Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende wanders all around the Sailer Strategy, all while denying it, to slay a strawman. (More)

“A winning message for an electorate that no longer exists”

Trende’s target is a Commentary article by Peter Wehner titled Demographics and the GOP that opens with this anodyne thesis:

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental.

Losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections should make that self-evident, but Wehner thoughtfully presents several data points on shifting electoral demographics to reach this equally-anodyne conclusion:

My purpose with this post is to present the empirical data, not to interpret it, except to say this: Republican problems are not superficial, transient, or cyclical. The trends speak for themselves. The GOP therefore needs to articulate a governing vision and develop a governing agenda that can reach groups that have not traditionally been supportive of it. Republicans, at least when it comes to presidential elections, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

Lest anyone think Wehner is falling victim to progressive triumphalism, note that Commentary boasts itself as “the flagship of neoconservatism.” And the Republican National Committee’s much-ballyhooed ‘2012 autopsy’ looked at most of the same data and reached most of the same conclusions.

“Realignments don’t take midterm elections off”

But Sean Trende – whose previous Real Clear Politics columns include The Case of the Missing White Voters and On Immigration, What Are the Republicans Thinking? – will have none of it. In his latest column, titled Will Demographics Really Destroy GOP?, he remains convinced that Republicans can win presidential elections without broadening their appeal to women or people of color:

Anyone familiar with my writings knows I’m skeptical about such claims and the efficacy of such moves. While I’m not a pure economic determinist, I do think that elections are largely about fundamentals, such as the economy and the course of wars.[…]

This isn’t to say I’m unsympathetic with some of the goals that Wehner and other analysts urge the GOP to pursue – both in terms of specific programs and broader issues of inclusivity and outreach.

But while I think it might well be the case that the GOP should adopt some changes, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that they must. Put differently, I think the sorts of programs that reformers within the party advocate might be good ends in themselves. I just think the case is sorely lacking that they are necessary means for achieving the broader end of winning elections.

He then purports to debunk each of Wehner’s data points, and concludes:

The GOP currently has some of the largest shares of Congress, governorships, and state legislatures that it has had in recent history. Demographic changes did not prevent Democrats from suffering the worst midterm election in 80 years in 2010, and most signs suggest another bad year is in the offing. This simply isn’t consistent with the “demographic doom” storyline. As John Sides wryly noted, realignments don’t take midterm elections off.

Ultimately, our elections still follow the same fundamentals that they have always followed. Parties that produce peace and prosperity win elections. Those that do not lose elections. If Democrats produce growth and keep us out of wars before 2016, they will more likely than not win another term. If they do not, they will lose, demographics aside.

“The historic American nation”

At issue is what (some) Republicans call the Sailer Strategy:

It reminded me that it’s time to post an update of my thinking on how the GOP – or, more accurately, the GAP, Generic American Party, a party representing the historic American nation, which currently votes overwhelmingly Republican – can survive.

Lest you miss it, that word “historic” is code for “white,” as VDARE freely admits:

VDARE has come into existence because many great and developing issues of the day are no longer covered in the Establishment Media – whether liberal or “conservative.”

However, you can sometimes see them naively reported in the local press. Thus Long Island’sSouthampton Press (Donna Giacontieri, Is Town Seal Offensive? September 24, 1999) has carried a story about a local version of the Virginia Dare phenomenon: the local “Anti-Bias Task Force” called on the town to abolish its seal, which depicts a Pilgrim and the words “First English settlement in the State of New York.”

The grounds: it “features an offensive representation of one gender, one race and one historical period …”

“One historical period …”?

Yeah. It’s called America.

Simply, VDARE is a white supremacist cite, and the Sailer Strategy its political vision: ignore people of color, mobilize whites, convince them to set aside their individual interests and vote with “their tribe,” and blame white women when that strategy fails.

“The lower turnout rate among young people was thus a contributing factor
to Republican successes”

The most obvious flaw in Trende’s analysis is that realignments do “take midterms off.” More specifically, many younger voters take midterms off:

Simply put, young people tend not to vote at as high rates in midterm elections compared to presidential elections. According to the CPS, the turnout rate among young citizens increased from 25.4% in 2006 to 51.1% in 2008. This is consistent with the exit polls, which found young people constituted 12% of the 2006 electorate and 18% of the 2008 electorate (and 12% of the 2010 electorate). Compare the young with the old. The turnout rate among old citizens increased from 63.1% in 2006 to 70.8% in 2008. This is consistent with the exit polls, which reported old people constituted 19% of the 2006 electorate and 15% percent of the 2008 electorate (and 21% of the 2010 electorate).

Varying turnout rates among the young and old in presidential and midterm elections would not affect election outcomes if people regardless of age shared the same political preferences. As Table 1 shows, in most recent elections they have not. In 2004, a distinct age gap emerged in support for Democratic and Republican House candidates (a gap that is evident in presidential vote choice, too). Prior to that, from 1992 to 2002, the levels of support for Democratic House candidates among young voters averaged 52% compared to 50% among old voters. In 2004, 56% of young voters supported Democratic House candidates and compared to 46% among old voters. This gap persisted in 2010, where 58% of young voters supported Democratic candidates compared with 42% among old voters.

The lower turnout rate among young people was thus a contributing factor to Republican successes in winning a net 63 seats to the House of Representatives in 2010 compared to the Democratic victories for President, House, and Senate just two years earlier.

Other data show that lower-income voters and persons of color – also key members of Democrats’ “coalition of the ascendant” – are less likely to vote in midterm elections. Those voters returned to the polls in 2012, and Democrats won the White House and gained seats in both chambers of Congress.

Trende insists on piling low-turnout midterm elections in the same basket with high-turnout presidential elections, as if only difference is how many voters show up for each. But the more important difference has been which voters turn out in midterm vs. presidential years. Simply, Democrats must turn out more of our voters to be competitive in midterms.

Finally, Trende’s entire argument merely slays a strawman: that demographics all but guarantee Democratic presidential victories in 2016 and beyond. While it’s possible that someone has made that argument, I haven’t seen it. Democrats know we can’t take the “coalition of the ascendant” for granted. We need to advocate policies that offer more hope to more hardworking Americans.

That’s not merely good politics. It’s good governance.


Happy Wednesday