The One Thing Each Party Needs to Overcome by 2016

So far, neither side has made much progress toward solving its lingering challenge.

National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
May 22, 2014, 3:59 p.m.

Each party emerged from the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion fa­cing one key elect­or­al chal­lenge be­fore the next con­test in 2016. More than 18 months later, neither side has made much pro­gress to­ward over­com­ing it. That fail­ure frames the cent­ral test for each party’s likely 2016 con­tenders as they ap­proach the race’s start­ing line.

For Demo­crats, the crit­ic­al task after Pres­id­ent Obama’s reelec­tion was re­build­ing faith in act­iv­ist gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly among the white middle-class. But the evid­ence sug­gests that Demo­crats in­stead have con­tin­ued to lose ground on that front.

The col­lapse of faith in the private sec­tor that fol­lowed the fin­an­cial crash offered Obama an open­ing: On the day he was elec­ted in 2008, 51 per­cent of voters said in exit polls that they be­lieved gov­ern­ment should be do­ing more to solve prob­lems, while only 43 per­cent said it was do­ing too much.

But that found­a­tion proved rick­ety once Obama took of­fice. Most eco­nom­ists be­lieve his stim­u­lus plan pre­ven­ted a deep­er down­turn, but polls showed that most Amer­ic­ans, still buf­feted by high un­em­ploy­ment and plunging home val­ues, be­lieved it be­nefited the wealthy and big cor­por­a­tions rather than av­er­age fam­il­ies. In mir­ror im­age, polls found that most Amer­ic­ans (es­pe­cially whites) con­cluded his health care bill would help the poor and un­in­sured rather than their own fam­il­ies. By the 2012 elec­tion, the num­bers on gov­ern­ment’s role had re­versed: Just 43 per­cent of voters said that gov­ern­ment should be do­ing more while 51 per­cent (in­clud­ing 59 per­cent of whites) said it was do­ing too much.

Since then, the stub­bornly slow eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery has hardened skep­ti­cism. In April’s All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll, just one-fourth of adults said Obama’s agenda is in­creas­ing eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity for people like them. And while the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­covered from the health care law’s dis­astrous launch to ex­ceed its en­roll­ment goals, in polls more people still say the law will hurt rather than help either their own fam­ily or the coun­try over­all. On both fronts, the num­bers are es­pe­cially bleak among whites.

Add to this list the widen­ing scan­dal at Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and the prom­ise of a pitched re­gion­al battle over up­com­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions to lim­it car­bon emis­sions from power plants, and the next Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee will face a stark test.

Wheth­er the Demo­crats pick Hil­lary Clin­ton or someone else, the party’s 2016 agenda will in­ev­it­ably re­volve around new gov­ern­ment ini­ti­at­ives to spur the eco­nomy and ex­pand op­por­tun­ity. If most Amer­ic­ans con­clude that a sim­il­ar ap­proach un­der Obama has not be­nefited their fam­ily, the nom­in­ee will face a for­mid­able bur­den of proof. GOP poll­ster Whit Ayres says that not only Re­pub­lic­ans but also most in­de­pend­ents have con­cluded that Obama’s agenda “cer­tainly hasn’t worked for me.” That means, he con­tin­ues, if Clin­ton is the nom­in­ee, “she has a sub­stan­tial chal­lenge to per­suade voters that Demo­crats have something new to of­fer.”

Clin­ton’s speech last week to the New Amer­ica Found­a­tion offered the first hints of how she might try to meet that test. In es­sence she offered something old and something new. The old was to link the be­ne­fits of act­iv­ist gov­ern­ment not to the Obama years, but to the two terms of her hus­band Bill Clin­ton — when the eco­nomy pro­duced over 22 mil­lion new jobs and broadly shared in­come gains. The new was her fo­cus on in­equal­ity, which al­lowed her to ad­opt the pop­u­list tone much more com­mon in the party today than dur­ing her hus­band’s time. “The big ques­tion in 2016 is as likely to re­volve around who gov­ern­ment works for as it is around how big gov­ern­ment is and what it does,” says Geoff Gar­in, a top Clin­ton ad­viser in 2008.

