Some 30 years ago, Horace Busby, an advisor to and speechwriter for Lyndon Johnson, famously coined the phrase “electoral lock” arguing that the Republican party would win contests for the White House for decades to come. Busby, a good man of progressive virtue, had no clue about how the HispanicLatino population one day would upset the Electoral College applecart.
The Republican electoral lock on the White House that Busby predicted lasted a little more than one decade (1980-1992) and had the Supreme Court not taken away Al Gore’s win in Florida, the country might have elected a Democrat as President for 20 years running. And now the nation would be on the verge of adding four years to that string if the polls are right that President Obama is more than edging towards re-election. The polls, this week at least, indicate Obama nearing landslide territory.
No one wants to talk about a landslide for fear of jinxing the thing. Yet President Obama is opening up leads that are tough to turn around in the critical, swing states – and beyond. In the latest round of polls, one survey reported that more than 60 percent of the public “disapproves of Romney’s candidacy” – did I hear that right? When so many people believe a candidate should not even be running for office, they make averting an electoral fiasco difficult.
A friend of mine exhorts the value of a landslide for HispanicLatinos and the nation. He argues that in a close election HispanicLatinos would accrue important standing to help shape public policies to benefit the country in the long term. The countervailing argument holds that a Democratic landslide presumably would put hard-right Republicans fomenting anti-HispanicLatino fear and hate out of business in their party.
In that sense, a landslide would not be a bad thing at all. And given the inability of HispanicLatinos in the past to convert their electoral contributions into real political power, a landslide at least could take out enough marginal Republicans in Congress and in county courthouses to isolate further the extremist faction that has taken over the party of Lincoln. After all, does anyone doubt that Lincoln, a former member of the Whig party, were he alive today, not be an early-voter for Obama? Think Lincoln would vote for Todd Akin in Missouri? Or contribute to Jan Brewer’s campaign in Arizona? Or perceive Newt Gingrich as anything other than a superfluous gasbag? What kind of conversation could Lincoln have with a Rick Perry of Texas?
The undercurrents of the future – like opposition to slavery in Lincoln’s time – churn always just below the surface. The people are always ahead of their leaders. And so it is with the population of the country today. The 2000 Gore “defeat” represented a historic demographic tipping point that went unnoticed by mainstream pundits, and Bush’s thin re-election – as a wartime president, no less – in 2004 proved the point. A better set of advisors for John Kerry should have yanked Bush out of the White House where he, like John McCain and now Mitt Romney, had no business being.
Electoral locks and sure bets are ephemeral. Yes, Obama could still lose. But the new demographic underpinnings of the nation have reordered its politics. And it is hard to see how Republicans go forth with a philosophy so out of whack with the rest of the country and society. If the Republican party, assuming Obama wins, does not get its act together, it could have to contend with the emergence of a third party ahead of the 2016 election. A properly organized and financed third party this year probably would have exceeded greatly Ross Perot’s 19-percent share of the popular vote in 1992. With a head start for 2016, a third party financed by one of the SuperPacs sanctioned by five Republican-appointed members of the Supreme Court could become a real threat. Ironic.
A landslide this year might indeed create an electoral lock – for at least 12 years or so. But it might doom the Republican party for longer than that.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.