How today’s Republicans are like 1980s Democrats

Republicans have lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections.  Demographics, geography, and the trends of the day are working against them.  Just like the Democrats in the 1980s.  See Dan Balz in Republicans today can learn lessons from the Democrats’ past. But will they? – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    From the article:

    The intersection of thinkers and elected officials was a key element in the Democrats’ revival, and it will have to be part of the GOP’s efforts over time.

    Ha! In other words, we need to stop electing idiots. I was all ready to disagree with Balz’ article, but…

  • Dave

    So, the Republicans should import an underclass to vote for them? Is that the solution?

  • Cincinnatus

    I don’t think Republicans are quite as far out of the mainstream/lost in the wilderness as were Democrats 1984–Romney was actually a serious candidate, and he didn’t lose by a margin of 48 states to 2–but the comparison is in some ways apt. Democrats in the 1980s were attempting to navigate the fracturing of the New Deal coalition without succumbing to the excesses of the rather extremist post-Vietnam “new Democrats.”

    Republicans in 2012 are attempting to navigate the fracturing of the Reagan coalition without succumbing to the excesses of the rather extremist Tea Party.

  • DonS

    Ho-hum. Another MSM article gloating about the current problems of Republicans.

    “Republicans have lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections. Demographics, geography, and the trends of the day are working against them.” This is a very misleading statistic. First, we’re cherry picking the number of elections we are looking at. Second, we’re focusing on the popular vote, glossing over the fact that Bush won in 2000. So, Republicans have lost only 4 of the last 6 presidential elections. But, they’ve won 5 of the last 9 presidential elections. And 7 of the last 12. So, there!

    Seriously, let’s review the actual political cycle at work here. Republicans held the presidency for three straight terms after the failed Jimmy Carter term. After the recession of 1990, a moderate southern governor overcame the growing Republican lock on the South and won the presidency in 1992, thanks to Ross Perot’s third party candidacy and his 18% vote siphoning support away from Bush. Republicans swept the Congress in 1994, and Clinton, seeing the writing on the wall, worked with them to pass welfare reform and other fiscally sound measures, so that he easily won re-election against sacrificial candidate Dole in 1996. Good times were still rolling in 2000, but a last minute dirty hit piece against Bush on the last weekend of the campaign concerning a decades-old drunk driving conviction narrowly cost him the popular vote by about 500,000 votes nationally — a relative pittance against the 50,000,000 or so votes cast. He won re-election in 2004 against Kerry, by a popular vote margin similar to that of Obama over Romney. Obama won in 2008 against a meh candidate after 5+ years of an increasingly unpopular war, and won re-election, as is usually the case for sitting presidents, by a substantially smaller margin than in 2008. Typical political cycle so far — 3 terms for Republicans, 2 terms for Democrat, 2 terms for Republican, 2 terms for Democrat. If the Democrats win again in 2016, then we can talk about perhaps some kind of sea change occurring.

    On the other hand, Republicans hold a comfortable margin in the House, and have held that body for all but six years since 1994. They have a decent chance of taking back the Senate in 2014. Most significantly, they hold a historically high number of state governorships and legislatures. Their political bench is strong, with a lot of young, enthusiastic candidates preparing themselves for future runs. Not so for the Democrats — their top two candidates for 2016 at this point are Hillary (who will be 69) and Biden (who will be 70-something). Awesome.

    On the other hand,

  • reg

    Don,
    Stay the course, Republicans, stay the course. Only good things will come of it.

  • Cincinnatus

    DonS,

    Taking your points one-by-one:

    1) A period of 6 consecutive presidential elections is hardly cherry-picking. It represents over two decades. Yes, all periodizations are somewhat arbitrary. But I could just as easily rebut that 12 of the last 21 presidential elections have been won by Democrats. These sorts of claims don’t prove anything except in context. And the context here is that Republicans haven’t been doing well in recent Presidential elections.

    I agree with you that the 2000 election, with a margin of only 500k votes, doesn’t provide evidence for much of a theory about anything, but neither Bush I, Dole, McCain, nor Romney lost by slim margins.

    2) Don’t use Ross Perot as an example. Research of the voter turnout for Perot shows two things: first, that Perot “stole” about an equal number of voters from Clinton and from Bush, and, second, that many Perot voters were cynical about politics in general and only voted because Perot was running (i.e., they wouldn’t have voted for Bush or Clinton).

    3) Absolutely no one disputes that Democrats were “lost in the woods” in the mid-1980s. They were fringe, out of touch, extremist, anti/unintellectual, unable to win elections. And yet they maintained a solid majority in Congress during the entire decade. Sound familiar?

