William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck are senior fellows in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution. Galston was a deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy from 1993 to 1995. Kamarck created and managed President Bill Clinton’s “reinventing government initiative.” This essay is adapted from “The New Politics of Evasion” in the Fall 2013 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.
The GOP is in serious trouble — and it is trouble that we, as long-time Democrats, recognize all too well.
Since their defeat in 2012, Republicans have offered plenty of excuses: candidates who can’t fire up the base, gaps in messaging and technology, the hard-to-match charisma of a historic president. And most Republican leaders seem to hope that cosmetic changes will be enough to reverse course in 2016 — without challenging the convictions of the party’s core supporters.
A quarter of a century ago, it was our party that was in a bad way. After losing a third presidential election in a row, Democrats offered a litany of explanations for what had gone wrong. Many of the recriminations focused on 1988 candidate Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Others pointed to fundraising and technology, media and momentum. Even after Dukakis’s defeat at the hands of a decidedly uncharismatic George H.W. Bush, Democrats continued to tell themselves that their fortunes would start looking up when Ronald Reagan left the arena.