Democrats Still Winning the Long Game

Republicans are poised to ride a wave election, conceivably as large as in 1994, and Exhibit A of their success may well be pronounced "Speaker John Boehner." But if you step back, it's also likely to be a temporary bump on a road toward Democratic dominance.
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I know what you're thinking. It feels like things can't get much worse for the Democrats -- and that if it can, it will. We had so much momentum after 2008, so much hope and excitement, and now, as we march reluctantly toward the midterms, it feels like all of our efforts are unraveling. Republicans are poised to ride a wave election, conceivably as large as in 1994, and Exhibit A of their success may well be pronounced "Speaker John Boehner." How's that for a shiver down your spine?

But there is actually plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of the Democratic Party -- and the progressive ideals it represents. You just have to be able to look past November to see it.

I know that's a tall order. In a 24-hour news cycle, in a minute-to-minute blogosphere, looking beyond the next election isn't so easy to do. It's not even that easy to look beyond the next news cycle. Go to any website, read any newspaper, and the sense you get is that nothing exists after November. Decisions made today, actions taken by both parties, are seen through a narrow lens. We ask, what will their impact be this fall, without any regard for what their impact will be in the years that follow.

But if you step back, look beyond the current moment, and consider the broader context, you'll see that Democrats are actually in tremendously strong shape for the long term. What happens this November isn't inconsequential. But it's also likely to be a temporary bump on a road toward Democratic dominance.

In my new book, Permanently Blue, I talk about the future of the Democratic Party. In my view, it is far brighter than you might think, so bright, in fact, that I believe the party has an opportunity to create a lasting majority -- and hold the White House -- not just for an election cycle, but for an entire generation.

I know how incredible that sounds. It seems difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile that idea with the reality that Republicans may be on the verge of taking back Congress. And yet, that's where we find ourselves: Republicans are about to win a ton of seats. And they are also about to spend a generation in the minority.

The Republican Party has been making decisions these last few years that will haunt them long past November. Their adherence to "tea party values"--their full-tilt ideological purification--has left the party in a position where it can no longer moderate. That's okay during an off-year election in the middle of a sputtering recovery, but in presidential years--like 2012--the voting population expands. Young voters and minorities show up to the polls in much higher numbers. When that happens, Republicans will find themselves in an incredibly tough spot.

They have, for example, doubled-down on their anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic rhetoric. Not only has the party roundly endorsed the Arizona immigration law, it's also begun calling for the end of birthright citizenship through the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment. Not the best formula for winning the Hispanic vote.

Why should the Republicans care about the Hispanic vote? Because Hispanics are, by far, the fastest growing population in the country. By 2020, the Hispanic population is projected to grow another 40 percent while the white population grows just 5 percent. In 2008, President Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, which drove his victories in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida. If he can maintain that level of support among Hispanics in 2012, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the Republican nominee to find a path to 270 votes. And as the Hispanic population continues to grow, its influence in key states will only continue to increase. Given its importance, the Republican Party's willingness to take its anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy agenda to such a vitriolic level is surprising, and undoubtedly debilitating.

Republicans also face redistricting challenges that could erase a number of seats from their 2010 victories. Republicans are expected to do quite well in 2010 in state legislative and governor's races across the country. But they are unlikely to come close to regaining the dominance they enjoyed at the state level in 2000, the last time the congressional map was drawn. And with 80 percent of the population growth over the last decade coming from minorities--almost entirely in urban areas--most of the new seats created will end up in Democratic hands.

This will leave Republicans in a difficult position in 2012. With an expanded electorate, and in the wake of redistricting, they will have trouble holding onto the gains they make this year. And with the Obama reelection campaign positioned to raise well over a billion dollars--none of which will have to be spent in a competitive primary--the organizational advantages that Democrats will enjoy will be overwhelming.

2010 will be a great year for Republicans. But 2012 is shaping up to be the opposite. And a look further down the road paints an even uglier picture for the GOP.

Take the younger generation, for example. The Millennials. This is a group that gave Barack Obama two-thirds of its support in 2008, and has consistently awarded the president high marks throughout his first two years. I suppose that's not all that surprising given that they are, without question, the most socially liberal generation in American history.

Why should that worry Republicans? Because every year between now and 2018, 4 million new Millennials will become eligible voters. That means that 16 million more will be able to vote in 2012 than in 2008, and 32 million more in 2016. Even if they turn out in characteristically low numbers, they will still add millions of new votes into the Democratic column. By 2018, when the entire Millennial generation can vote, they will make up 40 percent of the voting population and be 90 million strong. That's 14 million more Millennials than Baby Boomers, making the youngest generation the largest in U.S. history.

How can the Republican Party possibly court a generation this progressive, and this substantial, without losing its tea party base? And how can they survive on the national stage if they don't?

This isn't a formula for Republican dominance. It's a formula for Republican extinction.

None of this is to say that this November doesn't matter, or that its results will be inconsequential. If the Republican Party takes over the House, they may defund health care, shut down the federal government, and usher in a period of gridlock without precedent.

But November should be understood in context. This is the last election cycle in which this congressional map -- designed predominantly by Republicans -- will be used. And it will be the last year Republicans can depend on ideological purification without serious retribution at the polls.

The country is changing dramatically, and in ways that are sure to benefit Democrats. That's why I'm so optimistic about our future. It's why you should be too. November might be an ass-kicking. But it's poised to be our last one for quite a long while.

Dylan Loewe is the author of Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republican Party and Rule the Next Generation.

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