Revenge of the forgotten

Realigning elections, which are presidential elections that fundamentally alter the status quo of the political order, tend to happen in this country every 30 or 40 years.

In 1800, the victory of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams represented the triumph of the Jeffersonian advocates of limited government, over the Federalists who favored a more powerful, modern centralized government. Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams combined to win seven straight presidential elections.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1828, a tectonic shift in American politics occurred. Andrew Jackson’s victory in that year’s presidential contest ushered in a new era of party politics, and the burgeoning Jacksonian democracy of the new Democratic Party began to dominate politics.

Then came the election of 1860. Obviously, the emergence of the Republican Party as an aggressively anti-slavery, pro-modernization political entity, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, changed American politics more than perhaps any election in our history. The Civil War and Reconstruction dominated the political issues of the day, and Republicans held control of the country.

Thirty-six years later came the election of 1896, and the dynamics of party power began to change. The Civil War era had passed, there was a new generation of leadership, new coalitions popped up for both parties, and the Democrats, specifically, in nominating William Jennings Bryan, began to remake their party into a populist entity.

Then of course, 36 years after that was the landslide victory of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt assembled his New Deal coalition of academics, working-class voters, unions, minorities, Catholics, Jews, and the geographic south and west. This coalition would prove to be the base of the most electorally successful party in American history.

Thirty-two years later, Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a massive landslide election. What made 1964 a realigning election, though, was the emergence of the geographic shift of the American south, which had supported Democrats since the Civil War. Goldwater may have lost, but he, for the first time, flipped South Carolina, George, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. This shift signaled a decades long transition of both the south and the north to the opposite political poles.

That realignment became more real in 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s new conservative coalition began to exert its influence. This collection of “Reagan Democrats,” conservatives and churchgoers began winning, and winning big. This continued in the 1994 midterm, which realigned Congress toward the natural Republican majority it has today.

It has been 36 years since 1980, and wouldn’t you know it, the election of 2016 turned out to be, as I’ve been saying all year that it would, a realigning election.

Donald Trump is, of course, an imperfect candidate. I have made no secret of the various problems I have with him. I have not been in any way shape or form, enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Yet, I identified a long time ago that he was a unique candidate, with a broad appeal that I thought could shatter the political status quo, and realign the politics of this country. That’s why back in early March, I outlined what I thought was the most likely Trump scenario, and explained my rationale behind his potential victory, and how it could happen.

In that analysis I highlighted the appeal Trump — in a way no other Republican could — had with the forgotten men and women of the modern economy. Blue collar, working class Americans who have been left behind. Men and women who were desperate for a champion that showed they cared. Good, decent people who love their country and feel it slipping away from them.

And so, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District fell to Trump.Pennsylvania fell. Michigan fell. Wisconsin fell. And Donald Trump permanently changed the politics of this country.

Democrats would be wise to learn the right lessons of this election. If they continue to ignore the forgotten man who roared to life and demanded to no longer be treated like a doormat, they’re making a mistake. And with a virtually non-existent bench, if they keep running races the way they have been, in four years they could be facing an Electoral College map that they have no hope of winning.

I may not like Trump, but he has unarguably changed politics, likely saved the Supreme Court for conservatives, and represents a chance to set right so much of what has gone wrong in this country over the past two decades.

I’m skeptical today, but will be watching him carefully. Expect me to agree with him when he deserves it, and disagree when he deserves it.

But whatever I think of the man, he is going to be my president now, his success is our country’s success, and I sincerely hope that his time in office will be a successful one. I hope liberals join me in that wish.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.