American politics is nasty, ugly, messy and divisive—and that’s just the way it should be.
RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Trende, frequently heard on the seemingly contradictory avenues of Fox News, CNN and NPR, allows that the current scene looks especially chaotic, but adds, “the type of instability we’ve witnessed recently is really the rule in American politics, whereas extended dominance of either the presidency or the House is the exception.” Thus the often-mooted predictions, usually just after an election, that one of the major parties is headed for extinction or permanent minority status is usually wrong—and though Trende doesn’t adequately allow for the possibility of gerrymandering or poll fixing, we should hope that he’s right. Voter coalitions are similarly fragile, he writes; they tend to cluster around issues, and once the issue is addressed or forgotten the coalition tends to disintegrate. That some coalitions have been killed deliberately is another matter. The author examines the slow but steady expulsion of Southern conservatives out of the ranks of the Democratic Party during the FDR administration, which he calls “a feature of the New Deal, not a bug.” Without being blatant about it, he also examines the rightward tilt of the current GOP in that light. FDR eventually had to re-recruit the Southerners; the question remains whether the GOP will have to seek out moderates to fill its tent, given the fact that in the last election the “Republicans nominated several candidates who were too stridently conservative for their states and districts, even in 2010.” The big news in the book is Trende’s observation that the Obama victory of 2008 drew on the narrowest reading of the broad-based coalition that Bill Clinton assembled in the early 1990s, and the steady withering of his base may prove harmful in 2012. Nonetheless, writes the author, “[t]his book offers no sexy prediction about what will happen next in American politics,” but instead a smart look at just how predictably unpredictable the electorate has proven to be.
Required reading for electoral handicappers, polling bookies and other political junkies.