This newsletter is about accountability journalism, not political punditry. But today I do want to share my thinking about the outcome of Tuesday's elections — and the ensuing discourse.
Post-election analysis often assumes that the political environment will remain static over time. It looks at the political dynamics that propelled the winner and speculates that they will create persistent "challenges" for the loser.
For example, the 2004 election resulted in President George W. Bush winning a second term, a Republican-controlled House, and a Republican-controlled Senate. In the Los Angeles Times, columnist Ron Brownstein wrote that Democrats faced "a long-term disadvantage in future races for the White House and battles for Congress." He suggested that it would be very difficult "mathematically" for Democrats to regain control of the presidency or Congress because of their inability to compete in the south:
Compounding the problem was Kerry's inability to compete for any Southern state except Florida: That left him with few options for reaching 270 electoral votes, especially after his bid to open a new front in Western states such as Arizona, Nevada and Colorado fell short.
"Democrats face this terrible arithmetic in the Electoral College where if they don't carry any of the 11 Southern states [of the Old Confederacy] they need to win 70% of everything else," says Merle Black, an expert on Southern politics at Emory University.
The math is just as daunting in the battle for Congress…
Four years later, Barack Obama was elected with 365 electoral votes, including Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. Democrats also increased their margins in the House (which they recaptured in 2006) and took control of the Senate, winning races in Arkansas, Louisiana, Virginia, and North Carolina.
In 2012, Obama won reelection while Democrats picked up seats in the House and Senate. In the New York Times, reporter Michael Cooper laid out the case that "demography" meant that Republicans would never win another presidential election while trying to appeal to older white men.
...Republican strategists argued that the party could not win while alienating the growing Hispanic vote with its tough stance on immigration, could no longer afford to nominate candidates who fired up its conservative and Tea Party wings but turned off the more moderate voters in general elections, and that it had to find ways to win more support from women and young voters…[they] argued that demography is destiny, and that the party was falling out of step with a changing country.
...“We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party,” [GOP strategist John] Weaver said in an interview. “And to do the latter we have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible, we’ve got to accept science and start calling out these false equivalencies when they occur within our party about things that are just not true, and not tolerate the intolerant.”
Four years later, Donald Trump was elected running precisely the kind of campaign that these strategists claimed would never work again. Republicans were also able to maintain control of the House and Senate. By 2020, things were much different.
Tuesday was a bad day for most Democratic candidates. And it was particularly striking to see Republicans win the Governor's race in Virginia just a year after Biden won the state handily. But a shifting political landscape shouldn't be a surprise.
My point is not that Democrats will do better in 2022. I don't know what will happen then. My point is that 2022 will be very different than 2021. Politics is much more dynamic than the coverage suggests. The only thing that is constant is change.
Let me know your thoughts on the road ahead in the comments section:
Moving forward, Popular Information will continue to provide reporting that can empower you — and the broader public — to be agents of change. Elections are one way that change occurs. But the government is not the only powerful institution that impacts people's lives. Large corporations play an increasingly central role.
We'll return with more independent accountability journalism on Monday.