Sean Trende, a senior analyst with RealClearPolitics, has written a valuable book entitled The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs - and Who Will Take It that debunks much Main Stream Media [MSM] conventional wisdom—above all, importantly, the apparently unkillable meme that the GOP must get 40% of the Hispanic vote to win a Presidential election, notwithstanding the fact that Hispanics cast only 7% of the vote in 2008. But, needless to say, I have some quibbles.
We’re finally starting to get the kind of talent in voting analysis that we see all the time in baseball statistics. Indeed, the biggest star to emerge recently in psephology, Nate Silver, came directly from baseball stats. Unfortunately, the kind of folks who make good money as election consultants tend less to be number-loving nerds than schmoozers who are adept at getting quoted in the papers and in terrifying their clients into spending huge amounts on campaign advertising (via the consultant’s own ad agency).
The main target of Trende’s book: the bread-and-butter concept of typical big picture psephological tomes: partisan realignment. It’s fun for pundits to predict that Real Soon Now, one party will start winning all the elections until, roughly, the end of time.
But Trende doesn’t see that happening, for what are essentially game theory reasons.
This abstract-sounding argument is relevant today because it raises questions about the most widely accepted (although least cited) realignment theory of recent years: Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein’s demonstration, in a 1997 National Review (!) cover story, that current immigration will increasingly disadvantage Republicans. (See their 2001 update here).
Brimelow and Rubenstein concluded that the GOP should simply cut off immigration, as it did in the 1920s. But, passed through the MSM ideological converter, this became the infinitely repeated cliché that Republicans must cave in on illegal immigration or be swept away by an angry avalanche of immigration-obsessed Latino voters. (VDARE.com archives some of these stories under the title “Hispanic Hype”.)
Trende is dubious. He’s even skeptical about how much immigration will damage Republicans in the long run.
It’s good to see a little healthy skepticism on this topic. The MSM has drunk its own Kool-Aid so much that it stumbles into embarrassing botches. For example, late last month, the New York Times splashed a story [Crucial to Romney, Florida’s Latino Voters Are Wary of Him, Too by Trip Gabriel, April 27, 2012] based on the assumption that Mitt Romney’s chances of winning in the Electoral College hinged upon appeasing Florida Puerto Ricans’ passionate desire for amnesty for Puerto Rican illegal immigrants. The NYT had to issue the following humiliating notice:
Correction: April 27, 2012
But does that mean Republicans don’t have to worry about an immigration-driven permanent realignment in favor of Democrats? I don’t think so.
Before getting to the details of Trende’s Latino vote analysis, however, let’s consider his general attack on the concept of long-term realignments.
Realignments are popular to speculate about because they provide a storyline. For instance, Karl Rove loved chatting up reporters about how his skin-of-their-teeth victory with George W. Bush in 2000 was the beginning of a historic realignment modeled upon William McKinley’s strong showing among immigrants in 1896. (In the realignment genre, McKinley’s name glows with a glamour otherwise denied him in most historiography.) [The Submerging Republican Majority |Karl Rove`s master plan was to make George W. Bush the William McKinley of the 21st century. Why didn`t it work? By James Traub, NYT, June 18, 2006]
Similarly, Barack Obama liked to expound upon how his election was going to be transformational. Jodi Kantor’s recent book, The Obamas, (see my review here), revealed that Barack and Michelle remain true believers in the-one-we’ve-been-waiting-for’s transformationality.
In effect, realignment theory is a milder version of The-End-Is-Nighness beloved by unkempt crackpots in old New Yorker cartoons carrying signboards: instead of the world coming to an end, the back-and-forth seesaw of party politics will cease. Either your side’s good guys will have won forever, or the bad guys are going to take over unless everybody on your team DOES WHAT YOU SAY.
Trende’s perspective: even with a Presidential election as allegedly epochal as Obama’s 2008 victory—well, guess what? They still have to hold another mid-term election two years later. (And, as you’ll recall, it turned out quite differently). Life, and politics, goes on.
In Trende’s model, the party that benefited from what seemed like a permanent realignment will find itself hard-pressed to keep all the over-expectant elements of its inflated, unwieldy coalition happy.
