Each party has fallen into the comfortable habit of attributing its weakness to factors outside its control. Democrats insist they have a robust popular majority but that our constitutional architecture prevents the institutions from reflecting it. Purer majoritarianism, they argue, would prove the country is on their side. But by requiring overlapping majorities of different kinds, our institutions are designed to reflect the multilayered complexity of our society, compelling governing coalitions to reach out and broaden their appeals. The Democrats’ persistent inability to do that is not an argument against the Constitution.
Republicans, meanwhile, insist the bulk of the country would be with them if not for a sliver of urban elites using the powerful institutions they dominate (from media outlets to universities to culturally liberal corporations) to distort reality and shut down debate. But city dwellers are no less American than rural voters. And letting a party devolve into a frantic cult of personality around a recklessly divisive narcissist who turns off persuadable suburbanites is the fault of no one except those who do it.
To win and give direction to our politics, a party would need to build a relatively broad and durable coalition. But while the results of this election show the need for that, they do not make it more likely. The incentives of a divided Congress will drive each party to do what it can on its own — with House Democrats focusing on fighting Trump and Senate Republicans becoming full-time judicial confirmers.