The Nation to pundits: Republicans not doomed

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone

Before you accept the notion that the Republican party is destined for permanent minority status, you ought to read these two blogposts on the Nation’s website by left-liberal writer Rick Perlstein. He’s a talented and perceptive writer and the author of the 2008 book Nixonland, which does a brilliant job of bringing vividly to life the emotional politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s—which is impressive especially because Perlstein was born in 1969.

I don’t agree with all of his analysis, but I think his central points are valid. One is that, as he writes in the first blogpost, “Pundits are easy to beat up on; predicting the future is hard; things are complicated.” People have been predicting the demise of the Republican (and Democratic) parties multiple times during my conscious lifetime, and they’re still around. It’s hard to foresee the future and particularly to foresee the inflection points, when current trend lines start bending in another direction.

In his second blogpost Perlstein makes the point that parties adapt—as the Republican party seems to be adapting now in response to its (not particularly devastating, as Perlstein says) defeat in the 2012 presidential race. I disagree with Perlstein’s notion that Republicans appeal to voters strictly by playing on their fears of “the other”; I think both parties attempt to appeal to the fears and the hopes of voters, in different ways and at different times. But I agree with Perlstein’s historic perspective. I’m old enough to remember and he’s well enough versed in history to realize that once upon a time blue collar and ethnic white men and white Southerners were the core support group of the Democratic party and when Ivy League-educated WASPs were a core support group of the Republican party. Go back a few more decades, and you find that blacks were hugely Republican. Parties compete in the political marketplace, and when they lose market share with some demographic group they figure out how to gain market share among others.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner