An American political realignment in 2020 is a possibility. History; however, teaches that there is nothing certain about such political paradigm shifts.
To clarify, a political realignment is a major change in the balance of political power. A political realignment can be a shift in power within a political party. When neoliberals; or “New Democrats,” took control of the Democratic Party in the 1990s, for instance.
However, a realignment can also be a shift in power between the parties. The Republican takeover of both houses of the US Congress in the 1990s, for example.
Currently, the signs point to a major realignment within the Democratic Party. Notably, I calculate candidates promoting radical leftist policies are receiving 57% of the vote in the ongoing presidential primary.
Political Realignments Often Fail
American history full of false political realignments that went nowhere. The Republican takeover of Congress in the late 1940s, for instance.
In 1947 and 1948, most observers expected the Republican dominance of the 1920s to reassert itself in the wake of World War II. Harry S. Truman’s (D-Missouri) unexpected victory in the 1948 presidential election stopped the Republican wave. In fact, within in a few years, Democrats began an astounding 40-year domination of Congress.
Likewise, progressives nearly took over the Republican Party and dragged it to the left in the early 1900s. To explain, the dominant figure in the Grand Old Party (GOP) between 1901 and 1919 was Presidential Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York). Teddy was a radical progressive who fought for a welfare state, regulation of business, activist government, and an imperialist foreign policy.
However, party leaders blocked the GOP’s pivot to the left by denying Roosevelt the presidential nomination in 1912. Consequently, the Republicans lost the presidential election; because TR mounted a third-party presidential challenge on the “Bull Moose Ticket.”
Meanwhile, a progressive; Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey), captured the Democratic nomination. Under Wilson, Democrats turned left and became the progressive party by 1933.
History does not guarantee a Political Realignment
There is no guarantee of political realignment in 2020, but I think we will see a major shakeup in both parties next year.
I think the Democrats will shift to the left, because they want to win elections. In 1912, the Democrats only ran Wilson because they were tired of losing presidential elections.
Strangely, in 1912, the Democratic Party; dominated by Southern Racists and Catholics, was actually more conservative than the Republicans. Democratic politicians; however, were sick and tired of being out of the White House so they went left.
Likewise, in the 1970s, a very moderate Republican Party turned hard-right; because GOP leaders wanted to win Congressional elections. Today, Republican leaders are sticking with Donald J. Trump (R-New York); a moderate who plays a conservative on TV, because they are tired of losing the popular vote.
History and Ratings Show Why the Democrats will Nominate Bernie
Given this history, I predict Democrats will unite behind a leftist. Since US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is the most popular leftist, he is the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
Sanders led the Democratic primary field with 29% of the vote in April 2019, Emerson Polling estimates. However, Emerson calculates Bernie fell to a healthy second place with 25% of the vote in May 2019.
Finally, Bernie is a highly effective campaigner with a good strategy and a powerful organization. I think Bernie’s biggest advantage is his ability to leverage digital media. Interestingly, Recode claims Bernie commands a powerful digital army that aggressively promotes his cause online.
Social Media will Elect the Next President
To explain, I believe digital; particularly social, media will be the key to victory in 2020. Digital media will dominate the 2020 electoral cycle because television is dead.
For example, NBC News’ widely touted interview with President Trump only received 3.91 million viewers on 16 June 2019, TV by the Numbers calculates. Meanwhile, Statista estimates Facebook has 130 million active users in the United States, a number that could rise to 133 million in 2020.
Under these circumstances, I predict Democrats will nominate the most social media friendly candidate. Currently, Bernie is the best social media candidate, but a sophisticated campaigner like Andrew Yang (D-New York) could best him.
Bernie is not the Probable Democratic Nominee – yet
On the other hand, a Sanders nomination is far from certain. Leftist US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) is attracting a lot of attention and rising fast in the polls.
In detail, Emerson estimates Warren polled at 7% in April 2019 and 10% in May 2019. Thus, Warren gains votes and; unlike Bernie Warren, has a history of sort-of-cooperating with the Democratic leadership.
Additionally, US Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) is also gaining ground. In particular, Harris’s percentage of the popular vote rose from 8% in April to 10% in May.
Harris is a moderate turned radical leftist. Importantly Harris is a loyal Democrat who is black and from a major state, California. Thus, Harris will be the most attractive leftist to party leaders.