That re­mains to be seen. But even if Demo­crats can’t win the ar­gu­ment about gov­ern­ment’s role, that doesn’t mean they are doomed to de­feat in 2016. That’s be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans re­main stumped by their prin­cip­al chal­lenge after 2012: ad­apt­ing to a chan­ging elect­or­ate, par­tic­u­larly the grow­ing minor­ity pop­u­la­tion (which could reach 30 per­cent of voters next time). Apart from nas­cent ef­forts from Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Paul Ry­an to tackle en­trenched urb­an poverty, the GOP has done little to court minor­ity voters who have con­sist­ently pre­ferred Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates by a ra­tio of about 4-to-1 since the 1970s. In par­tic­u­lar, the in­su­lar re­fus­al of House Re­pub­lic­ans to con­sider im­mig­ra­tion re­form means “the GOP is on the verge of ce­ment­ing its brand as the anti-im­mig­rant party,” as re­form ad­voc­ate Frank Sharry ar­gued this week.

Each side may be bet­ting mostly on bio­graphy to solve its linger­ing chal­lenge. Clin­ton’s fam­ily ped­i­gree — which reaches back to her hus­band’s bal­anced budgets and wel­fare re­form-might re­as­sure cen­ter-right whites who con­sider Obama too de­voted to big gov­ern­ment. Re­pub­lic­ans might make gains with His­pan­ics by pla­cing Flor­ida Sen. Marco Ru­bio or New Mex­ico Gov. Susana Mar­tinez on their tick­et. But per­son­al­ity will only bend, not break, these dy­nam­ics. Without an agenda that dir­ectly con­fronts their bookended weak­nesses with whites and minor­it­ies, neither Demo­crats nor Re­pub­lic­ans are likely to es­cape the pre­cari­ous di­vi­sion of power that has po­lar­ized and para­lyzed Wash­ing­ton.

What We're Following See More »
SPLIT ON FULL DEPORTATION
Gallup: Republicans Prefer Path to Citizenship
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The Republicans you heard chanting "build that wall!" last week in Cleveland are in the minority, a new poll from Gallup finds. While 62 percent of Republicans favor building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, just 33 percent of Americans hold that view. Conversely, 84 percent of Americans, including 76 percent of Republicans, favor allowing those living in the U.S. without proper documentation to become citizens "if they meet certain requirements over a period of time."

Source:
THROUGH THE ELECTION
Brazile Replacing DWS on an Interim Basis
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donna Brazile, the longtime Democratic strategist and political commentator, is replacing Debbie Wasserman Schultz as head of the Democratic National Convention, at least until the November elections.

Source:
OUTLIER OR TREND?
New Polls Show Big Bounce for Trump
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

According to a new CNN/ORC poll, Donald Trump emerged from the GOP convention "ahead of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, topping her 44% to 39% in a four-way matchup including Gary Johnson (9%) and Jill Stein (3%) and by three points in a two-way head-to-head, 48% to 45%. That latter finding represents a 6-point convention bounce for Trump, which are traditionally measured in two-way matchups." Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll shows Trump leading by four points nationally. He had been down two points in the same poll a week ago.

Source:
AVOIDING CLINTON OR PREFERRING TO CAMPAIGN?
Some Dems in Tight Races Elect to Skip Convention
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today in Philadelphia, some prominent Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are nowhere to be found. "At least four candidates in major races are opting out, including Russ Feingold, who is challengingSen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin; Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is taking on Sen. John McCain in Arizona; Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is running against Sen. Roy Blunt; and Catherine Cortez Masto, who is battling Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada for the seat vacated by retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid." The candidates have stated their decisions aren't motivated by a desire to avoid being tied to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Source:
PRIME TIME ADDRESS
Bloomberg to Endorse Clinton This Week
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton this week in a prime-time speech. "The news is an unexpected move from Mr. Bloomberg, who has not been a member of the Democratic Party since 2000; was elected the mayor of New York City as a Republican; and later became an independent. But it reflects Mr. Bloomberg’s increasing dismay about the rise of Donald J. Trump and a determination to see that the Republican nominee is defeated."

Source:
×