With results from last night seemingly devastating to the Democratic Party and the cause of liberalism, it's worth keeping in mind the good news: this won't last very long. The Republican recovery, such as it is, is bound to be short-lived.
That, at least, is the argument of Democratic strategist Dylan Loewe in his provocative new book, Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republican Party and Rule the Next Generation. Loewe, a speechwriter with the firm West Wing Writers, marshals an impressive array of evidence to buttress his thesis, far-fetched though it might seem right now.
First on his list of reasons the future will be a Democratic-friendly blue are demographics, something even Republicans admit is not on their side. "Undeniably there are long-term demographic trends that favour the Democrats," concedes American Spectator editor W. James Antle III, in his review of Loewe's book. "Republicans do not yet have a strategy for attracting minority voters." The strategy they were relying on was one of wooing Hispanics with immigration-friendly legislation. But that idea collapsed during President George W. Bush's second term with the death of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's immigration-reform bill, and it has yet to recover. Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and there is no reason to think that tally will substantially change over time.
Equally crucial is the Democratic advantage in organization. "The Obama campaign didn't just build an organization that could win a single election; it built one that could sustain a permanent majority," Loewe writes. The much-heralded internet-donations strategy Obama pioneered in 2008 still exists, and in fact is only getting stronger. The Republican base, older and less technologically savvy, still relies on traditional models of fundraising.
Of course, Karl Rove was nicknamed "Boy Genius" for his purported organizational prowess, and Bush's 2004 victory was heralded as a testament to the GOP get-out-the-vote talents. In an interview, Loewe scoffs at the comparison. "Nothing from Karl Rove's micro-targeting campaign in 2004 was left over after the election," he says. As the Atlantic's Mark Ambinder writes, as bad as last night was for the Democrats, it would have been much worse but for their organizational strength. "Republicans do NOT have a strong party structure," Ambinder says (emphasis in original). "The DNC's Organizing for America arm was never able to mobilize enough voters to match the relentless pulse of Republican enthusiasm, but it turns out that, in the past six months, they did a heck of a lot." In voter contacts, volunteers and fundraising, the DNC result was simply massive--not enough to outweigh the anti-incumbent sentiment across the country, but massive nonetheless. In Permanently Blue, Loewe says that even if the GOP attempts to replicate this model, they will be playing catch-up; the Democrats have had a "four-year head start."
Next on Loewe's list is the decreasing salience of wedge issues: race, abortion and gay marriage. Here is where the GOP is in a bind: its base demands that its candidate hew to a narrow agenda friendly to the religious right and the Tea Party, while that very agenda is distasteful to the majority of Americans. "Just as they did after Scott Brown's victory, Republicans will see their midterm gains as having validated their strategy of appealing, almost exclusively, to the fringe," as Loewe puts it. Those are exactly the wrong lessons to learn, because these midterms are unique. Unless the unemployment rate remains this high in 2012 (and it is unlikely to do so), the Tea Party's message will have declining resonance.
Look, there is no denying the Democrats lost big last night. Anybody who ties to spin otherwise will just go dizzy. But the long-term prospects for progressives are promising. Ignoring the immediate and focusing on the broader arc of history is difficult, by Loewe manages to do it convincingly in Permanently Blue, and Democrats looking for reasons to be optimistic would do well to read it right now.