Breaking away?

I’m not a big fan of claims about “emerging majorities,” even when they are made by observers as astute as Fred Barnes. In this Weekly Standard piece, Barnes argues that we are finally seeing the emergence of a Republican majority. I think Barnes is successful in establishing that there has been a “realignment.” But the realignment consists of the Democrats losing their huge edge in party affiliation. Today there are about as many Republicans as Democrats. This is significant, but it isn’t the same thing as an emerging Republican majority.
To be sure, the Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congresss. But our control of the White House is a fluke — Gore got more votes than Bush did. That’s why the Republican operatives that Barnes interviewed were unwilling to claim that there is an emerging Republican majority. Our margin in the Senate is also razor-thin.
Finally, I believe that Republican success in recent elections has more to do with the party’s pragmatism, as compared to that of the Democrats, than with the kind of fundamental change in the electorate that could give rise to a truly emerging majority. Recently, Republicans have been less constrained by their conservative base than Democrats have been by their liberal base. We saw this in Calfornia earlier this month, in some key 2002 races, and in the nomination of a moderate-conservative for president in 2000. But this trend can easily be reversed. If Bush wins next year, the Democrats may become more desperate to regain power, and thus more pragmatic, as occurred in 1992. On the other hand, I expect conservative Republicans to flex their muscle in 2008. Unless and until Republicans re-elect Bush and then hold the White House in 2008, I think it is premature to talk of an emerging Republican majority.
HINDROCKET adds: I agree, Deacon, but with this addendum: While it is true that the Republicans have only achieved parity in terms of political affiliation, they have one big plus going for them. The Democrats have long been, and are now seen as, a party of special interests, which is to say, economic advantage. Most Democrats vote Democratic out of self-interest, or, to put it more bluntly, greed: “Vote for us and we’ll slide you a few bucks” is the basic Democratic appeal nowadays. When voters vote not out of self-interest, but out of civic concern, they vote “up,” and for a clear majority of the electorate, that means Republican.

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