I think neither Harris nor Warren has an effective digital strategy. However, Trump’s success in 2016, proves Democratic leaders could easily buy such a strategy for a candidate likely to win.
How Likely is a 2020 Political Realignment?
America’s political system has undergone several realignments in its 231-year history.
Interestingly, 19th Century realignments led to the rise of new parties. However, 20th Century realignments were power shifts within a party.
The first Great American Realignment occurred in 1800, when the libertarian Republican Party; what your high-school history textbook called the Jeffersonian Republicans, superseded the Federalists. To explain, the Federalists were mostly coastal merchants who favored a strong national government.
Jeffersonian Republicans; on the other hand, were mostly planters who wanted a weak national government. Additionally, Federalists favored a pro-British foreign policy, while the original Republicans were pro-French. In 1800, France and the British Empire were fighting the Napoleonic Wars and jockeying for American support.
Historical Political Realignments
The second Great American political alignment took place in the 1830s when the populist Democratic Party overwhelmed the aristocratic Republicans.
Democrats were mostly middle-class rural westerners who hated the aristocratic coastal Republicans. Democratic leaders used the popularity of President Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee) to disrupt the political system by replacing all Republican appointees.
This led to a new party system when all the people who hated Andy Jackson formed the Whig Party. Essentially, Whigs favored a strong national government, federal regulation of the economy, and a powerful military. Democrats feared a strong government largely because it was a threat to slavery.
The Third Great Realignment
The third Great Realignment began with the collapse of the Whig Party in 1856. Strangely, the radical but pro-business Republican Party replaced the Whigs.
Unlike the Whigs; who were a mixture of moderate slave owners and merchants, the Republican Party was the creature of big business. Republican victory in 1860, sparked the Civil War and the destruction of the Slave Power. Meanwhile, industrialization led to the rise of big business which bought control of the political system.
Strangely, the Democrats survived slavery’s collapse through strategic alliances with specific business interests (mostly bankers) and Catholic big-city political machines. By 1884, America had two conservative, pro-business political parties dedicated to preservation of the status quo at all costs. A situation that will be familiar to modern observers.
The Great Realignment of the 20th Century
By the 1890s, growing income inequality, uncontrolled immigration, technological disruption, and blatant political corruption had turned large segments of the America people against the leadership of both parties.
These conditions gave rise to three radical movements dedicated to paradigm shifts in American politics. First, the Populists led by William Jennings Bryan (D-Nebraska) favored a return to 19th Century Jacksonian democracy and white supremacy.
Second, Progressives; including Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes (R-New York), and Woodrow Wilson, championed technocratic reform. Finally, Socialists like Eugene Debs (S-Indiana) wanted to end capitalism and radically restructure many facets of American society.
Significantly, early 20th Century realignment took place within the existing party system. After a series of upheavals culminating in the Great Depression, progressives took total control of the Democratic Party and the Federal government in the 1930s. By then the collapse of the Socialist Party proved third parties were dead in America.
This led to a total restructuring of American government beginning with the 1930s New Deal and ending with the 1960s Great Society. Notable effects of the 20th Century Great Realignment include the American Welfare State, the Civil Rights Movement, worldwide American Empire, and the military industrial complex.
The Great Realignment of the 1970s and 1980s
Predictably, the Fifth Great Realignment was a reaction against the Progressives’ technocratic empire and welfare state.
Starting in the 1950s, left-wing and right-wing critics of the Progressive order began reaching a popular audience. In the 1960s, unpopular Progressive actions; including the Vietnam War, high taxes, and Civil Rights legislation, sparked a populist revolt against Progressivism.
This revolt began on both left and right, but succeeded on the right. To clarify, Republicans realized conservative populism was a vote getter and ran with it. Meanwhile, conservative intellectuals began dominating popular debates and influencing the media, largely because they were well-financed.
The Neoliberal Ascendancy
Meanwhile, Progressive institutions were corrupt, elitist, out of touch, and increasingly unpopular and ineffective. Consequently, a well-organized and well-financed conservative movement took control of the Republican Party in the 1980s and dominated the national conversation for 40 years.
Additionally, in the early 1990s, sophisticated and well-financed neoliberals disguised as “moderates” outmaneuvered the clumsy and geriatric progressives and took over the Democratic Party. Moreover, a clever neoliberal Democrat, Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas) beat conservatives at their own game by stealing their populist rhetoric about crime and race.
