First, demographic change has been part and parcel of the American political landscape since the Founding, and yet the parties adapt. We can go back to the Federalist/Jeffersonian divide of earliest days. The latter enjoyed a demographic edge for a time because of the fast expansion of the West, but the old Federalist ideology eventually became the backbone of the Whigs, who were competitive against the Jacksonians. Federalism and antislavery then inspired the Republicans. So demography “doomed” the ideas of the Federalists, until of course a homespun Illinoisan named Abraham Lincoln united the whole North around a reworked version of their economic program. More recently, consider: In 1928 it was the Catholic vote that flipped Massachusetts from Republican to Democrat. In 2004 a majority of white Massachusetts Catholics gave their vote to George W. Bush, a Methodist from Texas, over John Kerry, a Catholic from Massachusetts.
Second, despite our political class’s pretensions to power, they remain mere pawns in a broader game designed by James Madison. Madison wanted a large republic precisely so demagogues could never build a fractious majority, as has been President Obama’s clear ambition. A society that covers a large space with many people actually makes it harder to do what this president has so long wanted. Per Madison: “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.”
We are seeing this play out right now. Obama’s coalition in 2008 was relatively large—at 53 percent of the vote—but unstable. In a country as vast and diverse as ours, all such coalitions are bound to be unstable. And what we have seen is Republicans poach a critical mass of the Obama vote away, in 2010 and likely in 2014, to foil his agenda. Just as Madison might have expected.