Back in 2005, smart people believed that Karl Rove and his neocon operatives had achieved a small but durable majority in American politics. Rove’s strategy of pandering to the Republican base and viciously attacking the Democrats had changed the political landscape, and progressives like Thomas Frank and Paul Waldman assumed that Democrats needed to be more vitriolic and polarizing to survive. In their 2006 book The Way to Win, Mark Halperin and John Harris asked, “Where is our Karl Rove?”
“To reread the major political books from the years around Bush’s reelection is to be plunged, as if into a cold pool, back into a world of Democratic gloom and anxiety,” Ronald Brownstein writes for Democracy Journal. With the benefit of hindsight, Brownstein reviews the panicked myopia that captured the Democratic psyche.
Though many of the books Brownstein reviewed provided trenchant analysis, none of them saw that predicted the disaster that would become the Republicans in Bush’s second term. They also missed the fact that Rove’s polarizing tactics would give Democrats the opportunity to create a lasting majority of their own.
“Today,” according to Brownstein, “it is the Democrats who have the greater opportunity to establish a lasting advantage.” Brownstein breaks down the demographic reasons why the Republicans lost power and the Democrats gained the electoral edge.
Now it’s the Republicans who are scrambling for a coherent message to combat the Democrats, instead of the other way around. USA Today’s Susan Page recently wrote about a poll showing a lack of clear leaders in among Republicans. According to Page, a divided Republican party is struggling to answer “Who speaks for the GOP?”
The irony of Page’s analysis, pointed out on the Politico blog, is that Page wrote a nearly identical story in 2001, simply switching the parties in power. At that point, the article read, “No clear leader of Dems, poll says.” In it, a little-known political strategist named David Axelrod, who later served as one of Barack Obama’s top political advisers, assured Page that in politics nothing last forever. Axelrod dismissed the polls saying, “It's the nature of being the party out of power.”