The parties are like middle-aged couples who find themselves in the jobs they always wanted, the homes they hoped they’d have, or at least pretty close. There are still new projects to run and renovations to complete, taxes to be cut and programs to be expanded, but the task is no longer to build toward something. It’s to defend what’s already been done.That's not to say that organizations don't have to look to changing or dying, where the analogy to a contented retirement breaks down.
One key difference between the two parties, however, is that some Republicans have realized that they are spinning their wheels, and are looking for a way to escape. Hence the various factions vying for a new path forward: Libertarian populists, conservative reformers, neocon revivalists, security-state skeptics, other right-leaning entrepreneurs all start from a shared assumption that the Republican party’s policy ammunition is largely spent. The party needs a new story, a new framework, and new ideas to drive it.At Reason, it's always time to anticipate John Galt. Donald J. Trump is more like James Taggart. Nobody saw that coming.
Democrats, on the other hand, have not yet taken stock of their situation. But already Obama’s second term resembles a once-promising TV series stretched over far too many seasons. Like so many Republicans in the Bush years, there is widespread belief amongst Democrats that they are ascendant. But much like Republicans during Bush’s second term, they are already running out of steam. Hillary Clinton, the party’s most likely presidential nominee in 2016, is intimately linked to the two previous Democratic administrations, and will run as a defender of their achievements. Beyond Clinton, the party’s bench is weak. It won't be long before Democrats are as exhausted as Republicans are now.Likewise, nobody anticipated that Mrs Clinton would have to appeal to the people left behind as if Hope and Change were incomplete and A Place Called Hope might as well have been Eisenhower Republicanism with more interesting sex scandals.
The end of policy is not permanent. For better or for worse, both parties will eventually settle on new directions and new agendas, perhaps modified only slightly from their old ones, perhaps radically changed. But first, both parties will have to figure out what it is they want, and what they stand for. Republicans, having had an earlier start, are beginning this process, however slowly. Democrats have yet to begin.Will we see evolution in geologic time, or are we looking at a punctuated equilibrium? Promises to be interesting. Fun? That's yet to be determined.