At the end of the day, I remember the aftermath of the 2004 elections, when almost everyone was convinced that Democrats had to reach out to white “values voters” to win elections. God, guns, and gays were killing the Democrats, so the argument went, as was opposition to the Iraq War. Howard Dean was urging the party to send staffers to Mississippi and to learn to talk with voters who had Confederate flags in the back of their pickup trucks. Demographic analysts were trumpeting the fact that Republicans had won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties, and claimed that Democrats were in danger of becoming a regional party, concentrated on the coasts, if they didn’t quickly moderate their appeal.
How quickly things change. Democrats did focus on improving their vote share with working-class whites to some extent in 2006, with positive results. But the approach was largely abandoned in 2008 in favor of targeting the “coalition of the ascendant” we hear so much about today. The conventional wisdom about what Democrats had to do was completely, utterly wrong.
The thing is, it was wrong not because of its particulars. It was wrong in a more general sense: Parties always have an almost infinite number of coalitions they can target their pitch to and emerge successfully from elections if the overall environment is favorable to them. That hasn’t changed in the past 100 years, much less since 2004. Put differently, if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee in 2008, she probably would have done somewhat worse with young voters and African-Americans, but probably would have done better in Appalachia. Gordon Smith of Oregon might still be a senator, but Mitch McConnell might not be. As I’ve said here since 2009, there are no permanent majorities, because every action in politics tends to create an opposite one.
I suspect the current conventional wisdom will last only until the Republicans next encounter a favorable national environment, and win an election. (There actually hasn’t been an unambiguously favorable environment for them in a presidential year since 1988, so they’re due.) At that point, the conventional wisdom will likely shift, reflecting a belief that Democrats must undertake some major changes in their coalition if they are going to ever win another election. But that conventional wisdom will be badly flawed, just as the present conventional wisdom is badly flawed.