. . . Carville argues that history proves those cycles are generally longer. "Forty-year cycles are pretty typical in American politics," he said. "If you start and look at 1896 to 1932, that was a very Republican era. You only had one Democratic president. From '32 to '68 was real Democratic dominance, the only Republican president was Eisenhower. Then in '68 to 2008 that was a real cycle for Republicans: 28 years for Republicans and 12 for Democrats. Just look at the charts."
But, I'd be surprised if the Republicans ever make their way back to majority status. They have a lot going against them and many of their structural problems were on display for the rest of the country to see today.
The structural problems of the Republicans can be broken down into four areas--demographics, constituencies, communication, and leadership.
Demographics. The bottom line is that the growing vote demographics identify with the Democrats; the shrinking demographics with the GOP. These include Hispanics, African-Americans, urban/suburban voters, women, and the college/grad school educated. Obama got 75% of the combined minority vote of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans. He also got 73% of the gay vote. McCain still got a majority of the white vote, but the white vote is shrinking as a percentage of the total as states like California and Texas become "majority minority" and more cities become globalized multi-racial entities. Even with the white vote, McCain only won in rural areas which are in some cases (say the Great Plains states) shrinking.
The Republicans are on the wrong side of the America's demographic divides. Whites are a steadily decreasing majority with the U. S. slated to achieve majority/minority status around 2050. The Republican Party's rural white constituents are leaving for urban areas where the Democrats dominate. The Republicans do better among older voters and men than younger voters and women. But their older constituents will inevitably die off while the younger generation will vote at higher rates. Likewise, women have come to vote at significantly higher rates than men. The Democrats are also doing increasingly well among the well-educated in a society that's under a lot of pressure to become better educated.
However one slices the data, the democraphic picture is a major millstone for the Republicans.
Constituencies. One could argue for a cyclical thesis that the Republicans will capture another younger generation of white voters while whites are still a majority and that minority voters will return to the Republican Party in large enough numbers (say 15% for African-Americans, 40% for Hispanics) for the Republicans to win presidential elections. Same with educated voters.
But I don't think this will be the case.
The activist conservative base of the Republican Party is determined that Republicans be a nativist party opposed to Mexican immigration and the establishment of Hispanic culture in a multi-cultural U. S. Republican office holders and conservative activists routinely make calls to deport the 11 million illegal aliens, impose "English Only" in schools, commercial functions, and government paperwork, close the Mexican border in response to swine flu, and resist the trends toward multi-culturalism that can especially be seen in the cities. George Bush got 45% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but every time someone like Mike Gallagher calls for closing the borders with Mexico, the Hispanic vote gets further entrenched in the Democratic camp.
The same is the case with the youth and college-educated vote. The Republican Party is a party of the religious right, but young and college-educated voters are becoming more accepting of homosexuality and more positive toward gay marriage. This is partly because the media, business, and education all unite in promoting toleration across various kinds of cultural lines. Likewise, young people and college educated people are also exposed to the basics of science and the importance of evolutionary theory for science.
As long as the Republican Party is the party of the religious right (and nativism), it's difficult for me to see how they are going to recapture young voters and college-educated constituencies. It seems more likely that their percentages will drop rather than increase.
One wonders if the Republicans have much of a chance to get back over 10% of the African-American vote. Barack Obama got 95-96% of the black vote, but would Hillary Clinton have gotten that much less if she had been the nominee. I don't think so. The government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina and the hostility of Republicans and conservative activists to African-American concerns over racial profiling, police violence, job discrimination, and vote supression all serve to lock in the African-American vote for the Democrats.
Communication. This hasn't been mentioned much in the media but I'm coming to the conclusion that the internet and 24 hour cable news are killing the Republican Party. The key factor here is the rise of the left-wing media. Before the Bush years, the Republicans used to be able to hide the racism, nativism, homophobia, and misogyny of many of their core constituencies. The television networks that dominated the media did relatively little reporting on religion, rural culture, conservative activist groups, and the like. Reporting on the Republicans focused on national political figures like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford who were seeking to make national appeals.
The opening up of the media is killing the Republican Party through a kind of one-two punch. The first punch comes from conservatives themselves. With the proliferation of the media, conservative activists now control their own media outlets which means that Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, James Dobson, and Bill O'Reilly can embarrass the Republican Party with their opinions on a daily basis. For example, newly minted conservative spokesman Joe the Plumber came out with a statement today that he wouldn't let "queers" around his children. That kind of offensive homophobia damages the Republican Party with gay voters (about 4%), young voters (increasingly accepting of homosexuality), and educated voters (the same) and makes the Republican Party as a whole easy to stigmatize as bigoted and ignorant. In somewhat the same way, my impression is that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and talk radio have generally been negatives for the Republican Party because of their clarity in promoting conservative views that the majority of the population does not like.
The second punch here is the rise of the left-wing media of HuffPost, the Daily Show, Talking Points Memo, and other outlets that have been very successful in highlighting the offensive and ridiculous elements of conservatism for the American public. For example, almost as soon as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was named as ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to replace Arlen Specter, media outlets on the left were running items and blog posts on Sessions' history of hostility to the civil rights movement and general racism. Because of the increasing influence of the left-wing media, it's become considerably more difficult for conservative activists or Republican political figures to gain the traction needed to make national appeals. Conservative activists and Republican political figures now find themselves in the position where making appeals to their core audience (think Ann Coulter disparaging John Edwards sexuality to CPAC) automatically subjects them to ridicule and effective criticism from the left-wing media.
From the Republican point of view, it's bad enough that the conservative media establishment keeps the hostility of conservative activists to immigration, African-Americans, gay people, science, and women before the American public. However, the left-wing media makes the situation for Republicans considerably worse by focusing so much attention on issues that make Republicans look bad.
Leadership. The Republicans are in a situation where they have relatively little national leadership and that leadership is so hemmed in by conservative activists that it can make little if any headway. (More later)