What Galston and Kamarck set out to do is revisit a famed essay they wrote in 1989 about their own side’s political and policy failing, titled “The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency.”
In that first essay, Galston and Kamarck write, “we debunked the views of our Democratic colleagues who hoped, as do so many Republicans today, that their fortunes would start looking up when a popular two-term President passed from the scene, and we laid out the kinds of changes the party would have to embrace if it wished to regain its competitiveness in presidential elections.”
The diagnoses and proposed prescriptions the duo outlined for Democrats almost a quarter-century ago also apply to Republicans today.
First, what’s wrong. Galston and Kamarck broke the Democrats’ problems into three basic “myths”: the myth of “liberal fundamentalism,” the myth of “mobilization” and the myth of “the congressional bastion.”
The first myth centered on the idea that Democrats had come up short at the presidential level in 1980, 1984 and 1988 because the candidates they had nominated — Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis — were insufficient adherents to liberal orthodoxy. If only the party had nominated a “true liberal,” the argument went, they would have won. Sound familiar? The critique from many within the GOP over the past two elections is that neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney were dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, and that had the party nominated someone like, say, Rick Santorum, it might have won.
The second myth — of mobilization — is all about demographics. In the 1980s, Democrats insisted that if only blacks and Hispanics would vote in numbers commensurate with their share of the population, the party’s nominee would win. They didn’t, and Democrats didn’t win. Fast-forward to today and some within the Republican Party are making that same losing argument about consolidating the white vote. “[T]he Republicans’ demographic problem is the mirror image of the one that Democrats faced a quarter-century ago,” Galston and Kamarck write. “Back then there weren’t enough minorities to make the Democrats’ electoral strategy work; today, there aren’t enough whites to make the Republican strategy viable. The same long-cycle trends that gradually helped Democrats are now hurting Republicans.”
This demographic myth is perhaps the most dangerous for Republicans as they seek a way back to the White House in 2016. Remember that the white vote as a percentage of the overall electorate has declined in every presidential election since 1992. As GOP strategist Pete Wehner has noted, if Romney had carried the white vote by 20 points — as he did in 2012— with the demographic makeup of the country as it was in 2000, he would be president today. But, he’s not.