I’ve written several blog essays recently
pondering the deep trouble the Democratic party is in. I believe,
on current demographic and political trends, that their problems
are going to get worse and might actually prove terminal —
especially if the Republicans have the strategic sense to run Condi
Rice for President or Vice-President in 2008.
I’m not going to rehearse all their problems here. Instead I’m going
to try to think through some scenarios for what U.S. politics might look like
after a Democratic-party collapse, and discuss why I think they are
plausible or implausible.
The common premise for all of these scenarios is that the Democrats
collapse or split into warring factions once they discover that they
just cannot win elections any more. The party breaks apart along the
Democratic Leadership Council vs. hard-lefty split that’s been the
main axis of tension within it since the 1980s. The variables are
about what happens to the left-wing and centrist/DLC factions
afterwards. I’m taking for granted that the handful of
Zell-Miller-like conservative Democrats left in congress would jump
the aisle to the GOP.
Case Gray: Republican Triumph
In this scenario, the left faction runs off to the Greens and
minor Red parties such as the Socialists. The centrist/DLC types go
Republican or exit politics. This one is a recipe for really
long-term Republican-party dominance, with the Greens retaining some
degree of clout in a handful of coastal cities and university towns;
it’s the Karl Rove wet dream.
I rate this one moderately likely, and I’m not happy about that.
It has benign possibilities, but it has fairly ugly ones too. Which
we get depends on whether small-government conservatives or the
Religious Right get the upper hand in the GOP’s factional struggles. The
former seems more likely (especially since all those ex-Democrats will be
pulling against the Religious Right). But the latter possibility is
actually fairly scary.
At the worst-case end, we’d end up in the theocratic U.S. of Robert
Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100. Mind you I think this is
highly unlikely, and the widespread lefty panic about it seems to me
to be mainly hyperventilation and hysteria — they’d have
you believe it’s happening right now, whereas I see a decade
or more before the threat could become acute. But it remains an outside
The more likely long-term outcome would be that the Republicans themselves
split along small-government vs. cultural-conservative lines.
Case Green: Green Party Triumph
The Democratic-left refugees run more to the Reds. Greens get some
of them, but absorb a larger cohort of the centrist/DLC refugees and
evolve into a stronger and less left-wing party as a result, one with
prospects to increase its mass appeal. In effect, they become the
successor party of the Democrats and the familiar Democrat/Republican
seesaw resumes, with the Greens out of power most of the time.
I rate this one very unlikely. The problem is that if it were
possible for the DLC to come up with a new, centrist platform and stem
the long-term decline in their base, this scenario (dump the lefty
moonbats and reposition) is exactly the scenario they’d be engineering
themselves as a means of institutional survival. Since they
don’t seem to be able to manage it, I doubt the Greens (who are even more
Red-infiltrated than the Democrats) could either.
Case Gold: Libertarian Party Triumph
The left runs to the Greens and Reds. The centrist/DLC types join
the Libertarians. Small-government-Republican types drift to them, a
process which accelerates as it gradually weakens the holdouts inside the GOP.
At equilibrium, the Libertarians effectively replace the Democrats while
the Republicans become more and more a hard-right party of evangelicals
The key to Libertarian success in this scenario is gun owners.
This is the largest single captive bloc in the Republican voter base
at 50% of American households, one no less a politician than Bill
Clinton has identified as the swing group in the 1994 election and
subsequent Democrat disasters. The Libertarians succeed by prying
them loose from the Republican base.
As a libertarian and a gun owner, this is the one I’d most like to
see. However, I rate it unlikely. While I believe libertarian ideas
could be much more effectively marketed than they are, the LP has
proven almost comically inept at actually doing so. Post-9/11, its
isolationist foreign policy is a non-starter as well; I do not think
Americans will buy this until they perceive that the threat of Islamic
terror has been broken.
I’m, frankly, skeptical that the LP can overcome its own history
effectively enough to grasp this opportunity. But I’d love to be
wrong about this.
Case Red: Reds Triumph
This is Michael Moore’s wet dream — a major comeback for American
Marxism. It only happens if the Angry Left turns out to have been correct
about the DLC/centrists sabotaging their efforts to tap a huge pool of
naturally leftist voters. After the centrist/DLC types have faded from the
scene or gone to the GOP, one of the Red parties successfully markets
itself not just as a replacement for the democrats but in a way that
peels off a significant part of the Republican voter base.
I’ve listed this one for completeness. I think it’s wildly
unlikely, because I think the Angry Left’s belief that it can become
the vanguard of a mass movement is a drug dream. I don’t believe
there is any group in the majority-Republican voter base that is
vulnerable to a Marxist pitch, so even if they cornered all of the
Democrat base they’d still be in a minority position.
Case Blue: New Centrists
The lefty refugees dissipate themselves among the Reds and Greens.
The centrist/DLC types either keep the Democratic rump or boot up a
new party that abandons the socialist-economics and identity-politics
side of the Democrat platform, fights the War on Terror hard, and
remains strongly liberal shading towards libertarian on other social
issues. The result is, in effect, a new party of classical liberalism
— the Barry Goldwater Democrats.
As in Case Gold, their key tactical move is to peel gun owners out
of the Republican base. Over time, small-government Republicans drift
over from the GOP, which goes harder-right in consequence.
Nowadays I think this one is more likely than Case Gold. The key
to it may be the blogs, in which I see a kind of pro-War-on-Terror
libertarian centrism emerging as a new political force. The blogs
have been far more successful than the Libertarian Party at creating a
movement with mass appeal, quasi-libertarian attitudes, and enough
influence to have already arguably scuttled one presidential campaign
(Kerry’s, over Rathergate).
Case Blue is different than Case Gold in that the new centrist
party is not tied to libertarian ideology and pursues a
neoconservative foreign policy. This is the future in which “Glenn
Reynolds for President!” doesn’t sound crazy.