In his book, The Theory of Everything, Physicist Stephen Hawking postulates a single unifying theory to explain the seemingly inexplicable logic of the universe. For the last 35 years, Democrats have similarly been grappling to explain why the conservative movement inexplicably keeps evolving further right while Latino, minority and young voters continue to expand the liberal base and voter rolls.
For Democrats to understand the mysterious forces that created the modern Republican party, we need a single unifying theory of conservative politics. Here it is:
Winning presidencies does not work for conservatives.
That’s right. Having a Republican in the Oval Office is no longer the key to understanding the conservative universe.
You see, the conservatives’ goal is to undo the New Deal and Great Society programs of the 20th century and redirect America toward less government and more unfettered capitalism. But for several election cycles, the conservative movement stagnated under the mistaken premise that just electing Republican presidents would achieve that goal. As anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist once put it, conservatives just needed a pliable Republican president “with enough working digits to handle a pen” to sign their right-wing legislation.
However, history has disproved the Norquist theory. The last six Republican presidents – Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush – were all thwarted by Democratic congresses that would not send them the legislation those Republican presidents would have to sign to rewrite the social contract.
So after those somewhat disappointing Republican empires that didn’t remake America the way they’d hoped, conservatives finally came to realize the real battle is not for the White House, it’s for control of the legislative branch. The Oval Office will always be a revolving door where every 8 to 16 years at the most, the reigns of executive power will shift parties.
To finally get pure conservative policy written into law, Republicans need to create a permanent majority in both chambers of congress that will be in place the next time a Republican president holds the pen. (Much like the dual Democratic majorities that allowed FDR and Lyndon Johnson to advance progressive agendas during their terms, and the filibuster-proof majority Barack Obama briefly enjoyed during the first year of his first term.)
It may not be in 2016, though they’d surely like it to be. It may not even be in 2020, if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins and is able to hold on for a second term. But surely by 2024 at the latest, the White House will flip again and line up the political planets for a perfect conservative eclipse.
In the meantime, a Clinton presidency can do little harm if a Republican congress continues to block and obstruct the Democratic agenda, as they’ve done more or less successfully for the last 6 years. It’s basically a four-corners offense killing time as it watches the clock run out on Democratic presidents.
At this point in the political calculus, one must test the theory by asking, “Since Republicans have solid congressional majorities now, why are conservatives flirting with such unelectable far-right presidential candidates like Dr. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz if they only need a moderate GOP puppet in the White House to sign the bills?”
But the theory still holds up. Because while gerrymandering will keep the House is solidly Republican at least until after the 2020 census, the Senate is poised to flip back to a Democratic majority again in 2016, when the GOP will be defending 24 seats and the Democrats only 10. So allowing the party to move back to the middle by nominating a supposedly “electable” moderate like Jeb Bush would likely lead to a nominally conservative administration coupled with a Democratic Senate that will still thwart any real legislative reform.
No, what the party of Bill Kristol and Laura Ingraham really wants is to wait it out for a Republican trifecta. They need their version of the FDR or Lyndon Johnson presidencies where conservatives control all the levers of government. That’s when the true believers of the Tea Party movement will experience its ultimate rapture. So they must continue to push the mid-term electorates further right even while the national electorate moves left. They need to protect their congressional majorities until the inevitable winds of change land a Republican back in the executive branch.
Only then will their universe become whole. At least that is their current unifying theory.
True, it’s only a theory, and no one knows whether it will stand the test of time and history. But as of now it’s the best one Democrats have to explain this crazy political universe of ours.