But then it wasn’t, and instead here we are almost a decade later having the same kind of conversation. And one lesson of that decade, of every election when Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot, is that a party that’s terrible at governing can still win elections if the other party is even worse at politics.
Which the Democrats, amazingly, have been. Or to be less judgmental, let’s say that there’s been a strange cycle at work, where Republican incompetence helps liberalism consolidate its hold on highly educated America … but that consolidation, in turn, breeds liberal insularity and overconfidence (in big data and election science, in demographic inevitability, in the wisdom of declaring certain policy debates closed) and helps Republican support persist as a kind of protest vote, an attempt to limit liberalism’s hegemony by keeping legislative power in the other party’s hands.
How might this strange loop be broken? A big enough crisis under Trump would probably make the empty majority an ex-majority temporarily. But even the Iraq War and the financial crisis didn’t prevent U.S. politics from reverting to a Republican advantage.