Why the GOP Keeps Winning

Why the GOP keeps winning

There are two kinds of defeats in electoral politics. Some are expected, even felt to be inevitable (for example, Walter Mondale in 1984). Such losses are sad for the losers, but they do not lead the losing party to reflect on fundamentals. Other defeats are stinging because they are unexpected (for example, Michael Dukakis in 1988). In such circumstances, the defeated party believes that its candidate, agenda, and electoral strategy are clearly superior to those of the winner; the defeat is experienced not only as surprising, but in a deeper sense, unjust. This kind of defeat typically sparks self-reflection on the party’s very identity. The presidential election of 2004 is more like 1988 than 1984, and it is already producing among Democrats the willingness to reexamine fundamental premises.

It is essential to conduct this reassessment without recriminations, and with due regard for history. In the first place, there has been a conservative (or at least nonliberal) majority in U.S. presidential elections since 1968. In the ten elections since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide, the Republican candidates have averaged nearly 50 percent of the popular vote; Democrats, just 45 percent. During this period, the Democratic nominee has attained a majority of the popular vote only once (Jimmy Carter, and just barely, in 1976), while the Republican nominee has done so on five occasions (1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2004). In...

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About the Author

William Galston is Ezra Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of Liberal Purposes and Liberal Pluralism, both published by Cambridge University Press. Galston served as deputy assistant for domestic policy under President Bill Clinton, 1993–95.