How did that realignment work out for you, Republicans?

Five years ago, overweening conservatives predicted they would dominate the future. Goodbye to all that -- for now.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Republican Party, Democratic Party, Barack Obama,

How did that realignment work out for you, Republicans?

Five years ago the Republican Party and the conservative movement thought they were poised to monopolize power in America well beyond the political horizon. Epitomizing their hubris in those dark days was Grover Norquist, the conservative leader who liked to say that “the Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and the Senate” and of maintaining regular control over the White House as well. Few commentators, pollsters or political scientists tried to quarrel with these confident prophecies from the right.

With the publication of “The Emerging Democratic Majority” in the late summer of 2002, however, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira spoke out directly against that consensus. (I’m happy to have recommended it as that autumn’s most important book.) In that pathbreaking work (and on a Web site later christened Donkey Rising, which is now Democratic Strategist) they used a sharp combination of statistical research and political theory to undermine the assumptions behind a permanent right-wing ascendancy — and to predict the rise of a progressive majority encompassing young people, women, ethnic minorities and professional workers.

This week marks their turn to claim the future (and that is what Judis does here). Following the first major rumblings of the leftward shift during the 2006 midterm elections — which might just have been a normal response to a lousy president in his second term — they have now seen the flowering of the coalition they imagined at the zenith of the Bush regime.

Election maps and exit poll data both suggest that this year’s Democratic victories were grounded in that coalition. In the cities that Judis and Teixeira dubbed “ideopolises,” those postindustrial metropolitan areas where tolerance and creativity rule, from Colorado in the Mountain West to Virginia and North Carolina in the Southeast, the Democrats displayed new and growing appeal. White voters with a college education used to vote Republican and still do, but the trend is in the opposite direction. Barack Obama cut George W. Bush’s margin among this group from 11 percent to 4 percent, according to Tuesday’s exit polls, and he won white voters with postgraduate degrees by a margin of 10 points.

Still more troubling for the Republicans is that the ideology of the ideopolis now seems to extend into the surrounding suburban areas, where the Democrats cut deep into traditionally Republican counties, racking up victories in places they have not won for decades. The same population groups that tend to be loyal Democrats have moved into those counties, contesting local elections that used to feature token opposition at best.

Meanwhile, the Republican coalition, if it still deserves that description, is increasingly constricted, with little space for growth. Not only is the GOP’s power largely confined to the South, but the party’s complexion displays an unhealthy pallor.

It is, in a word, white — in an era when America is becoming more diverse, colorful and multiethnic. Nine out of 10 McCain voters were white, in fact, while the supporters of Obama had that more fashionable rainbow look: Out of 10, six were white, two or three were black, one was Hispanic, and the rest were Asian or “other” (perhaps biracial, like the president-elect himself).

Of course, Obama’s sweep of African-American voters is hardly surprising. They have been the most reliably Democratic part of the voting population for nearly 80 years. But he also drew two-thirds of Hispanic voters as well, improving on the record of Democrats in the past two presidential elections and his own record in the primaries. Those groups represent the demographic future — and the Republicans so far have no prospects or plans as the nation enters a period of ethnic change.

Equally ominous for the Republicans is the powerful Democratic preference of young voters, now expressed forcefully for the third national election in a row. Many political scientists believe that adult voting patterns tend to be established before age 30, which if true could lock in a new generation of Democrats. Again, it is not surprising that young minority voters supported Obama or chose Democratic candidates down-ticket, but they attracted a big majority of young white voters as well. Obama defeated John McCain by 10 points in that group, contributing heavily to the overall 2-to-1 Democratic margin among voters under 30.

Thanks in no small degree to the incompetence and corruption of the Republicans who have held power over the past decade or so, almost 40 percent of voters now call themselves Democrats. But just as important is the diminishing burden attached to the “liberal” label, which has been used to such great effect against Democrats over the past three decades.

Perhaps the most revealing post-election data on that question came from within the defeated McCain campaign. In an interview with Roger Simon of Politico, the Republican candidate’s speechwriter and friend, Mark Salter, disclosed that in the campaign’s own internal polling data, 60 percent of Americans regarded Obama as “liberal.” The campaign thought that would be enough to defeat him, which is why it hammered on the “left-wing” themes.

Baiting the liberals didn’t work this year. Disgusted with the Republican right, voters wanted something different and weren’t afraid to look leftward. That is what “realignment” means.

But gloating only goes so far, as Norquist learned the hard way. On Thursday morning, he joined dozens of right-wing leaders in Washington to plan for a conservative comeback — and what they hope will be the next realignment, without the burden of George W. Bush. Don’t misunderestimate them.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>