March 29, 2018

The disintegration of the GOP during '18 and '20, as Reaganism gives way to Bernie-ism

With each round of fluctuating polls that show the Democrats' consistent lead widening and narrowing ahead of the midterms, it's important to focus on the big picture.

We'll start with an overview of long-term political cycles, and come back to the current climate of midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election.

* * *

Political cycles take place over all sorts of time scales -- from the daily news cycle, the annual legislative cycle, the midterm and presidential electoral cycle, and the regime or paradigm cycle.

The last one tends to get left out because it lasts over multiple elections, lasting decades, making it hard for people to personally remember the previous stage of the cycle. (Who remembers when Democrats had a lock on the voters of "the Solid South"?)

We're currently in a paradigm set by the Reagan revolution of 1980, which overturned the FDR paradigm of 1932, which supplanted the McKinley paradigm of 1896, which modified the Lincoln paradigm of 1860, which overturned the Jackson paradigm of 1828, which supplanted the Jefferson paradigm of 1800.

Going back so quickly to our nation's founding is possible because we're not bogged down in the dozens of individual elections, let alone the hundreds of annual snapshots. There is a structure above the level of elections that groups them into paradigms spanning several decades, allowing us to take steps backward 40 years at a time.

Within each paradigm, the elections play out in stages described by political scientist Stephen Skowronek. The trailblazer radically alters the paradigm that came before, and his party enjoys at least three consecutive terms to change as much of society as they can. Then there is some pushback from the opposition party, although generally staying within the overall paradigm set by the dominant party. Then control returns to the dominant party, who extends their original paradigm.

As the paradigm runs out of gains to make, a would-be reformer from within the dominant party rises to substantially alter the paradigm from within his own dominant party. Thwarted by all the institutions and factions of the dominant party, who have no interest in radically altering the paradigm that has brought them such seemingly everlasting success, the would-be reformer falls from grace, earning a reputation as a do-nothing, and leaving a sour taste in the mouths of anyone looking back on his administration.

Then a new trailblazer comes along from the opposition party, who therefore faces none of the institutional constraints of the internal reformer, and succeeds in implementing a new paradigm where his do-nothing predecessor had failed. And the cycle repeats.

Why doesn't this paradigm shift happen with earlier presidents from the opposition party? Because voters must first be of the mind that they're giving the dominant party One Last Chance to substantially reform itself, before they lose all confidence in the old dominant party and choose to give a broad mandate to the old opposition party to blaze a new trail.

* * *

These themes were explored in this post and comment discussion, looking at the striking parallels between the presidencies of Trump and Jimmy Carter, as well as the parallels between rising Bernie and rising Reagan of the late '70s.

Skowronek refers to these attempts to reform from within the dominant party as "disjunctive," and as time goes on, we see more and more of the pattern filling in with the Trump admin. Every time he tries to cut against the Reaganite orthodoxy -- most notably on industrial policy (trade, tariffs) -- he notches a small symbolic win or is wrestled back into the old way of doing things by the Establishment of the party (the entire party).

Still, the Reagan party cannot tolerate these small departures from orthodoxy, since they are intended as a slippery slope that will undo the entire edifice built by their party over the past 40 years.

And they are even more threatened by Trump's more substantial change in rhetoric and values compared to standard Republicans -- trade deficits are killing our workers, we've wasted seven trillion dollars in the Middle East, we're going to build a wall on the border, I don't want people dying in the streets just because they can't afford health insurance, and so on and so forth.

While these pronouncements do not result in sweeping policy changes, they nevertheless take voters out of the old mindset, and open them up to supporting radical change by somebody who actually can deliver the goods. The GOP knows that Trump cannot be that change agent, shackled and neutered as he is by the GOP itself, but they also know that they sure as hell aren't going to make radical changes either.

In the back of their minds, the Establishment realizes that Trump is paving the way not only for the destruction of the GOP, but for the election of an unshackled reformer from the opposition party -- Bernie Sanders, or someone like him.

Bernie's party is not beholden to the Chamber of Commerce or National Association of Manufacturers (Dems voted against NAFTA in both houses of Congress). So he can slam heavy tariffs on off-shored manufacturing or foreign steel and not suffer a loss of support from his elite factions. Ditto for winding down our failed military occupations and expansions all over the world -- his party is not beholden to the Pentagon for elite support.

* * *

Returning to the midterm elections, what does the "stages of the paradigm" theory predict?

An earlier post looked at the record number of Congressional retirements from the dominant party, which also showed up in the last midterm election of a disjunctive president, in 1978. That disjunctive president began his term with his party controlling both the House and the Senate, as does our disjunctive president.

