What the Elections of Terry McAuliffe and Chris Christie Mean

In an off-year election when the make-up of the electorate is maximally conservative (in terms of turn-out), Terry McAuliffe still won Virginia’s governorship last night. Think about that. He was a deeply, deeply flawed and unattractive candidate running in a Southern state on an unabashedly liberal social platform (pro-gay marriage; pro-immigration), yet the tea party favorite in the race couldn’t upend his relentless march to victory.

And Chris Christie is a center-right Republican in a deep-blue state and he still won.

What do these two facts mean? They mean that the game is over for the Limbaugh-wing of the Republican Party in terms of national politics (control of the presidency, the Senate, and future judiciary nominations). Demographic shifts are finally defanging the collective cultural vampire we know as Birchite America. It’s now a sideshow. We will have no more Bush-style presidencies with neoconservative warmongers and fundamentalists driving American foreign and domestic policy. At least not for the foreseeable future.

And if there is a Republican president in 2016, it will be Chris Christie or (at worst) Jeb Bush. Both men are, if not preferable to Hillary Clinton, tolerable. Anybody nominated further to their right simply cannot win. There will be no Ted Cruz presidencies; no Rand Paul presidencies; no George W. retread presidencies. The two elections last night affirm this. They are the canaries in the coal mine signaling the death of far-right national politics. America will be a centrist country in its foreign and domestic policy for decades to come, and absent a Reichstag fire-level of crisis in the country, no far-right demagogue will any longer have a plausible route to the presidency.

It’s really that simple. And we should all be relieved. It’s weird to have Terry McAuliffe and Chris Christie as their herald, but the liberal hippies of the sixties have won the culture war. What’s left are skirmishes that do not change the fundamental demographic calculus that is now unmistakably at work, the greater trend.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to What the Elections of Terry McAuliffe and Chris Christie Mean

  1. Amyclae says:

    I never found the demographic argument convincing. Fifty years ago ‘minorities’ were flooding our streets, threatning to destabilize the status quo. Now they’re called ‘white.’ They were Polish. The same thing happened again and again. Now we call them all white when they used to be ‘non-white:’ Italian, Romanian, Jewish and so on. How far away are Hispanic whites from losing their status as a ‘minority?’ I think the treatment of Ted Cruz implies all we need to know. The word ‘minority’ will be massaged and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the phasing out of non-Hispanic whites and perhaps making the distinction non-white Hispanics… Implying that some Hispanics are, in fact, ‘white.’

    Using racial crosstabs as an example, the 2012 electorate was 70 percent white, while the 2009 electorate was 78 percent white. The 2013 electorate was 72 percent white. Most of that difference came from increasing the African-American share of the electorate vis-à-vis 2009.

    The ideological makeup of the electorate was more of a wash. The 2012 electorate self-described as 24 percent liberal, 45 percent moderate, and 31 percent conservative. In 2009, the electorate was 18 percent liberal, 42 percent moderate, and 40 percent conservative. In 2013, 20 percent of the electorate called itself liberal, 44 percent moderate and 36 percent conservative, which is a touch closer to the 2009 results.

    If you can glean some hard and fast trends from these results I applaud you. I don’t see it. Ignoring, for a moment, the problematic category of ‘white’ it seems that there is a lot of fudging going on. With an eye towards the Libertarian candidate, whose really just a conservative by another name, McAuliffe didn’t even ‘win.’ He just lost less resoundingly than his opposites… Which I expected since McAuliffe bought the election with *a lot* of outside money.

    Honestly, the lesson from his election just seems to be ‘out spend your GOP opponent by a large margin and hope a Libertarian splits the ticket.’ Needless to say, that’s not much of a lesson.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Absent the libertarian, you are right that it may have been closer (or even that McAuliffe could have lost). This suggests that a third party national candidate would be quite bad for the GOP in 2016.

      But to my mind, the demographic argument is easy to make and clear as a bell: African American, Hispanic, and Asian American voters now utterly and completely neutralize the white evangelical voters in national elections–especially in purple states where those voters count most. In other words, if you give the white evangelical vote to Republicans (30% of the voting population) and the black/Hispanic vote to Democrats (30% of the voting population), the remaining 40% that’s up for grabs is non-evangelical whites. The women among those non-evangelical whites strongly trend Democratic and vote in greater numbers than white males. Millennials in this cohort also trend strongly Democratic, and millennials of all races are increasing every year as a percentage of the electorate. In 2016 (if I recall correctly), millennials are projected to be a third of the electorate.

      This suggests to me an easy and natural winning core coalition for Democrats: women, millennials, and non-whites.

      It is also true that McAuliffe had a money advantage, but I think you are whistling in the dark if you chalk-up his victory to non-demographic factors. At some point, the Republican Party in general has to do what Christie has already done: make the calculation that, to win in the new demographic climate, you’ve got to run to the center and pick off women, millennials, and non-whites from the Democratic coalition. Running hard right (appealing to the traditional base of the Republican Party) is a ruinous strategy. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Republican Party adjusts to the new reality and whether the far-right bolts and starts a third party (or simply stays home for an election cycle or two).