As a result, America had a bizarre political culture in which both major parties promoted neoliberal economics and small government. Under these conditions, Democrats remained socially liberal, but economically conservative. Republicans; meanwhile, paid lip service to social conservatism, while promoting an increasingly radical and disruptive neoliberal economic agenda.
The Strange Politics of Donald J. Trump
We see the bizarre; but perhaps logical, culmination of the neoliberal ascendancy is the Trump Administration.
Trump’s administration rejects environmentalism and science, works for total deregulation of all business, and promotes an imperialist foreign policy. Bizarrely, the Donald promotes that agenda with Bill Clinton’s tactic of hiding racism behind hysteria about crime and immigration.
The Corrupt Republican Establishment
Meanwhile, the thrice-married owner secularist ex-casino owner Donald J. Trump has somehow become the idol of the sorry remains of the Religious Right. However, Trump leads what is apparently the most corrupt US administration since Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio) in the early 1920s.
On lower levels, an increasingly corrupt, out of touch, ineffective, and Republican establishment fights to keep power by any means necessary. Disturbingly, today’s conservative movement resembles both the geriatric New Deal leadership of the 1980s and the insanely power-hungry Democratic Slaveocracy of the 1850s.
Tellingly, the most scathing attacks on today’s Republican establishment are coming from within their own party. Notably, America’s most influential pundit is Fox News talker Tucker Carlson, a nominal Trump ally who is a bitter critic of big business and American capitalism.
Meanwhile, the Democratic establishment is in total collapse because of Hillary R. Clinton’s (D-New York) humiliating loss in 2016. Neoliberal Democrats seem incapable of even slowing their party’s march to the left.
Will there be a Great American Political Realignment Next Year?
Under these circumstances, I think all the elements for a Great American Political Realignment are in place. However, there is no guarantee that realignment will occur in 2020.
To explain, specific social, economic, cultural, political, and technological circumstances accompanied past Great Realignments. Those circumstances include:
Massive technological disruption labeled “progress” by its apologists
Significantly, the Industrial Revolution and widespread mechanization of labor preceded the Jacksonian Revolution. Railroads and the telegraph preceded the Civil War realignment. Meanwhile, electricity, the automobile, and the appearance of mass media drove the 20th Century Great Disruption.
Information technology, in particular, plays a powerful role here. Mass-circulation newspapers and magazines drove the Populist and Progressive Disruption by exposing the blatant corruption of business and political leaders in the early 1900s. Likewise, radio and movies, which promoted a crude progressive ideology drove the progressive ascendancy of the 1930s and 1940s.
Thus, both social media and technological unemployment driven by algorithms and artificial intelligence, will be at the forefront of the next political upheaval. Accordingly, the political revolts fueling the careers of both Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders began online.
Economic upheaval, disruption, and dislocation often called progress by apologists
Progress, populism, and American Socialism all began during the terrible depression of the 1890s. More recently, the Great Economic Meltdown of 2008 begat both the right-wing Tea Party and the Left-Wing Occupy movement.
Both Occupy and the Tea Party continue as radical grassroots insurgencies inside the two major political parties. You can make a good case that Trump is the leader of the Tea Party and Bernie Sanders is the head of Occupy.
The breakdown of political compromises and alliances
It was the collapse of the 19th Century political compromise between the Slave Power and northern moderates in the 1850s that sparked the Civil War, for instance.
Meanwhile, the collapse of the compromise between Southern Racists and Northern Progressives in the 1960s cleared the way for the conservative realignment of the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, it was the end of that compromise destroyed the New Deal coalition and led to a near collapse of the Democratic Party in the late 20th Century.
Today we see growing rifts between social conservatives and neoliberals in the Republican Party and leftists and neoliberals in the Democratic Party. Only time will tell if anti-business forces seize control of one party and drive business into one party. Interestingly, that occurred in the 1920s, when Republicans became the business party.
I think another breakdown is a battle between technocrats and left-wing culturists in the Democratic Party. Andrew Yang, in particular, is touching a nerve with his laser-like focus on economic issues and rejection of identity politics.
Another looming dispute is between religious and social conservatives and big business over social policies. This argument has already begun among conservative intellectuals. That dispute could quickly blow the Republican Party apart.
Thus, the circumstances that will lead to another Great American Realignment are in place. The only question remaining is whether that realignment will occur in 2020 or later in the next decade.