As part of the loss of confidence in the dominant party, they lost seats in both chambers of Congress, although they still remained above 50% and held control of all government for the second half of Carter's term. After Carter's failures, the Reagan revolution of 1980 also took control of the Senate, though not the House.

What about earlier disjunctive administrations and their midterms? See this history of party strength in Congress, with both charts and tables.

The last disjunctive president before Carter was Hoover, elected in 1928 at the end of the pro-industrialist paradigm of the Progressive Era GOP, before the labor-oriented paradigm of the New Deal that was chosen in '32. Hoover began with his party controlling both chambers of Congress, but during the 1930 midterms -- after the Great Depression began to discredit the pro-business party -- they lost seats in both houses, yet still barely held onto full control of government.

The next presidential election in 1932, Hoover's party lost all three elected bodies to the trailblazing Democrats under FDR's leadership.

Before Hoover, the last end-of-an-era president was Cleveland during his second (non-consecutive) term. Elected in 1892, he began with his Democrat party controlling both chambers of Congress. During the midterms, they lost both houses to the Republicans in the wake of the Panic of 1893, which discredited the laissez-faire Bourbon Democrats who Cleveland represented, and paved the way for trailblazing populist Republicans, who kept all three bodies for decades after McKinley's victory in 1896.

Before Cleveland, the last disjunctive president was Buchanan, elected in 1856 as the last of the Jacksonian Democrats before the Civil War shifted control to the trailblazing Republicans under Lincoln. He began with his party controlling both chambers of Congress. In the 1858 midterms, they lost seats in both chambers, losing the House outright while still holding onto the Senate. No progress was being made to avert secession by Southern states -- the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision from the Supreme Court was delivered since Buchanan's inauguration -- so voters lost confidence in the dominant Democrats to solve the problems of sectional tensions over slavery.

The next presidential election, the trailblazing Republicans under Lincoln won the White House, kept the House, and picked up the Senate for total control.

Before Buchanan, the last disjunctive president was John Quincy Adams, elected in 1824 as the last of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, as the Era of Good Feelings would give way to the sectional tensions of the Jacksonian era. Adams was the only disjunctive president to not begin with his party controlling both chambers of Congress -- they had the House but not the Senate. During the 1826 midterms, the dominant party lost seats in both chambers, enough to lose the House on top of already not having the Senate.

The next presidential election, the trailblazing Democrats under Jackson won the White House in addition to keeping control over both chambers of Congress.

Before John Quincy Adams, the last -- and first -- disjunctive president was his father, John Adams, elected in 1796 to continue Washington's largely Federalist program. His party began with control of both chambers of Congress, and unique among disjunctive presidencies, did not lose seats during the midterms (1798). They neither gained nor lost seats in the Senate, and picked up a few in the House.

This lack of lost seats during a disjunctive midterm could be due to the largely uneventful nature of Adams' first two years, at least regarding intra-party relations that could reveal the party to be a fragmented do-nothing party. The major split within the Federalists came after his response to the XYZ Affair (pursuing peace rather than war against France), which fell during the second half of his term. The unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts were signed during the summer right before the 1798 midterms, so any anger they generated must not have caught on fast enough to throw his party out of either chamber of Congress that autumn.

The next presidential election, the trailblazing Democratic-Republicans under Jefferson won the White House and swung both chambers of Congress for full control of the government.

* * *

Wrapping up, it seems certain that the midterms during the current disjunctive presidency will see the dominant party lose seats in the House, although not necessarily enough to fall under 50% and lose control of the chamber. They ought to lose seats in the Senate while still retaining control, but the map this year just happens to work to their advantage -- mostly breaking even.

Voters are growing anxious and moving into getting sick of the do-nothing GOP that is not delivering on the president's promise of radically altering the party away from Reaganism -- especially on trade, immigration, and war.

The next presidential election, the trailblazing Bernie Democrats will win the White House, gain even more seats in the House (flipping it if they haven't already in the midterms), and flip the Senate for total control. Republicans cannot gloat about the '18 Senate map without looking at how much they stand to get clobbered in the '20 Senate map, which will piggy-back on a wave of populist discontent with the elitist globalist GOP during a high-turnout presidential year.

Below the federal level, the map of governors' races in the '18 midterms looks to upset a lot of Republicans in the Great Lakes and New England, as their populist voters are sick of the GOP being a one-trick pony of cutting taxes to boost corporate profits, and as the Dems re-align away from trying to push social-cultural liberalism on a moderate electorate, while emphasizing quasi-populist economic issues.

