike Murphy said in one of the older podcasts, and I suppose the fact that I showed up is evidence of that.

    But I did it with clenched teeth, expecting to be stabbed in the back, pining for a better option. The GOP generally delivers nothing but meaningless opportunity blather and failure.

    That is not the portrait of a successful governing party, even if the democrats are even worse.

    • #17
  18. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Drusus:

    Nick Stuart

    Or what?

    I mean, seriously, or what? You won’t vote? You’ll support the primary challenger? I’m sure they are trembling. I’m sorry to be so snide and cynical, but this just seems like a threat without teeth.

    A very good question, thank you for asking it. I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past couple of years thinking about “or what?”

    In my case it means I’m done with working on campaigns for hapless, feckless candidates who don’t really seem committed to winning. That would include George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney (I wasn’t paying that much attention with W. so hard to say). That includes a number of congressional candidates like most recently Darlene Senger here in Illinois on whose campaign I wasted about 40 hours making phone calls and doing precinct work. Yes, I’ll still vote but I’ll ramp back my participation to only that.

    Now, take all the people who currently just vote Republican. Who are the target of the turnout campaigns. That vote will be diminished. A lot of voters on the margin will say “screw it” and stay home.

    Yes, this is “lose-lose” strategy, but at least I won’t be pointlessly be wasting my time and emotional energy.

    My point is these are calculations a lot of people are making, consciously and subconsciously. The Republican party is choosing to ignore this reality and are setting themselves up for a bitter electoral surprise.

    • #18
  19. user_385039 Member
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Xennady: #17 “That is not the portrait of a successful governing party, even if the democrats are even worse.”

    Xennady is right.  I am enrolled as an independent even though I vote Republican with amazing regularity.  I don’t for a minute believe that the Republicans actually care what I  believe to be important but they do need that vote (and the votes of people who find the same things important that I do), so they occasionally make the right noises in my direction, but too often are barely believable.

    Xennady is also right in that the Democrats are even worse.  I was a Democrat and they are wretched.  Based on the last presidential election they are anti-God, anti-human, and eager to shovel whatever misery down our throats that they can get away with.  BarryCare, which might also be BoxerCare, FeinsteinCare, ShumerCare, DurbinCare, FrankenCare, etc. is an outstanding example of shoving misery down our throats.

    One wonders at what point they will both be so wretched that one can no longer tolerate a vote for either party.

    • #19

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