Top Stories of the Year: #3
This year, I kept predicting that Donald Trump would lose the election and would drag down Republican candidates for lower offices. In my defense, I based this on polls whose results were fairly consistent, but which all turned out to be a wee bit off. In my further defense, they were only a wee bit off. Trump’s popular vote total ended up about two percentage points lower than Hillary Clinton’s, which is only slightly better than the polls predicted. It was his unexpectedly strong performance among blue-collar voters in swing states—a constituency that usually votes for Democrats—that tipped the results in the Electoral College.
Trump did, arguably, drag down a few other Republican candidates, contributing to Senate losses in three states he didn’t carry: New Hampshire, Illinois, and Nevada. But the losses were mostly on the other side and can fairly be described as a catastrophe for Democrats.
And in my final defense, for years I have maintained a Democratic Party Death Watch chronicling the growing long-term weakness of their political position. This year was a culmination of that trend. Very early in the primary process, I described the Democratic primaries as “a grim kind of death march, with an aging roster of minor figures up against the ‘inevitable’ steamroller of a candidate who is infamously cynical and dishonest, flagrantly corrupt, and constantly mired in scandal, with an insufferably entitled daughter, in-laws who include a convicted felon, and a husband with a messy personal life.”
In November, this Democratic Party Death March reached its destination.
The main blame for the election result has to go to the candidate. Part of what made Hillary Clinton such a bad choice is that she is a cartoon caricature of everything critics say is bad about her party.
The common theme of Hillary Clinton’s career is an arrogant sense of entitlement and a belief in power above all. The caricature she really fits is that every policy or ideal is just a pose and that the underlying impetus is merely that people like her should have the power to impose their will on others.
I happen to think there’s a lot of truth in that view of the left. But if I were a Democrat, I would be eager to counter-program against it by nominating someone with a little bit of modesty, a little more integrity, and a lot more earnest idealism.
Then again, they kind of tried that. But Bernie Sanders is just a different kind of lefty stereotype: the woolly-headed washed up hippie who still thinks Communism is an untried ideal and wonders why everybody can’t just have everything for free, man. And his family has still enjoyed their time at the trough. That’s the problem when the only kind of “idealism” you have to offer is loyalty to a failed and corrupt system like socialism.
Part of the reason Democrats got stuck with Hillary Clinton as their standard-bearer, the reason they couldn’t put forward someone who would do a lot better against Trump, is because of decisions they made long ago about their basic priorities.
Democrats have yet to face up to the fact that they chose a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. They’re still busy trying to blame Russian hackers and fake news on Facebook, and pretty much anything other than the real reasons for the election result. But even when they get around to blaming the Clintons, they’re going to take a very long time before they get around to identifying the real architect of their recent destruction: Barack Obama.
In the middle of the year, President Obama took to the Journal of the American Medical Association to basically admit that Obamacare has failed in all its stated objective and to describe how we’re going to need a whole new round of government controls to “fix” what his previous “fix” broke. Yet for the sake of this boondoggle, Obama convinced Democrats to burn up all of their political capital.
That’s why I argued that Trump’s victory is Obama’s real legacy.
President Obama’s re-election in 2012 may have been a big success at the top level of politics, but it helped Democrats ignore a series of devastating defeats on every level below that. Over the past eight years, Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress and also got shellacked in governors’ races and in state legislatures.
It’s not difficult to explain why. President Obama stubbornly pursued a series of deeply unpopular policies, the crown jewel of which is Obamacare. To pass Obamacare, President Obama sacrificed his party’s congressional majority, on the assumption that the program would prove overwhelming popular once it was in place. In reality, Obamacare has vindicated all of its critics’ dire warnings, with a new round of double-digit premium hikes hitting just before Election Day this year.
But Democrats were so busy congratulating themselves on beating Mitt Romney that they totally failed to notice their underlying electoral weakness.
Another Obama contribution: “the Democrats’ constant stoking of racial politics provoked a backlash, often in ugly forms, among blue-collar whites who are tired of being targeted as the enemy—which once again delivered the Reagan Democrats to Trump.”