* * *

Disillusioned populists who voted for Trump would do well to cut their losses and abandon the sinking ship of the Reagan party. The more Trumpian populists that invade the rising Democrat party, and the earlier that they do so, the more that the new Bernie-style party will be shaped away from the flaming social liberalism of the dinosaur Dems and toward a truce in the culture war, as populist material issues become paramount.

That includes getting the Democrats to pursue immigration restriction -- not as a culture war issue, but as a populist issue. The GOP will not deliver on that issue even when it controls all three elected bodies of the federal government -- let alone when it gets shut out of influence during the upcoming re-alignment favoring the Bernie Democrats.

If the Bernie people don't take up the issue during their initial stage of three consecutive terms, it will be because suicidally partisan Republicans didn't want to pollute their tribal purity by forging a winning alliance with populists from the other party. Younger Trump populists who are not dyed-in-the-wool GOP-ers will be the influential group in that regard, not the hidebound Boomer-publicans.


  1. Impeachment only happens to pushback presidents from the opposition party -- Johnson (Dem during Lincoln GOP dominance), Nixon (de facto removed, GOP during New Deal Dem dominance), and Clinton (Dem during Reaganite GOP dominance).

    Based on history, it looks unlikely that Trump will get impeached. Perhaps that's because like other disjunctive presidents, he will have his own party controlling Congress. And no matter what, no party impeaches its own president.

    The GOP Congress will continue to obstruct Trump's attempts to alter Reaganism, but this fragmentation and dysfunction will not rise to the level of impeachment.

    Even if the Dems take back the House, it may be on a narrow margin, with candidates who have pledged to put that issue aside and just work on real issues. Same candidates who have to promise not to vote for Pelosi as Speaker.

    As the current opposition party, the Dems know they'd get slaughtered -- literally -- if they tried to impeach the dominant party's president, especially one whose goal is to reform his party for the better.

    Regardless of the midterms, impeachment looks unlikely.

    And certainly they wouldn't get 67 votes in the Senate to remove him from office, even assuming impeachment.

  2. Why do disjunctive midterms favor the incumbent party keeping full control of the govt, albeit losing seats within their majority, against the usual trend for midterms to flip control of at least one chamber of Congress to the opposition? Especially when the one-party govt is so dysfunctional, rather than roaring along?

    I think it's that sense of giving the dominant party One Last Chance. That's usually cutting the person quite a bit of slack, not just giving them a little bit to work with. They get one final Hail Mary pass.

    Voters unimpressed with the dysfunctional disintegrating party give them fewer seats in Congress, but not quite enough to yank control of Congress out from underneath them.

    Voters want radical reforms, and they know that requires all three elected bodies to be on the same page, and therefore of the same party. So they extend them a lifeline into the second half of the disjunctive president's single term.

    Once that single term fails -- that's it. Voters kick out the old dominant party from all branches of govt and give the whole sucker over to the old opposition party under a re-aligning figure.

    So the midterms are not really what matters -- the GOP is destined to not gain influence in either chamber, whether or not that means they lose control outright.

    What is clear, and what really matters, is that the 2020 election is going to see the Reaganites swept out altogether and Bernie-crats swept in to control all three bodies.

    Even if the GOP holds both houses in '18, that will be an illusory victory. They are allowed the time to collect their things around the office before they have to leave for good, as opposed to getting fired with no time to pack up their stuff.

    Either way, in 2020, they're fired, and they're not coming back for a long time.

  3. Author has his change of era of political dominance dates completely wrong, the last republican era in politics started with Nixon victory in 1968 and ended with GHWB loss in 1992, Reganisim was smack in the middle of that and not a creation of itself. Clinton win in 1992 cut through the Republican lock by winning mid western and west coast states, which would form the foundation of the blue wall, which in turn stood until Trump demolished it in 2016.

    Have no idea what is in store for 2018 or 2020, but one thing I will bet on is that there ~0.0% chance that modern FDR coalition of poor whites and non whites can be created. Today's Democratic party is simply not going to go for that, their elites and foot soldiers are mad drunk with racial politics and don'd give a damm about whitey, especially that poor rural one.

    Most likely outcome of Democrat win in 2018 (which will be only the house) will be Trump winning in 2020, ala Clinton in 1996 by running against the likes of Maxine Watters and John Lewis, of whom Americans will get a daily dose on TV every day if their side wins.