    4) I largely agree with you regarding the comparative strength of the presidential “benches” of the respective parties. The Republicans offer a larger number of young, ambitious candidates. But, with the exception of Rand Paul, none of those candidates are promising anything different from Republican-politics-as-usual–the politics that have arguably lost Republicans their elections and their currency with the public. Not Rubio, not Christie, not McDonnell, not Jindal, not Portman.

    Don’t be defensive. That’s the sort of “strategy” that gave Democrats their 1984.

  • DonS

    Reg @ 5, Cincinnatus @ 6: I’m not advocating “staying the course”, and I don’t think I’m being defensive. Just trying to supply some perspective about the cyclical nature of politics.

    The “prescription” by the MSM and other hand-wringers who aren’t Republican or conservative, for the Republicans’ current troubles is to become like Democrats. I am arguing against that approach. I think today’s Democrats are far more “lost in the woods” than they were in the ’80′s — they have no concept of the permanent damage they are doing to our nation’s economy and future because of their deliberate refusal to deal with the spending, entitlements, and over-regulatory problems we have today. That will fall on them eventually, but I don’t want it to be at the cost of our kids, grandkids, and beyond. Republicans need to listen to guys like Rand Paul and stick to their guns (some pun intended) with respect to the ideas that will make a difference — a simplified tax system that promotes productivity and doesn’t punish success, a required impact analysis of all regulation to ensure that tangible benefits outweigh economic harms, and that there is genuine federal jurisdiction over the activities being regulated, and balancing the federal budget at no more than historic revenue and spending levels, which will mean a serious curtailment of entitlements.

  • Carl Vehse

    “How today’s Republicans are like 1980s Democrats” … as opposed to today’s Democrats, noted by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, “And in a groundbreaking move, the Associated Press, the largest news gathering outlet in the world, will no longer use the term ‘illegal immigrant.’ That is out. No longer ‘illegal immigrant.’ They will now use the phrase ‘undocumented Democrat.’”

    And, of course, 1880s Republicans ARE Democrat voters today in Chicago precincts.

  • SKPeterson

    I would argue that the Democrats haven’t exactly been on an intellectualism kick for the last 20+ years as opposed to the Republicans. Democrats on screen and print come across as more of the “pseudo” type of intellectual generally capable of mouthing catch phrases and simple slogans, but lacking in any real depth. They may be great at political calculus, but there intellectual bonafides are noted more for their absence than their ubiquity.

    As to the Republicans, they are reeling not so much from the extremist Tea Party, but from the ramifications of the party takeover by revanchist/irredentist neo-conservatives. Granted, the Tea Party also often exhibits an unthinking and reactive politics hostile to intellectual thought or debate. Compare the hostility to the calls for a foreign policy of non-interventionism put forward by Ron Paul as the logical extension of calls for a smaller and less intrusive government with the unquestioning calls for American Empire within the Tea Party.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Cincinnatus @ 6
    One minor quibble – the research about the vote in the 1992 election shows clearly that the Perot vote hurt Bush significantly more than Clinton. However, the damage was not enough by itself to swing the election. In other words, in a two-candidate, sans Perot, matchup the numbers indicate that Clinton would have still won, but by a smaller margin…

  • Cincinnatus

    Steve@10: Quite right. In this case, it all amounts to the same thing, but it had been a while since I’d read the research myself. The point is that Perot apparently didn’t actually alter the outcome of the election.

    SKPeterson@9: You’re right about the Democratic Party’s equivalent lack of intellectual vibrancy. In 1980 and 1984, the Republican Party was the ideas party, particularly with regard to economic and fiscal policy (supply-side economics was the product of nobel-prize-winning theory, and it genuinely seemed new at the time). But I don’t think either party is an ideas party at the moment. Democrats have successfully painted Republicans as the “stupid party,” but they haven’t made themselves smarter in doing so.

    Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein talk a big game, but both are merely spouting outdated Keynesian rhetoric while slavishly defending Obama administration policies.

  • Random Lutheran

    Gormless Creatures of the Party, unable to communicate with a major chunk of the voting populace? I’d argue that it doesn’t really apply to the Republican-on-the-street, but certainly describes far too many GOP candidates. This last crop of candidates for president made the Seven Dwarfs of 1988 look like giants.

  • http://maryamedrano.eklablog.com/ JOHNSON

    Christy, please check the answer I gave to John who has the same issue.

  • http://charlespschneider.wordpress.com/ Aedan, Aiden

    How to Declutter Your Gmail Archives in 4 Easy Steps


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