Democrats on the decline

  • 30 November 2016
  • NormanL
Democrats on the decline

In the run-up to Election Day, one of the media's major themes was how the GOP would fall to pieces once Donald Trump lost -- handily -- to Hillary Clinton. That narrative failed to launch. But a new one has emerged: it's the Democratic Party that's actually headed for the boneyard. And if anything, its problems have been deeper, and more dire, for longer, than anyone in the media has been willing to admit:

Placed in the context of the last eight years of elections, 2016 looks more like the rule than the exception. The rise of President Obama obscured the fact that the Democratic Party he represented was struggling in virtually every other way in which a party's health is judged. Clinton's loss should make that fact plain to Democrats: The country, judging by down-ballot election results nationwide, is center-right -- and holding. And the Democratic bench is woefully devoid of major rising stars, itself a function of the party's down-ballot struggles over the last eight years.

The "why" of this Democratic decline is far more complicated. Vilsack blames an unwillingness to talk to rural voters. "We need to speak more directly to our folks in rural America,” Vilsack told Jaffe. “And we have to spend time there.” Others cite racism, economic anxiety, a national party that has moved too far left.  And so on.

Whatever the why -- and there is no single "why" -- the reality remains: The 2016 election wasn't an anomaly. It was consistent with the broader political currents in down-ballot races across the country over the last three elections. That's a reality Democrats need to wake up to if they don't want a repeat performance in 2018.

Democrats have been struggling -- for a long time. Losing the White House served to lay those problems bare. While we will not weep for the left, we will also remember that politics is cyclical. The party on the downward slide today can become the party on rise tomorrow.

In short, Republicans have no reason to get cocky. Democrats have alienated wide swaths of the American electorate, but that does not mean voters greatly prefer Republicans. The GOP will have to earn the trust voters have placed in them. If they don't, expect the political pendulum to swing once again.