Courtiers in denial: Obama's rapidly shrinking legacy

Early reviewers’ copies of Audacity arrived before the election, and reading these passages after November 8 I grimaced a little, and not simply because of their vanity and self-congratulation. As a fellow hack I sympathized with the amount of rewriting Chait would have to do; the book is shot through with the assumption that Obama’s designated heir would also be his successor in the White House, fortifying his achievements.

As it happens, the horror of the Trump ascendancy has forced him to rewrite a little, but not enough. In fact, Trump’s victory and the repudiation of Obama’s heir only reinforce Chait’s argument, because .  .  . because it just does.

“Trump’s surprise victory gave [Republicans] a last-gasp chance to stave off defeat,” he writes. “Conservative Republicans won power but they lost the future.” That’s a hard statement to disprove. We won’t know whether he’s correct until the future gets here. We’ll have a long wait.

Chait’s argument for the durability and ultimate triumph of Obama’s coalition rests on the familiar belief that demography is destiny, though it often isn’t. He also has to ignore the electoral devastation suffered by the party Obama has led since 2008. Not since the 1920s, when the country was aswoon over the manly Coolidge, have Democrats been so weak at the state, local, and national levels. We don’t need to wait for the future to predict that a coalition built around the peculiar qualities of a single politician isn’t likely to last.

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