  4. Wrong on all three claims -- good enough to not comment here again.

    1) Nixon was a New Deal Republican -- not a deregulator or dismantler of the welfare state, not a militarist (got us *out* of Vietnam, which the Dems got us into, when they relied on the Deep South and its concentration of military bases), pursued detente with the Soviets rather than an arms race or build-up, founded the Environmental Protection Agency and oversaw the birth of affirmative action.

    You're confusing snapshots of the electoral map with multi-decade trends. California may have been red for Nixon and Reagan, but it was already moving in the blue direction for awhile -- going from solid red to more of a toss-up.

    Clinton won parts of the South in both elections, and so did Carter -- doesn't make them "blue states" during the culture war era.

    2) "Today's" Democrat party is not what it was even a year ago, when they were still running the Obama playbook in that Georgia special election -- a closeted homo carpetbagger funded by Hollywood elites.

    Less than six months later, they flipped a Senate seat in Ala-fucking-bama by running an old ugly white guy who was a staffer for the old Southern Democrat, Howell Heflin, who was anti-free trade but also pro-military.

    Doug Jones did not run on any form of identity politics, but on quasi-populist economic issues including healthcare.

    Connor Lamb did the same thing in the PA-18 special election.

    The two most popular Democrats at the national level are old heterosexual white guys -- Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Bernie's the future, and he ignores identity politics.

    This is because Democrat voters themselves are sick of identity politics -- not only because those issues are no longer relevant, in the face of economic and other catastrophes looming, but because they realize how easily it gets them killed in elections, and they hate to keep losing.

    The single largest group of Dem voters are whites with no college degree, so they are already the electoral base of the party.

    In states that Trump flipped red, they're an even bigger chunk -- no Hispanics or Asians or immigrants in the Rust Belt, outside of Chicago, and hardly any blacks either.

    3) If Dems take back the House in '18, voters won't see anything about identity politics. If Maxine Watters shows up at all, it will be in the context of the Russia witch hunt and impeachment -- nothing to do with issues of racism, etc.

    But again, no disjunctive president has ever been impeached or de facto removed, so they likely won't even bother with that if they took back the House. Especially knowing that the Senate would likely remain Republican -- the House impeached Clinton because they also controlled the Senate, and there was some chance that action could have been taken.

  5. Unlike you, Pat Buchanan is not a moron, and was thinking along similar lines as this post. I didn't see this until just now, so it's a comparison that would occur independently to anyone who knows history (not you).

    "Is the GOP Staring at Another 1930?"

    All those triumphalist claims after the election, about "the GOP has not been this dominant since 1928!" should have triggered the alarm bells. Wait, you mean Trump is going to be like HOOVER? There goes everything!

    Not just the short-term prospects, where Hoover's party did badly in the midterms and lost everything in the next presidential election.

    It's Hoover's place in the long-term cycle that makes a comparison between him and Trump the most damning. Hoover wasn't just any old Republican who ended up losing all govt to the Dems -- he was the last one during an era of GOP dominance, going back to McKinley.

    That makes Trump the last-of-an-era president as well -- ending the GOP dominance begun with Reagan.

    There hasn't yet been something as disastrous as the Great Depression ahead of the current disjunctive president's midterms, so his party may not hemorrhage Congressional seats like Hoover's did -- but even then they still kept full control of the govt from '30 to '32.

    Trump had best keep quiet about the stock market from now on. The melt-up is already done, and the more he talks it up, the more people will remember anything he did as "what fucked up the economy," akin to the memories of Hoover (including the Smoot-Hawley tariff).

    That would just be partisan blame-gaming, but Trump cannot help himself when it comes to trying to hog credit for good news that he had nothing to do with.

    His goal now is to avoid becoming even more like Hoover.

  6. I suspect you know this but Smoot Hawley effected no more than 7% of the US economy as the US was a near Autraky in 1929.

    It was neither the cause nor did it exacerbate the Depression in any meaningful way

    What did that is the rich especially the bankers. Don't regulate the money men, face economic ruin.

    I'm also willing consider an argument that FDR made things worse long term but I haven't seen the evidence yet

    All that aside mainstream polls show Trump measurably more popular than Obama at the same time, over 50% of late which is unheard of these days

    This suggests to me that people want populism , Trumpism or a Bernie version

    That problem is while people like Connor Lamb are willing to run on it but will they vote like that once in office

    My guess is no, they'll revert immediately to Neo Liberal or Neo Con habits since that us where the loot is

    Strategically its a great if shortsighted way to poison the well on populism , can't trust people who say they are populists so they don't get in and while it lowers trust and increases instability, the elite don't care about that.

    How we the people get what we want without a burn it all down strategy , well that's the rub

    I always suggest working the primaries these days but who knows


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