I registered to vote in 2001, as a Democrat. Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, no one was discussing whether or not demographic politics were destiny or not, and Donald Trump beating a Clinton or a Bush for President seemed like a total joke.
The two parties are changing quickly, right before our eyes. The Republican Party of 2001 was very different than 2019. Gone are the aristocratic Bush types at the top. Gone is the globalist view of military engagement and global trade from the Bush days, and in it’s place is Trump isolationist policy. The Republican Party is now a cultural identity party for “traditional” America, stressing nationalism, law and order, and aggressive anti-elitism. They’re both longing for a cultural America that is traditional, but also calling into question the last 80 years of globalism in American foreign policy. This is a far cry from the Republican Party of Bush- a neoconservative foreign policy, pro-big business (which they still mostly are in policy, but not as much rhetoric.), and theocratic morality politics.
The Democratic Party is basically on another planet too. Bill Clinton’s moderation politics are taking a beating from the activists. “Safe, legal, and rare” to describe abortion policy would almost be disqualifying in a primary. The party has moved a solid step left on everything from taxes to guns, from abortion to criminal justice reform, on health care to LGBT rights. Would a Democrat reiterate Bill Clinton’s pronunciation that “the era of big government is over” in a 2022 State of the Union? Would they even consider a balanced budget, such as Clinton oversaw, as a positive? While the reality is that the Democrats have not really moved crazy left as a practical matter, the rhetoric has shifted dramatically. The Democratic Party is abandoning much of the strategic practicality of Clinton and Obama for more ideological, direct appeal to what it sees as it’s base.
Perhaps that is the biggest shift in American politics over the past 18 years- who each party views as it’s base. When I started in politics in 2002, the Rust Belt man in a Ford pick-up truck was a Democrat, or at least a swing voter. The wealthier suburbs of Philadelphia were moderate Republicans. Now that’s switched. For all the talk of rural Republicans and urban, more diverse Democrats, perhaps those changes are minor compared to the exchange of blue collar whites to Republicans, and educated, white collar whites to Democrats. The Democratic Party is now more Starbucks, the Republicans more Dunkin (for the record, I love both.). The Democratic Party is adapting to a coalition of white collar suburban white people joining African-Americans and most every other group that is considered a minority. The Republicans, under the colorful rhetoric of Trump, are welcoming blue collar, lower middle class, Rust Belt whites to their billionaires and traditionalists.
The biggest driver of the political shifts is the way the two parties now view America’s place in the world. Donald Trump’s new base has driven the Republicans away from international trade deals, rhetorically against cheap foreign labor, to want out of NATO, to want to withdraw from treaties such as KORUS, and to want out of conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan. The basic tenet of the Trump doctrine is “why are we paying for it” with regards to the world, and for a desire to spend that money at home. Just as dramatic is the shift on the Democratic side. The Democratic Party is suddenly the party of free trade, foreign intervention in places like Syria, and arguing for at least a more liberal border. Republicans are increasingly uninterested in international collaboration with allies like Canada, South Korea, and our traditional EU allies. Democrats aren’t feeling so great about collaborating with nations they see as against their values, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Italy. This shift has had impacts both in foreign and domestic policy.
All of this has left some people out of place in their own political parties. Michael Bloomberg, mentioned above, has gone from a Republican, to an independent, to a Democrat. The Blue Dog Democrats are virtually gone away, while there aren’t pro-choice Republicans in Congress anymore. Those pieces of their coalitions have left them, eliminating the base of support for most of those members. They’ve gradually lost primaries to more ideological candidates, and lost general elections because their own voters abandoned them.
The major question for the future is if the left-right divide will break down- will the Bernie voters and Trump voters eventually link up? Both are populists that want to shock the system. One took over their party, the other has not been able to so far. Could they eventually all be in the Republican camp if Democrats continue to reject populism?
We are living through a realignment in our politics that is changing both coalitions. The political parties are not what they were when I registered. If you had told me in 2001 that a Republican President would be for isolationist trade and foreign policies, and that I’d oppose that President like I do, I would not believe you. So imagine America by 2040.