As we continue to survey the wreckage of the GOP after Hurricane Barry last week’s election, please note Jonathan Last’s terrific article in the Weekly Standard about the overreaction, on both sides, to the Democrats’ narrow but crushing loss to George W. Bush in 2004. Then, as now, liberals thought it was over for them, that the country was in the grip of evangelical fanatics. Remember the famous “Jesusland” map of the US? More than a few conservatives thought that Karl Rove’s strategy had in fact delivered an enduring GOP realignment. Bush, don’t forget, thought his “political capital” (and increased GOP control of both houses of Congress) coming out of the election would enable him to pass entitlement reform, and he spent the better part of the next year barnstorming the nation giving speeches on the issue. How’d that work out for him? Last’s point: don’t overdo the pessimism.
My own contribution to the literature at the time was an article originally appearing on TCS Daily (a defunct website, but the piece survives in the AEI archives here) that argued that if the Democratic Party were a publicly traded stock on Wall Street, you should consider loading up on shares around then, because it was deeply undervalued. Excerpt:
[I]f the Democratic Party were a publicly-listed company, I think I might be tempted to buy a few shares. It is great fun watching the torment and back-biting going inside the Democratic Party right now. But as Benjamin Graham and John Templeton taught, the best time to buy a stock is at the moment of maximum pessimism, and that moment is right now for the Democratic Party.
Its “market share,” that is, its share of voters who claim allegiance to the Party, is at its lowest point in more than 70 years, at about 30 percent according to Gallup. Guess what? Republican identification among voters stood at the receivership level of 18 percent in 1974, which marked the beginning of the Republican Party’s ascendance based on a new generation of leaders and products (ideas).
Like a depressed blue-chip stock, the Democratic Party still has a high “book value,” or tangible political assets such as labor union and other interest group organizations, a historic brand name, Hollywood money, and media sympathy. The political equivalent of the business cycle–the problems and stumbles of the incumbent majority party–will usually create opportunities for a comeback. To be sure, Dems Incorporated has to develop a new strategy and product line. One factor that would deter me from buying Democratic Party shares is its current excuse that its recent market failure was mostly a problem of marketing, rather than its product line, which is about as blind as Ford would have been if it had blamed the failure of the Edsel on bad marketing.
There’s more, but you get the point. The Democratic Party remedied its problems in part by coming up with an attractive product and marketing it very well in two election cycles, which ought to trouble Democrats actually, since that product (Obama) can’t run again. The GOP still has enormous political assets centered around its ideas, and Obama’s continuing mistakes will create opportunities galore between now and 2016. Don’t look for quick fixes. Turnarounds are always painful and take time to take hold.