I’ve long been skeptical of grand EDM theories — perhaps because I remember too well the predictions, fashionable circa 2004, that Democrats were heading for permanent minority status. As Sean Trende explains in his excellent book “The Lost Majority,” there’s really no such thing as a stable and long-lived coalition. Parties win elections by building large coalitions of voters with disparate interests. Then events, and the internal tensions of their own coalitions, pull them apart. The idea of semi-permanent majorities is an optical illusion, not a law of nature.
I’d add a personal corollary to this, which is that the more ascendant your ideology seems, the more danger it is in of internal fracture, because the center of your coalition is militantly ideological, but the vast masses of voters on the outer edge are not. The more secure the grip on power seems, the more prone the militants are to demand policies that will chase regular voters into the arms of the other side. The 1968 Democratic meltdown is perhaps the clearest example of this, but far from the only one — I’d put 2008 in the same basket. If Democrats had not been so convinced that they were having an FDR moment, they wouldn’t have suffered such brutal losses in state and national legislatures over the last four years.
That’s why I’m not arguing that Judis has identified an ascendant Republican majority; I don’t believe in such things. (To be fair, Judis isn’t arguing this, either, though of course his headline writer couldn’t resist titling the piece “The Emerging Republican Advantage.”) On the other hand, I do think he has identified trends that should worry the hell out of Democrats planning for 2016. The party has allowed itself to settle on Hillary Clinton as the candidate of least resistance: a woman who will be nearly 70 years old in 2016, and who was hand-walked into office in Deep Blue New York State, which is not exactly playing against the varsity. She’s never won a tough campaign against a credible opponent. If Judis is right that Democrats are in for a real fight, that may come to look like a fatal mistake.