      2014 will be the Republican Party’s last hard right hurrah, and I’m guessing it will have (at best) mixed results. Beyond 2014, it’s basically the end.

      • Amyclae says:

        “you are right that it may have been closer”

        There’s not much ‘might’ to it. Sure, there is little difference in Sarvis support in counties with wildly different candidate preferences — suggesting that Sarvis was a “none of the above” candidate, not a Cuccinelli siphon or a traditional spoiler in the mold of Ralph Nader. But, ultimately, that does not say much. Is the scenario that Sarvis ate away from Cuccinelli’s votes equally across all counties *that* radical? There’s no reason to expect traditional Republican counties to give more votes to a libertarian candidate with so little research on who, what and where Virginian libertarians are. Equally, as most (even quasi-)libertarians will tell you, they are ‘liberals’ (e.g. Ron Paul, Rand Paul ect). So ideology tabs don’t help us much either. So what we’re left with is that 45/6% of Virginians voted for a right-wing candidate, and another 6/7% voted for another candidate somewhere to the right of that. Toll roads and all. You can see where this skepticism is coming from.

        Any hard and fast rule we can pull from the election is nothing more than fudging the facts to fit a preconceived narrative because any election where a candidate doesn’t convince half of the electorate that he or she is the best candidate is an election without lessons.

        Every election signals some new demographic breakthrough and some new, huge coalition. Remember 2006 and the end of the Republican grip on the House? Wasn’t 2008 the death knell of the Republican Party? But then, here we are, blithely declaring the end of the party in 2016. After how many decades does the Republican Party have to exist before someone starts wondering whether it’ll ever happen?

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        I may be too much of a demographic determinist, but the reality is this: Barack Obama got Michael Dukakis’s level of support among whites in 2012 and still won over 300 electoral votes. That’s a demographic effect. I don’t know how else you explain that.

        And the demographics that produced that effect are still trending in Democratic directions. Hillary’s campaign is likely to cement female voting patterns in a way that Obama’s presidency has for minorities. Maybe Christie will shake-up the demographic dynamics, but neither Ted Cruz nor Rand Paul are going to do it. It will take moderate, not conservative, Republicans to tip the demographic trends in the GOP’s direction (and that’s why I’m relieved–the future of America is going to be ever more centrist, not far-right).

        Sane Republicans would support immigration reform, fixes to Obamacare (mend it, don’t end it), gay marriage, and pot legalization. They would work with Obama on a grand bargain to cut the deficit over ten years with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. They would do this, if for no other reason, so as not to seal their reputation as the party that hated the first African American president. I don’t know if they are up for these kinds of moves, but they’re going to end up there in the 2020s anyway. Nobody is going to be opposing Obamacare, gay marriage, pot, or immigration in the 2020s. Nobody is going to be badmouthing Hispanics in the 2020s. Nobody. (At least nobody running for national or statewide office in a purple state, and all but the hardcore South will be purple by then).

        In California, for example, Republicans cannot win here consistently anymore because of demographics. There is not a sufficient Fox News base in California to win elections running to the hard right. California in 2013 is a bellwether for the nation as a whole in 2033. Every year the country becomes more and more like California demographically. The demographic landscape is not a receding mirage in California.

        I think the trends nationally are barely debatable even today. Obama passed the Rubicon twice, for goodness sake. My bet is you’ll come around to the demographic conclusion I’ve just outlined no later than 2018. By 2020, not even Texas will be a Republican lay-up.

        The headwinds for far-right Republican candidates (which make up much of the party’s candidate offerings right now) are becoming stiffer every year.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If it’s Hilary verses Jeb Bush, it’s a Hilary landslide. Against Christy, Hilary loses by a squeaker.

    Christy will be a two term president. And the government will actually function again.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      By 2016 the government, of course, will function again (because both houses of Congress and probably the presidency will be in the control of Democrats). If Christie wins, he’ll be working with Democrats in the way he’s worked with New Jersey Democrats, and if Hillary wins, she’ll of course work with Democrats. Either way, far-right Republicans will not be calling the shots in the House and so the government will function.

  3. Staffan says:

    This win is based on the assumption that minorities are actually liberal rather than voting for economic benefits. There are plenty of Muslims in Europe who want sharia. Practically all of them vote liberal. Does that mean liberals won the culture war here too?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Even if one were to accept your premise, it’s still a Robert F. Kennedy-style coalition (women, the young, progressives, minorities).

      I don’t think that having health care for the worker at the doughnut shop is a cataclysm (regardless of the motivation of that worker to vote for Democrats). There’s nothing in the Democratic platform that’s going to bankrupt the country.

      And Islam is not an issue in the United States in the way it is in, say, France. Hispanics are largely Catholic, Asians are Buddhist and Hindu.

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