Is the Democratic Party in Decline?

Here’s what Fred Barnes has to say about the subject in this week’s Weekly Standard:

AFTER THE 1972 AND 1980 ELECTIONS, Republicans said political realignment across the country would soon make them the dominant party. It didn’t happen. Now, despite highly favorable signs in the 2002 midterm elections and the California recall, Republicans fear a jinx. Karl Rove recently told a Republican group that the realignment question won’t be decided until 2004.

There’s really no reason to wait. Realignment is already here, and well advanced. In 1964, Barry Goldwater cracked the Democratic lock on the South. In 1968 and 1972, Republicans established a permanent advantage in presidential races. In the big bang of realignment, 1994, Republicans took the House and Senate and wiped out Democratic leads in governorships and state legislatures. Now, realignment has reached its entrenchment phase. Republicans are tightening their grip on Washington and erasing their weakness among women and Latinos. The gender gap now exposes Democratic weakness among men. Sure, an economic collapse or political shock could reverse these gains. But that’s not likely.

I could point out how several of the pieces of evidence he mentions are pretty flimsy. On the other hand, one fairly persuasive item he mentions is simply the increasing percentage of the American public that identifies themselves as Republican. But let’s hold off on trying to figure out if Barnes is right for a moment, and suppose that he is.

David Brooks picks up on this theme in his column in today’s NYTimes. Brooks argues that the crux of the problem for the Democrats is that the average voter no longer feels that Democrats share their value system. As he put it, “they didn’t trust Al Gore because they thought he looked down on them. They felt Bush could come to their barbershop and fit right in.”

But even if Brooks is onto something (and as I said, I’m not sure that the premise of realignment is right in the first place), what he’s describing is not a function of differing values between Democrats and Republicans. He’s describing a difference in marketing. Al Gore would have had the best interest of the people in the neighborhood barbershop at heart much more than Bush has. And that’s precisely why I would argue that any perception that Republicans share middle American values is a fictional creation of a tremendous, decades-long marketing campaign. A very successful one.