It wasn’t a fluke — 2016, that is.
That’s the lasting takeaway from this year’s presidential election, however it turns out.
The parties are altered now; they represent different constituencies than they did a decade ago, and in multiple decades before that. That feeling beneath our feet these past four years wasn’t a tremor, it was a tectonic shift. We’ll need to get used to the new lay of the land.
The GOP is the lunch pail party now. Democrats are the party of the elite, and of African Americans. If they’re not careful — if Republicans play their cards right going forward — a meaningful number of Black voters could begin breaking away from Democrats’ hold in the coming years, just as their white working-class counterparts have done in the past two election cycles.
However improbable, Democrats have become "The Man."
Donald Trump may be the most flawed presidential candidate in history, but in a sense he was the perfect person to lead a political realignment. He’s impervious to criticism, conscience and reason — an armor-plated bulldozer that just keeps charging at America’s obnoxious liberal elite. Millions love him for it; they’re awed by his will. (It’s tough not to be, even if you hate him.)
Principled Reaganites dreamed that the Republican Party would return to the old normal after Trump was defeated. But not after Tuesday. That dream is gone. Republicans have an in with a sizable constituency that had long eluded them; there’s no way they let it go. Indeed, the breach into the working class demands exploitation, even at risk of abandoning core principles like free trade and limited government. These new Republican voters need to be fed.
The largest potential pool of voters now up for grabs are the various constituencies of Hispanic descent. The GOP has made inroads with Caribbean Hispanics; expect greater focus now on hardworking, deeply religious first- and second-generation Latinos who can taste the American dream.
Progressivism is at the heart of Democrats’ woes, and not just in policy but in popular culture. If one can’t bear watching The Oscars or late-night talk show hosts or contrived television series hawking social justice and secular liberalism, chances are one aligns with the new GOP. If one is sick to death of woke culture — of being lectured about white privilege, America’s culpabilities and swappable genders — it’s the same.
Democrats are likely to miss this, even if former Vice President Joe Biden wins. They’ll double down on progressivism and say the election was close because Biden was too moderate — that he failed to offer sufficient contrast with Republicans. That would be a mistake.
The better way to look at it would be this: four years of Trump’s madness, an impeachment and a pandemic that virtually shut down the U.S. economy wasn’t enough, or was just barely enough, to overcome middle America’s disdain for the left’s intellectual elitism. From there, Democrats could seek to recover lost constituencies.
The questions run deeper for Republicans. The GOP needs to decide what parts of Reaganism will remain. The answer may be cultural conservatism and nothing else.
Trump may or may not survive this election, but Trumpism will.
It may only be getting started.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.