The picture of the Democratic Party that emerges from Tuesday’s election results is not one of renewal but one of complacency — a party that is content to run in place, winning where Hillary won, but not making any serious plans to expand the map. It remains as bi-coastal, geriatric, and boutique as ever.
Turn on the TV and you see no fresh, moderate faces capable of poaching red states away from the Republicans. Instead, you see Hillary Clinton desperately trying to stay relevant on second-tier late-night talk shows (the scene of Hillary chugging down champagne with Seth Myers after midnight befits a delusional party), socialist Bernie Sanders, a warbling Nancy Pelosi, and a handful of gibbering blue-state radicals. Tuesday’s election results don’t eliminate any of the party’s fundamental problems and limitations. They just give Democrats the false confidence to reinforce them.
Beneath all the media’s bogus headlines about an anti-Trump wave lay the much blander news that the Dems merely held or won back Democratic territory. It has been a year notable not for any waves but for stagnation. Earlier in the year, Republicans retained Republican districts; this week Democrats won seats in blue states. Even the much-ballyhooed swing in the Virginia House of Delegates doesn’t change that picture, as Nate Cohn of the New York Times acknowledged:
The big surprise of the night was the huge Democratic surge in Virginia’s House of Delegates, but that also came in Clinton Country. Of the 16 districts where Democrats currently lead in Virginia, Mrs. Clinton won 15 of them and received 49.7 percent of the vote in the other, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project and Daily Kos Elections. Twelve of those 15 districts voted for Mrs. Clinton by at least five points.
With both parties essentially running in place, the most likely outcome next year is a Republican House (with Dems picking up seats but not enough to retake it) and a stronger Republican Senate. Notice that in all the media’s hopeful stories about a resurgent Democratic Party no mention is made of the high bar Democrats face in the Senate. They have to defend 25 seats; Republicans only have to defend 8.
“Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats,” according to David Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight.
Can a far-left party that has grown even more radical since Trump’s election run the table like that? Not likely. The party has shown no interest in reaching out to Republicans or disaffected Democrats. “Conservative Democrats,” long an endangered species in the party, have become an extinct one.
The Democrats crawled back to power after the Reagan years by silencing the “San Francisco Democrats” and seeking a middle course. Now the party is wholly defined by coastal radicals (with Pelosi holding down one coast, and Chuck Schumer holding down the other). The chattering class loves the canard that “Ronald Reagan couldn’t win a primary in today’s Republican Party,” but never devises similar thought experiments for the Democrats. Could a triangulating Bill Clinton of the 1990s win a Democratic primary today? Could a Dick Morris work as an adviser to a Democrat today? Could a group like the Democratic Leadership Council exist today? No, the party’s “blue dog” past is now considered an embarrassing relic.
All of the party’s energy, to the extent that there is any, falls on the socialist, outré left. When Democratic consultant Mark Penn wrote earlier this year — “The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in the 1990s, is unquestionably to move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the party” — his counsel was greeted with hisses. The Dems have gone from the party of “uniforms” in schools — one of Bill Clinton’s triangulating impulses — to the party that proposes transgender bathrooms in them.
Deeply invested in over-interpreting Tuesday’s results, the media seeks not to cover a 2018 “wave” but to create one by demoralizing Republicans. While the stupid party is fully capable of falling for this self-fulfilling coverage and cannibalizing its own candidates, that still won’t save the Dems, for whom much of the country remains too deplorable to recapture.