On the level of political philosophy, the Democrats’ disastrous decision was to embrace a philosophy of racial and economic collectivism that divides the public into rival interest groups jostling with each other for power and plunder. On the level of electoral politics, they implemented this by adopting the theory of an Emerging Democratic Minority, a coalition of racial minorities, young women, and educated whites. In their mania to lock down this coalition, they thoroughly alienated everybody else, including one of their big traditional constituencies: blue-collar whites in the industrial heartland. That is what cost them this election.
Their error in short, was to divide the public into warring interest groups and assume they could gain and keep power by appealing to a narrow coalition of those groups.
Their persistence in this error can be seen in their ongoing complaints about the Electoral College, which misses the whole point of why we have it.
[C]omplaints about the Electoral College…indicate the very attitude that helped Democrats lose the election: contempt for the people who live outside the left-leaning enclaves in big cities and on the coasts.
I’ve been thinking of offering some free suggestions for the Democratic Party’s post-election “autopsy,” but I suspect they would fall on deaf ears, because the chief response I’ve been hearing is that those people out the heartland deserve contempt because they voted for that rotten, bigoted Donald Trump, which means that they must also be rotten and bigoted. So they don’t deserve to have their votes given extra weight in the Electoral College….
But the one enduring function of the Electoral College it to ensure that presidents can’t be chosen solely to represent the interests of the larger states and big population centers….
Let’s put this in terms that might be easier for today’s left-leaning young people to understand. In the popular Hunger Games books and films—a future dystopia written by a modern “liberal”—the nation is divided into rural districts that are subservient to a big, densely populated Capitol. That is precisely the result the Electoral College is designed to avoid. It is intended to give the outlying rural districts a political weight that makes them impossible for the urban elites to ignore.
Or we can put it differently: the problem is that Democrats want to live in The Bubble, described in a “Saturday Night Live” parody as an enclave of urban free thinkers “and no one else.”
[T]he thing about bubbles is that after a while, it’s difficult to remember that you’re in one. It’s easy to fall back reflexively on the same unexamined tropes without ever having to hear much skepticism from the people around you.
Some of us have been warning the left for years that this makes them weak, that it makes them almost totally unaware of how unconvincing some of their favorite causes have become to the majority of America. On a more practical level, they also fail to realize how unappealing some of their candidates are to voters in other parts of the country, the parts that control a majority of the Electoral College.
They needed a reminder, and this election is a big one.
Reform usually comes from the desperation of reaching rock bottom, and it may take Democrats a while to take stock of the full extent of what they have lost. Take, for example, Barack Obama’s penchant for ruling by executive order.
So many of the policies of the left consist of giving a lot of personal power to the people who occupy executive office, to use as at their unlimited discretion. President Obama’s approach to governing has relied so heavily on the use of executive orders, as a replacement for being able or willing to reach any agreement with Congress, that the personality and temperament of the next person to wield those powers matters more than ever.
We’re about to see what the consequences will be. The big question is the fate of Obamacare. If Republicans follow my advice, they have the opportunity to help create “a generation of timid, cautious, compromising Democrats.”
Democrats know that once they pass a massive new regulation or entitlement, it never gets repealed, and instead of rolling back the welfare state, Republicans will spend all of their time fixing it. But what happens if Democrats sacrifice their majority for a new entitlement program, and then the entitlement is repealed? Remember that Barack Obama got the Democratic nomination way back in 2008 because he promised to reject the timid incrementalism of the Clinton centrists. What if, after eight years, his crowning legislative achievement is nullified and his “legacy” is precisely nothing? That will make Democrats a lot less eager in the future to march off a cliff at the behest of the far left wing of their party.
To be sure, in the short term, judging from their reaction to the recent election loss, Democrats seem even more determined to lurch to the left and march off a lot of cliffs. But the elected Democrats who manage to survive a few more cliff drops will be the ones who finally learn some caution.
Then again, I instituted my first Democratic Party Death Watch in 2005—alongside a Republican Party Suicide Watch, which for a while turned out to be the more relevant category. If 2008 and 2012 now look like Pyrrhic victories for the Democrats, we should worry that 2016 will turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Republicans, particularly since they have a mercurial new leader who threatens to pull them away from the core principles they’re supposed to stand for.
That is the next big story of this year and the big political question for 2017.