Between the time Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009 and the time Donald Trump took the oath in 2017, Democrats lost nearly 1,000 congressional, state House, and Senate seats in nearly every nook and cranny in the country. They also lost the majorities in the state legislatures, governors' offices, and statewide elected offices.We're likely to see such gridlocking phenomena as long as "voters think a vote for one of the Other than Democrat, Other than Republican candidate is a futile and stupid gesture."
Two years into the Trump presidency, Democrats swung nearly 380 — about one-third — of those state House and Senate seats back into their column. They also flipped seven governors' seats their way as well as 40 congressional House seats, additionally regaining several of the statewide elected offices.
The problem, Ms Zito contends, is that Professional Politicians' Salaries depend on them interpreting continued participation in the false binary as a "mandate."
American voters, in particular independent voters who actually deliver these swings back and forth between parties, keep sending Washington a message with their votes. And Washington keeps misreading that message.The best thing the politicians could do, whether in service of broadly shared prosperity or ending the culture wars, might be to go away. But how can a professional politician get the message and step out of line and disappear? Particularly if their court intellectuals offer apologetics for their continued rule. Sorry, no. "Fulfilling the aspirations expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution–notably devoid of references to blood-and-soil nationalism–should suffice for any principled American conservative."
It tells us in part that these rapid and large swings show a disconnected middle that feels a distrust with both parties and an allegiance to none.
But the magnitude and frequency of these swings tell us something more important: Nothing seems to be working. Voters keep telling politicians to follow through on their promise of a broad shared prosperity and an end to the culture wars. But politicians hear: Let’s get the band back together and put on an ideological road show.
There might be more at stake: Ms Zito's column doesn't say "new equilibrium" or "transition from equilibrium to equilibrium" and yet, that might be where we find ourselves.
Curt Nichols, political science professor at Baylor University in Texas, cautions that these swings aren’t really waves in the way we think of a wave. In fact, he says very few elections, perhaps one in every 30 years or so, are so "wave-like" in that they wipe out the previous political order.Don't we first have to understand what that equilibrium might be. The California-style electorate of Silicon Valley and identity politics is an unsustainable coalition. The old "liberal international order" that emerged by accident after the War, and that thought the collapse of the Soviet Empire on its watch endorsed their world view is fractured, perhaps irreparably.
“Rather, most elections occur within the boundaries of the status quo. They, therefore, simply represent the electorate’s attempt to swing politics back to equilibrium after events or actions drive them akilter,” he said.
Reinforcing the notion that each party gets it wrong when they think voters have come back home to them when they win.
So if you believe, as he does, that the election of 2008 was one of those rare status-quo-shifting (i.e. true wave) electoral contests, then everything that has happened since then makes sense in terms of seeking a return to equilibrium.
“In today’s Age of Obama, politics has shifted so that the new center of the Democratic Party (its natural equilibrium) is in a space that is both friendlier to the interests of new economy billionaires and those with progressive values than was true during the Reagan Revolution Era,” he said.
“The new Democratic status quo thus leans to support Silicon Valley type cutthroat capitalism and #MeToo identity politics,” Nichols explained.
When Democrats stray from this center toward the extreme, as they did shortly after Obama was elected and in the wake of nominating Hillary Clinton for president, the electorate pushes back and tries to return to equilibrium.
“Then, you get the Republican electoral victories of 2010 and 2016, which were not — strictly speaking — wave elections,” he said.
When the GOP strays too far away from its own new center, which is more mildly populist than the past (in terms of championing Main Street economics and traditional values), the electorate again attempts to return the country to its equilibrium. Hence, the outcome of the recent midterm election.
“While embracing a quasi-socialist agenda may fire up the imagination of left-wing activists and historically challenged youth alike, it is far from the center of today’s status quo and will backfire for Democrats at the ballot box,” warned Nichols.
And looking ahead?
“Whatever happens in 2020, it is probably going to be best not to think of the outcome in terms of a wave election but, rather, an attempt to return to equilibrium,” said Nichols.
As far as that identity-politics, quasi-socialist option? It takes something to provide an opportunity for voters to coalesce on an equilibrium, and that's still missing. Consider this diatribe on the occasion of George H. W. Bush's funeral.
On issue after issue ― taxes, abortion, voting rights, civil liberties, terrorism, deregulation ― Trump holds positions essentially identical to those of Bush. Not on everything, of course. It’s impossible to imagine Bush acting as cruelly or capriciously as Trump has on immigration, or trade or the rights of journalists, for example.There's a lot more in a similar vein but it reads more like doubling down on identity politics and continuing the culture wars. Is more polymorphous perversity really the way to expand a coalition of disaffected voters? Is more dysfunction masquerading as authenticity really the best way to celebrate diversity? Is sucking all the joy out of the Festive Season in the name of tolerance going to win many voters over?
Yet it’s just as difficult to see how we would have gotten to Trump without going through Bush. Without his lying about intelligence to justify the Gulf War, his questioning whether atheists should be considered patriots or even citizens, his saying yes to the Willie Horton ad, his calling Michael Dukakis a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” or his turning a deaf ear to the desperate pleas of tens of thousands of AIDS sufferers.
Or might there be some reason for people to vote with Donald Trump or the Bushes, older or younger, in favor of less burdensome taxes, of honest elections, of toughness on crime, terrorism, and communism, on trade-tested betterments, something that the Silicon Valley and identity politics types aren't offering a better choice?