In politics, as a friend of Andy Jackson pointed out, to the victor belong the spoils. But as the number of victors within a coalition grows larger, with each clamoring for a share of the spoils, the number of losers left to despoil gets smaller. And what’s the fun of that?
So successful coalition building naturally suffers from diminishing marginal returns.
Conversely, the party out of power will be motivated to bid more to pry away fringe elements of the victor’s coalition, or to excite the undecided/ uninterested.
In Trende’s game theory approach, two-party politics tends, by default, toward a fifty-fifty split. The Lost Majority argues that the two-party system from the Civil War onward works much like Europe’s two-alliance system—which kept the Great War from being over, despite common expectation, by Christmas 1914.
Few European statesman would have agreed to war in 1914 if they’d known that the two sides would be so evenly matched that the fighting would last until late 1918—at catastrophic cost to Western civilization. But, they should have guessed that would happen: the natural tendency of diplomacy is to press competing alliances toward a fifty-fifty balance of power. For example, after Germany persuaded the Ottoman Empire into entering the Great War on the side of the Central Powers in 1914, Britain, France, and Russia were motivated to bid even more to lure Italy in 1915 away from its traditional alliance with Germany and Austria.
Personally, I’ve long found the notion that the things we find most interesting tend toward a 50-50 split to be useful in numerous contexts.
But does American politics really follow this pattern? Don’t long-term realignments sometimes occur?
Yes, Virginia (Dare). Sometimes they do.
Thus, for example, I can vividly recall Grover Norquist telling me in February 1994 that the GOP was going to take the House that November—because it seemed such a daring forecast. The Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives for the entire 35 years of my life. In The Lost Majority, Trende’s recounting of history downplays this fact, because the Presidency and, less often, the Senate were occasionally in Republican hands. But the fact that Democrats always ruled the House was simply unquestioned when I was young.
There really had been a major realignment in 1932, due to the Depression. And the Democrats really did enjoy a majority in the House for 58 of the next 62 years.
Indeed, there are other game theory concepts that can account for how a two-party system, which seemingly ought to tend toward fifty-fifty, can get stuck like this: for example, path dependency.
For example, why did voters return a Democratic majority to the House in 1984, a year Ronald Reagan won 59% of the Presidential vote?
One possible answer: while you might have agreed that a Republican House would be better for the country as a whole, electing the Republican challenger might have been worse for your particular district’s place at the Congressional feeding trough. If the Democrats held the House, which they had done since time immemorial, a freshman Republican would have been much less effective at bringing home the bacon. So prudence might dictate re-electing your wily old incumbent Democrat porkmeister.
But once the Democrats lost the House in 1994, then the concept of another shift in power became more plausible. Thus, as we saw in 2006 and 2010, it’s now more likely that a shift happens.
I also think we can expand on Trende’s fifty-fifty concept to account for situations where a partisan imbalance gets stuck.
When one party achieves dominance, public interest just redirects to primaries. For instance, a Democrat has held the powerful job of mayor of Chicago ever since 1931. But Chicago is not lacking in politics.
When I lived in Chicago, nobody with any sense registered as a Republican. That just disenfranchised you in what was then the only game in town: the Democratic primary. As a voter in the Republican mayoral primary, I merely got decide whether a professor of economics from the University of Chicago or a professor of management from Northwestern University would be the nominee who would get the GOP’s traditional four percent of the vote in the final round.
My Chicago-native wife always gave me a hard time over why I stubbornly maintained my Republican registration. She pointed out that our property values depended upon Richie Daley winning the Democratic primary—rather than somebody like Danny Davis, or former Black Panther Bobby Rush.
Hence even in one-party Chicago, politics still happens—but just shifted well to the left.
Then there are what American Conservative pundit Noah Millman calls “one-and-a-half-party” states, such as Massachusetts and California. The legislatures appear to have permanently realigned Democratic, but rich and/or charismatic outsiders like Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger can still sometimes get elected governor as reforming Republicans, to clean up the corruption and dysfunction of the Democratic machines. (Lots of luck, guys!)
