Polls show that Donald Trump's decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses will be followed next week by a big victory in New Hampshire as well. Other polling suggests that his legal problems have broadened and deepened his Republican support, and since any possible conviction over the next ten months will surely be appealed, I don't see how legal processes will stop him from winning the election. I have written repeatedly that Trump's nomination and election in 2016 reflected a collapse of American politics, since neither party could find a candidate who could beat hm. The collapse has continued, and I want to talk about its causes.
Our political class, oddly, is a victim of its own success. Over the last half century or so it has created a self-perpetuating system, fueled by lax campaign financing laws, gerrymandering (on both sides), better health care for old people, and an alliance with our economic elite. These factors made incumbents extremely difficult to defeat, The average age of a Senator first reached 59 in 1990; now it is 64. In the same period the House average has risen from 51 to 59. Unlucky losers (and some who simply decide to quit) transition smoothly into very well-paid lobbying positions. Meanwhile, however, our politicians lost touch with the average voter, who did not believe that they knew or cared how ordinary people were living. Several major trends in our economy and our life--greater inequality, higher illegal immigration, and poor student performance in our schools--have continued under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Meanwhile, with fewer and fewer races actually in play, both Republicans and Democrats have stopped appealing to voters on the other side of the aisle and have become more devoted to their bases.
Chronic voter unhappiness has created a new era in US politics. In all but one of nine national elections since 2004, either the White House or at least once house of Congress has changed hands. The Democrats won Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, and the Republicans won the House in 2010. After a break from the pattern in 2012, the Republicans won the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. The Democrats won the House back in 2018 and won the White House and the Senate in 2020, only to lose the House again in 2022. Nothing remotely like this has happened in any earlier era of US politics. Neither Bush II, nor Obama nor Trump nor Biden have managed to rally a durable majority behind them and create any new national consensus. The Democrats have not given up on helping the American people. Obama passed Obamacare, and Biden has passed a major infrastructure bill and a climate bill with major implications--but neither of these measures had much electoral impact because they took so long to come into effect. Obamacare did not actually become available to Americans until 2013, three years after it was passed, and few new infrastructure projects have really gotten going in the last three years.
Despite Trump's defeat in 2020, he has continued the transformation of the Republican Party into a radical personality cult. Nearly every Republican officeholder who has spoken out against him has lost their job. The response among Democrats, however, has been very different. Bernie Sanders in 2016 appealed to the same kind of disaffection on the Democratic side that Trump did on the Republican side, but the Democratic establishment defeated him and handed the nomination to Joe Biden in 2020. Like Clinton and Obama before him, Biden used congressional majorities to pass some important legislation in his first two years, and then lost the House. Since 2022 he has made it clear that he will run for re-election on one platform plank: that only he can save democracy from Donald Trump. The Democratic party's only weapon against Trump seems to be legal action, which has solidified his Republican support on the one hand while moving too slowly actually to stop him on the other.
And despite our remarkable growth in employment and some victories for American labor, Biden has lost popularity because of the most severe inflation since the 1970s. Here he has been a victim of establishment thinking, which has assumed since Reagan that inflation would never be a major problem again. When in 1971 inflation threatened Richard Nixon's re-election, he imposed wage and price controls that lasted for more than two years. The nation appears to have the worst housing shortage since the immediate post-Second World War period, when bipartisan congressional majorities did a great deal to alleviate it, but Biden and the Democrats have made no proposals at all to help the younger generation this time. The higher Federal Reserve rates imposed to fight inflation have made that situation worse. Partly as a result, while our political class has gotten older, the younger generation is more and more disaffected from politics. Youth and minorities are critical parts of the Democratic base, but both are trending away from the Democrats now.
Trump also destroyed the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in favor of a unique US role in the world that lasted for more than 70 years--but Biden continues down the traditional path in Ukraine, Yemen, and in his blind support of Israel. Republicans in Congress, following Trump, have now stopped aid to Ukraine, which could lead to a Russian victory in the war. His administration's insistence that the Israeli government do things it obviously has no intention of doing is becoming a national embarrassment. The bombing of Yemen threatens a wider conflict. The Republicans are using the Ukraine issue to try to force Biden to take drastic measures against immigration--but he will apparently do so grudgingly, missing a chance to show a great many voters that he agrees with their concerns. Trump has given Biden and the Democrats too much self-confidence. They are so convinced that he must be defeated that they don't understand that they must say and do other things to win the necessary votes. Everyone seems to know that Vice President Harris is a liability on the ticket, but Biden has no intention of replacing her.
My new book details how each President has tried to rally the country behind his objectives--and by tha tmeasure, Biden ranks very low. He has given up the traditional presidential broadcast address on major domestic and foreign issues almost entirely. When he does give a major address like his Valley Forge speech last week it does not even make the front page of our most important newspapers. His age is obviously a major concern. Yet the Democratic establishment chose him and remains committed to him. The very different system that Biden stepped into as a 30-year old Senator in 1973 is gone, and Donald Trump is the only man to come up with something to replace it--however disastrous that might turn out to be.