I have always been a big fan of the Theory of Political Party Realignment. The American political system is set up to keep change from happening too quickly. The whole check and balance system is set up so that no one part of the federal gov’t can overpower the other and that slows down change.
That natural inertia in the political system has a tendency to build up tension in the system. Much like in plate tectonics when tension builds between two continental plates it much be eventually released in some type of seismic event. The longer the tension builds up the more powerful the quake.
We have had a realignment of the political parties in the US in a long time.
Depending on which theory you buy into the last realignment happened during the civil rights era and continued into 70s with Nixon’s Southern Strategy. At that point the south, for the most part, started voting for Republicans at least in federal offices. This makes sense as the GOP really represented the values and principles of the south and the Democrats did not. The only reason the South voted democratic was because the GOP was the Party of Lincoln. There were still a handful of Dixiecrats or very conservative Democrats, Zell Miller comes to mind as an example, but for the most part the South switched to Republicans by the end of the 70s.
The other date for the last Realignment in American Political parties is 1994 and the Republican’s rout of the Democrats to gain control of Congress for the first time in decades. In response to this Clinton tacked the Democrats more to the right, a good thing in my opinion, got welfare reform done as one example of that. The Republicans completed their takeover of the South and fully consolidated their base with the Evangelicals.
That evangelical base allowed the GOP to come back from spending too much time trying to stick it to Clinton and win back the executive branch while also holding onto Congress. The Democrats being pussies and not using Clinton’s popularity to help campaign helped. The Democrats being pussies help the Republicans win elections a lot.
So either of those you pick it has been a while since a realignment when you consider we have had one about once ever generation or so. You could even consider those two periods of time the start of the realignment and the end of it. It started with the Civil rights act of 1964 and finished with Welfare Reform act of 1996. That is if you want to put more specific dates on it. I don’t know if I would use those exact dates but in that general time period works.
Now we are entering what I think is the start of the next Part Realignment in the US. It started with Obama’s election which was truly historic. That was the epicenter of this upcoming political earthquake that will be the next realignment. That event spawned the Tea Party crowing about deficits and wasteful spending. Keep in mind these were things that they didn’t to seem to be that concerned about as long as it was a Republican in the White House. A Republican Administration that ran up a larger deficit through tax cuts, unfunded prescription drug mandates, two wars and a huge expansion of private contractors for all parts of the federal gov’t.
Lets just ignore that for now.
The Tea Party is at least partially in control of the GOP now. They have won a lot of primaries, though I think they will lose many of those general elections on Tuesday, and they have defeated establishment backed candidates in some of those primaries.
Jim DeMint will head some type of Tea Party Caucus in the Senate and Michelle Bachmann is already heading up a Tea Party Caucus in the House. Those freshman and senators and congresspeople who won with Tea Party support will have real power and will have at least a portion of the more senior GOP people backing them with even more power. They wont’ have control over the entire GOP though.
There is still that Evangelical base with real power in the GOP. The Tea Party has so far stayed away from the social issues that drove the Evangelicals’ power and fervor. I think that social issue conservatism is just right under the surface at the Tea Party however, and will come out eventually. At that point what happens?
Do the more libertarian members of the tea party break up the coalition? Or do they hold their noses like the social conservatives did in the past? I don’t know but I think we will find out in the next two to three election cycles.
My thought is that the Tea Party will eventually implode the Republican Party from the inside. The drive for ideological purity, which seems to stem from the Tea Party based on how they challenged so many incumbents in primaries, will finally drive out the final few GOP moderates.
Those GOP moderates will see the Blue Dog Democrats as close cousins. There won’t be many of Blue Dogs left in Congress most likely as I think the majority of them are going to be replaced by Republicans in the next two election cycles. That is going to create a Democratic party that is more liberal and a Republican party that is much, much more conservative. Nothing will get done as a result and there will be gridlock in congress that will make the gov’t shut down of 1994 look like a long snow weekend in DC.
Out of the ashes comes the exiled moderates form the two parties. The Republicans implode first as they started losing their moderates earlier and most of their moderates were driven out by the party internally not voted out in a general election.
The Democrats don’t last much longer though and also collapse though not as quickly as they still have the big tent party philosophy that the Republicans lost.
Third parties can’t survive long in the US system though so I don’t really see a third-party developing completely. It would be nice if it did I just don’t think it is likely. More likely I think is a situation where the moderates cool down the tempers of the far right and left and let some things get done for a few years. Maybe two election cycles but probably not more than that.
If the moderates can hold out long enough they should spin-off some of the extremists from both parties and hopefully two more reasonable major parties from the ashes. The parties are realigned and we can get some stuff done.
As I said I would love a strong viable third-party to be born out of this I just don’t see it happening for more than a brief amount of time.