As the primary draws to a close, and the Democrats race toward a contested convention, violence is beginning to crop up. The party is on the verge of fracture, and the superdelegates are going to have to weigh their options carefully. Though she leads by a significant margin, Hillary Clinton, comes with political realities that the party will sooner or later face. One of those is the high probability of her losing the 2020 election.
For Democrats, 2020 presents the first chance in a decade to win back the House of Representatives. The election coincides with the next Census, which means the party that takes the majority of the state legislatures will redraw the congressional districts. The GOP won the down-ballot race the last time there was a Census — in 2010 — which allowed them to gerrymander the House districts heavily in their favor, and the Democrats have been unable to win control since.
This time around there are fewer restrictions on the redistricting process because the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — the formula for states and localities to fall under the Section 5 preclearance requirements. If the Democrats lose down-ballot in 2020, they will not regain control of the House until 2031. Put simply, progress of any kind for the next decade will come down to turnout, and down-ballot voting in the next presidential election.
And as if the legislative branch weren’t enough of a concern, more seats are likely to open on the Supreme Court, given the ages of the justices — though that is also true for the 2016 election.
Hillary Clinton is not a strong enough candidate to win two terms. She may not even be strong enough to win one. Her favorability ratings are the second lowest for a presumptive nominee since David Duke, and only getting worse. Most people feel she is “dishonest.” The only way she could ever be president is because the Republican nominee is even less liked than she is (barely), and even then, that is subject to change.
Clinton’s problems can be attributed to the internet and the way she conducts herself politically. She is a politician of a bygone era of insider politics. Like Mitt Romney before her, Clinton has fallen victim to the fact that, today, anyone can readily pull up a video on YouTube of her saying different things to people on different sides of various issues.
Americans today — particularly the young people — have caught on to the fact that the insider game is rigged in favor of the donor class. They realize popular opinion has a negligible impact on public policy.
From lobbyists writing legislation to ex-legislators becoming lobbyists, the definition of bribery has become narrowly tailored indeed. Even the politicians who genuinely want to do better are stymied under this system. President Barack Obama who once promised “hope and change,” and who lamented the Citizens United v. FEC ruling when it came down, just appointed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Garland is one of the D.C. Circuit judges who expanded on that ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC which gave the country super PACs.
We are at a breaking point.
Polls show that most Americans do not feel represented by either of the two major political parties, and consistently feel that their side is losing. Even popular culture is beginning to reflect these attitudes with movies like Money Monster, The Big Short, Wolf of Wall Street, and Assault on Wall Street. Television is also following suit with shows like Mr. Robot and Arrow. Our lexicon now includes phrases like “the one percent.”
The 2016 primaries have seen the rise of two rock star outsiders. This is just the beginning of what is to be an all out rejection of establishment politics and their unfulfilled promises of change. People are desperate.
Clinton’s voting base is made up of generally older, more established Democrats. Many of her voters have reached or are beginning to reach old age. There will be fewer of them in 2020 than there are today, which does not bode well for an already weak candidate. What’s more, Clinton’s millennial support hinges on her opposing Donald Trump, but who knows who the opposition will be in four years?
History Suggests Imminent Loss
There is also a historical trend working against the Democrats if they win the Oval Office in 2016. The last consecutive two-term presidents from the same party were James Madison and James Monroe. While the Democrats did control the White House for two decades under Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and Harry Truman, that fact is irrelevant..
FDR was the president who got us through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and to a large extent, World War II. His “fireside chats” had given Americans hope when times were bleak. The people loved him — so much so that, if he had lived, they may have given him a fifth term. But Truman, who took over for FDR upon his death, just three months into his fourth term, suffered the same problem as every president since who has followed a two-term (or in this case four-term) predecessor. Once FDR was gone, the Democrats’ magic wore off. It took vigorous campaigning as well as the fact that he had overseen victory in World War II to get Truman elected. The odds were so long that the Chicago Daily Tribune even mistakenly ran the headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman” on its front page on November 3, 1948.
Still, some discount the danger. These skeptics point out that the future cannot possibly be known until it happens. Law professor, blogger, and frequent critic of mine, Scott Lemieux made this counterargument in a blog post from January:
Our “two party system” is, of course, much different than the one that has prevailed for most of American history, in which regionally-based, ideologically heterogeneous brokerage parties have competed for national office. As recently as 1984, it was possible for a presidential candidate to carry 49 states in a presidential election. Trying to infer laws from patterns based on a party system that no longer exists is a complete waste of time. Old patterns just don’t apply to a new system in which more ideologically coherent parties are moving away from the center at an asymmetrical pace.
Lemieux’s conclusion that “old patterns do not apply to a new system” is shockingly misguided.
For one thing, these concerns are not only founded on a 191-year-old historical trend. They’re also based on the current mood of the country, and polling data.
What’s more, not so much has changed as Lemieux argues. Our parties are still regionally split (though the compositions of both have changed) as well as ideologically heterogeneous. Just look at the rifts exposed by this primary! Moreover, the process by which our party system changes (realignment cycles) generally follows a format, according to political scientists like A. James Reichley and Walter Dean Burnham:
Step 1) A major, unaddressed and divisive issue prompts a political party to address it.
Step 2) A massive shift among voters in favor of one party in what Burnham calls a “”critical election.
Step 3) That party then takes control of the frame, and becomes increasingly dominant over a span of several election cycles. It drives a policy shift.
Step 4) That policy shift also attracts new voters.
Step 5) The resulting minority party is forced to regroup and adapt in order to become electorally viable in the future.
We are in the middle of a realignment over issues of economic and political inequality, and we may soon see a 1984-style critical election. One of the two parties will inevitably capture the anti-establishment frame, and become dominant.
The End of the Party
If Hillary Clinton loses in 2020, she will likely hand the legislature to the GOP. And that has serious implications for the party.
Political parties have a limited time in which to get things accomplished, and rightly or wrongly presidents are blamed and credited for what happens on their watch. As I mentioned previously, the people are desperate for change. If the Democrats cannot accomplish anything in a reasonable amount of time, for whatever reason, the American people will drop them.
In voting for Clinton, the party is playing a dangerous game, rejecting the zeitgeist; hitching its wagon to the same incremental transactional politics it has relied on since the Reagan Revolution swept America — the same approach to governing that has left the banks ‘too big to fail,’ and millions without health insurance, jobs, or livable wages. Hillary Clinton could very well destroy the Democratic Party.