I think I’ve rewritten this article more times than there are Hillary emails! So, I hope I’ve finally gotten it right. As we head into the final days of the election, I have no idea who is going to win. For a while it appeared Mrs. Clinton was running away with it only to be slowed down by yet another Anthony Weiner email appearance!
Recently a number of articles have begun to appear discussing the future of the Republican Party, should they lose, and honestly, that was the original intent of this article. My research, however, took me in quite a different direction and I have come to a markedly different conclusion than the premise I began with.
A friend of mine suggested that if the Republican Party lost this election, “There’s going to be a lot of finger pointing.” Indeed, with every ‘professional’ politician in the party having been ousted by Mr. Trump, a true outsider, how could there be anything but that?
In a recent Wall Street Journal column William Galston wrote, “today’s Republicans are like Caesar’s Gaul divided into three parts; Establishment conservatives, small town, small government conservatives and populist conservatives.” Another friend of mine suggested there might be four distinct groups. While all of this is likely true it is not where the real strategic risk to the Party lies.
It is instructive to remember that twenty years ago it was the Democrats who were in disarray. A former Congressman I know used to say, “Never underestimate the power of the Democrats to screw it up.” The point here is that the GOP is not going away any time soon regardless of what might be suggested by the media. Nor are the Democrats likely to replicate the seemingly endless run of championships by the New York Yankees of yesteryear!
That’s because the establishment leadership of both Parties cannot see the forest for the trees! To understand the forest is to recognize that just as it is in the business world, political success is about strategy, focus and execution.
David Frumm, Senior Editor of Atlantic Magazine and a former speech writer for President George W. Bush notes that, “barring shocks, presidential elections turn on the fundamentals of economics, demography and ideology.”
Republican strategists thirty years ago found the ideological power of the religious right and they rode that wave for more than two decades until the forces of economic malaise created a long period of job and wage stagnation which lead to the surge of populism in this year’s election. You should not, however, mistake this simply as a Republican event. While the establishment Democrats held off the Sanders populists, they too are living on borrowed time.
Where ideology and economics drove the last thirty years, demography and economics are likely to drive the next thirty. While the Democrats have a seeming demographic advantage, a deeper dive into the facts reveals something very different.
A recent Washington Post article noted that America has become, “more diverse racially and ethnically, better educated overall and with a population that is aging.” The recent success of the Democratic Party is the result, among other things, of, “becoming less white, less religious and better educated at a faster rate than the country as a whole while aging at a slower rate. Within the GOP, the pattern is the reverse.” It should come as no surprise that the Republican Party today remains 86% white and white citizens vote! White voters today make up 70% of registered voters. However, that is down from 84% in 1992 and that percentage will continue to decline as the faces of America continue to change.
While today 61% of Americans are white, by 2055 that percentage falls to 48% (with current levels of immigration). While Republicans carry about 60% of all white voters they have not been able to garner more than one fourth of the non-white vote at best.
On the surface, that would appear to bode well for the Democrats. However, the underlying factors that are driving the rebirth of populism are going to affect Democrats as much or more than they are the Republicans. While it has been widely reported that Mr. Trump’s backers are largely white and less educated than the rest of the Party, there are equally large numbers of Democrats of all colors that are less educated and thus equally unprepared to compete for jobs and wages in a technologically driven world. In fact as you will see somewhere between half to two thirds of Americans fall into this category!
What the establishment of both parties have failed to recognize, according to Mr. Frumm, is that, “the angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans.” Their economic insecurity is creating a sense of fear and that is not exclusive to the GOP. Research suggests that the Republican populists, “do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them and they want that older country back.”
Of course, it isn’t coming back, but for the less educated Democratic middle class voters the problems aren’t any different and their future is no more promising than their Republican counterparts. Establishment leadership of both parties have failed to grasp not only the issue but the numbers of people being affected. Equally important is the lack of understanding of the the underlying causes.
A Brookings Institute report notes that, “the United States lost 41% of its manufacturing jobs from 1979 to 2009.” That is an ASTOUNDING number! Keep in mind that unions have long supported the Democratic candidates yet the fact is that neither party has been able to stem the loss of well paying jobs. What is happening is that people are getting fed up in both parties and that has come as a shock to the establishment politicians who have for too long been insulated from the true conditions affecting enormous numbers of Americans. Thus, in my view, that is where the strategic battle of the future is likely to take place and the Democrats are no better positioned than their opponents.
The criticality of manufacturing to a comfortable and satisfied electorate cannot be overstated. The Brookings research notes that manufacturing, “remains a source of high-wage jobs for virtually all types of workers, but especially for those who would otherwise earn the lowest wages.” Americans who need these jobs, those without a college degree, make up roughly two thirds of the electorate and they are not just white Republicans. Moreover the inability of our government to lead the world in public education means that an American with only a high school degree will continue to have great difficulty finding a high paying job.
Census data from 2015 shows that while 60% of Asian Americans obtain a four year degree, only 43% of white Americans do. It is even worse for others. Only 32% of African Americans reach that level of education and an even lower number of Latino Americans at 23%. When two thirds of Americans cannot look forward to what was the American Dream,THAT IS UNTENABLE!
As an aside I would also note that it isn’t wages that make American manufacturing uncompetitive, nor is it globalization. Brookings notes that, “several other countries have higher manufacturing wages than the United States but have had less severe losses of manufacturing jobs.” It is a lack of leadership, both in business and politics and in my view the longer this continues the greater the chances that the electorate of both parties will become increasingly angry.
The establishment of both parties has failed to grasp this. Let’s be honest, the two candidates for President in this election are FAR from the best two candidates America could have fielded. Many voters are voting against a candidate rather than for one. Neither candidate is likely to last two terms and that is not just a reflection of how they might perform. They don’t have the answers to the most critical strategic issues of the future; jobs, wages and education. Absent solutions unrest in the electorate is only going to get worse.
Mr. Frumm notes that Mr. Trump’s followers are not ideologically militant, highly conservative or deeply religious by prior Republican standards. They simply want good paying jobs and a better future for their children. It is inconceivable that Democratic voters want anything different.
But, neither party has real answers for these strategic issues. Thus, they are content to focus, instead, on tangential issues such as borders, Supreme Court Justices, secured emails and candidate integrity. Those things matter but they are side shows compared to the real strategic issues of the day.
The current election remains in flux and will probably go down to the wire. But the future success or failure of both parties remains a question mark. No one can lead when they cannot identify a simple and clear strategy that leads to success. Obfuscating issues only leads to a lack of focus and an inability to execute. Moreover, the isolation of both party’s leadership from the real issues that matter most to the electorate is truly deafening.
So, don’t believe what you read in the press. Success in the elections to come remains completely up in the air waiting for one party or the other to truly lead America forward.