My assessment: the long-term Brimelow-Rubenstein trend against the Republicans due to current immigration policy should indeed be cause for serious concern for the GOP.
On the other hand, as Trende points out to his great credit, there’s little need to panic. This is a slow process. All the scare stories published in the MSM every two years about how the Republicans are doomed this November if they don’t agree to amnesty Right Now are ridiculous.
For example, California went Republican in Presidential elections nine times out of ten from 1952-1988—albeit often narrowly, as Trende notes. Then it apparently realigned Democratic in 1992. In the Narrative, this was caused by Proposition 187 in 1994, presumably through some form of time travel.
But Trende can’t find much evidence for the Narrative in his study of California electoral history:
“It has become an article of faith among pundits that the California Republican Party was doomed by a series of racially charged initiatives in the mid-1990s….[But] the exit polls show little change in the voting Nhabits of California Latinos from 1988 through 2008. Latinos consistently gave Democratic presidential candidates between 66 and 76 percent of the vote…They did so whether the GOP candidate was running in the immediate aftermath of Proposition 187 or as the heir to an administration that had just signed an “amnesty” bill, as George H.W. Bush did in 1988.”
“What ultimately ruined the Republican Party of California were two key trends…First, the Latino vote became larger, even if that vote did not shift…But just as important, if not more so, is that upper middle-class suburbanites in California mirrored the national trend away from the GOP…Interestingly, there’s not much evidence of a Latino backlash against candidates associated with heavily anti-immigrant politics and policies.” [My emphasis]
This still doesn’t mean that, even in the long run, the Democrats will win all the elections. In terms of game theory, there are various ways this can play out. For example, the addition of left-leaning foreigners and their children to American elections could simply move the whole political spectrum to the left, with the Republicans taking up the policies of current Democrats and the Democrats acting like a social democratic party. Thus in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, more or less represents conservatism.
Along these lines, Trende speculates:
“Assuming that the assimilation scenario does not play out, it is more likely that we will see a pastiche of politics as completely unrecognizable to us today as New Deal politics would have been to voters in the 1920s. In some instances, the candidates might not even call themselves ‘Republicans,’ but the issue cleavages will nevertheless be real.”
Or the Republicans could convert more Hispanic votes from Democrat to Republican. Interestingly, Trende is optimistic about this. Newsweek editor Eleanor Clift unhappily quotes him to this effect:
The alternative scenario offered by Trende assumes the immigration wave now benefiting Democrats stops; and that Latinos’ voting behavior shifts as they remain in this country, make more money, and their children and grandchildren go to professional schools. “The long-term trend is slightly toward Republicans,” Trende said. Demographics Favor Obama Over Romney in November Election - The Daily Beast April 29, 2012
I myself have argued that the Democrats may well be surprised by the way immigrant voting patterns play out—basically because being branded as the “black party” has costs as well as benefits. It just isn’t clear that blacks and Hispanics, let alone blacks and Asians, will really Just Get Along.
But the Hispanic-GOP trend that Trende is talking about is, unfortunately, very slight. (And Trende makes the confidence-sapping mistake of accepting that George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, even though the exit polling company later admitted that was wrong.)
I see three problems with Trende’s optimism:
As Wikipedia explains: “Whittier was once very conservative politically, but in recent years has become divided…” The white neighborhoods have stayed Republican but Mexicans’ neighborhoods leaning much more Democratic than similarly affluent Anglos.
Here’s an amusing L.A. Times article about a candidate for State Assemblyman from Whittier, a well-to-do 26-year-old surfer dude named Ian who is reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Significantly, he’s a Democrat. Why? Because Ian Calderon is the Fair-Haired Boy of the Democratic Calderon Clan. His father and uncle both represent parts of Whittier in Sacramento. At least one Calderon has been in the state legislature as a Democrat since 1983.[ Assemblyman Calderon`s son Ian aims to uphold political dynasty, By Michael J. Mishak, April 29, 2012.]
I was discussing all this last week with a friend who is a Democratic political operative in California. Our conversation went something like this:
Democratic Political Operative: “It doesn’t make much sense for a politically ambitious young Latino to join the Republican Party because the districts with lots of Latinos in them are gerrymandered Democratic. So, you Republicans won’t get much talent coming up through the ranks. Therefore, what you Republicans should do is recruit Mexican-American celebrities and famous athletes as candidates.”
Me: “But how many famous Mexican-Americans are there?”
Democratic Political Operative: “Good point … Well, there’s … Anthony Munoz, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s a born-again Protestant and Republican. He’d be a good candidate … But he lives in Cincinnati. … How about Mark Sanchez, quarterback of the New York Jets? He’s from Mission Viejo.”
Me: “Hasn’t he been involved in a couple of sexual assault scandals? And aren’t the Jets so unhappy with him that they traded for Tim Tebow?”
Democratic Political Operative: “And his dad’s in the firefighter’s union, so he’s a Democrat. Well, you Republicans do have your problems, don’t you?”
Of course, it’s also true that Hispanics might not vote much, perhaps out of political apathy—a force that should never be underestimated with regard to Latinos. The Washington Post reported on May 4th:
“The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters. Voter rolls typically shrink in non-presidential election years and registrations fell among whites as well, but this is the first time in nearly four decades that the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly.”[ Voter registration down among Hispanics, blacks]
Finally, and much more importantly, Republicans could win more white votes as the polity shifts against white interests. VDARE.com calls this the “Sailer Strategy.”
Trende, again to his great credit, recognizes this. He asks:
“If black-brown coalitions may prove difficult to maintain, what of black-brown-white ones?...What happens if an increasingly ethnic Democratic Party pushes moderate and conservative whites out the door…the distinct possibility, at least in the short-to-medium term, is that a “browning” of the Democratic Party would end up a net win for the Republicans.” [My emphasis].
Trende’s analysis of 2008: Obama’s coalition was “deep but narrow”—based on a huge black turnout, a large Hispanic one, and a small white turnout.
Ironically, in Trende’s view the most likely “permanent realignment” signaled by 2008: the Democrats have decisively lost the Scots-Irish of the greater Appalachian zone—the parts of the country where McCain outperformed Bush in 2004 were largely Scots-Irish. Perhaps McCain appealed to the fightin’ side of the Scots-Irish. Trende sees 2010 as strengthening this trend.
This is a very significant shift—even if unsexy in the MSM’s opinion. In contrast, in the three-way 1968 election, George Wallace carried the lowland Southern precincts where whites were worried about political domination by their numerous black neighbors. Richard Nixon carried the suburban Southern neighborhoods where whites wanted to put Jim Crow behind them and get on with making money. But Democrat Humphrey carried the upland South, where there were few blacks and thus race didn’t matter as much as class.
These blue-collar districts, which run well up into the Pennsylvania and Ohio, stayed amenable to bring-home-the-bacon Democrats for a long time. But Obama’s persona (“Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?”) has not worn well in the hills.
Trende, whose sympathies appear to be more with the GOP, emphasizes the inherent trade-offs in coalition building: if Colorado, which voted Republican in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, swings strongly to the Democrats in 2008, the reasons for that in turn push West Virginia more toward the Republicans.
But another Sailer quibble: Trende doesn’t grapple with the fact that the white people of Colorado are cooler than the white people of West Virginia. On average, white Coloradoans are slimmer, richer, and more educated than white West Virginians.
Maybe young white people who are just starting to get interested in politics want to do what cool white people do.
This is a particular problem when you don’t control the MSM. During the decades when West Virginia dutifully elected Democrats, the MSM didn’t run a lot of coverage (= any) focusing on some chain-smoker with a tenth grade education as representative of Democratic voters. Now, though, they do.
My conclusion: In the very long run, the central political issue in American politics might turn out to be—can enough American whites, accustomed to easy numerical dominance by centuries of history, learn to stop squabbling with each other for status in order to come together politically to assert their interests like any other voting bloc?
The very best thing I can say about Sean Trende is that I don’t think he would disagree.
Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative and writes regularly for Takimag. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His book, AMERICA’S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA’S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.