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Temporary Blues

As President Barack Obama said in a press conference Wednesday, Democrats took a “shellacking” in this week’s midterm election. With Republicans firmly in control of the House of Representatives and John Boehner set to take the reins as speaker of the House, progressives face an uncertain future.

TAP recently spoke with Dylan Loewe, a Democratic speechwriter and strategist who wrote the book Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republican Party and Rule the Next Generation, about Tuesday’s election results and the future of the Democratic Party.

How do the midterm results affect your ideas about a permanent and lasting Democratic majority?

In the short term, there’s no question that the results were devastating for the Democratic Party. It’s not just that they lost control of the House; it’s that they lost such a large number of seats that it’s going to be difficult to retake the House in a single election cycle. It’s also tough because it doesn’t change the dynamic sufficiently: Republicans have greater power to obstruct but no real requirement to govern. [House Republican Leader] John Boehner will probably continue to say no to just about everything coming down the pipeline. He’ll pass some Tea Party proposals, watch them languish in the Senate, then get to blame Senate Democrats and the White House for preventing a Tea Party agenda from taking root. It’s not a good situation politically for Democrats. And it’s a very disturbing situation from a policy perspective.

Still, even in the midst of this disappointment, the Democrats are positioned well over the long term, not just to retake the House but to build a sustainable majority. These are relatively unique times, and it’s unlikely the Republicans will have an opportunity like this one again soon. Keep in mind that 45 million fewer people voted in 2010 than in 2008, and almost all of them were young people and minorities. These are groups that will almost certainly show up in higher numbers in 2012, and they are growing dramatically as a percentage of the population.

Is there anything about your thesis you’d re-evaluate now given events of the past two years — like the Citizens United decision or progressive disappointments in Obama?

I think the dismantling of the campaign-finance apparatus in this country is disturbing and worrying, but I think I’m in the minority in that I tend to … have trouble believing that the outcome on Tuesday would have been much different if that money had been spent on Democrats instead.

I don’t think Citizens United, or progressive disappointments for that matter, will have an impact on the Democrats’ ability to build a sustainable majority over time. For all the frustration among those who write about politics on the left, the truth is that President Obama enjoys incredibly high approval ratings among Democrats. I think the idea that progressives are disappointed is, itself, a bit overblown.

Here’s what we know: The two groups that were hit hardest by the economic downturn were young people and minorities. Yet neither group has shown anything but continued and steadfast support of this president and this party. And these same two groups are growing at a faster rate than any other in the country. By 2018, millennials will make up 40 percent of the population. The Hispanic population is supposed to grow another 40 percent by the end of this decade. When the voting population looks like that, Democrats will win race after race after race.

The demographic changes behind an emerging democratic majority don’t do anything about the much-talked-about “enthusiasm gap.” Even if we do have a “permanent Democratic majority,” will we also have a much more excited minority? At least in the near future?

Well, I don’t agree that demographic changes don’t impact an enthusiasm gap. Only about 11 percent of young people voted in 2010. But 11 percent of young people in 2010 is different than 11 percent of young people in, say, 2014. Every year between now and then, 4 million millennials will become eligible to vote. Their percentage of the voting population might remain just as low, but their absolute number of voters will go up considerably.

That said, there’s no question that the enthusiasm gap hurt Democrats in 2010 and will continue to hurt a majority party over time. It is always more exciting to fight to regain power than it is to fight to retain it.

What does yesterday’s election mean politically for the rest of Obama’s first term and the 2012 presidential campaign?

I think the president is still incredibly well positioned for his re-election. He is still the most popular politician in Washington and will almost certainly be running against a Tea Party candidate in 2012. I just don’t see any chance for a moderate to make it through the Republican primary gauntlet. The resulting nominee will then face an Obama operation that will dwarf his previous campaign — he gets to start where he left off in terms of fundraising, rather than building a new base from the ground up. So you’re talking about a Tea Party candidate taking on a billion-dollar juggernaut. If Harry Reid can beat a Tea Party candidate in Nevada in 2010, Obama can easily beat one there in 2012. If Michael Bennett can win in Colorado against a Tea Party candidate, is Obama really going to have a hard time doing the same, especially when you consider the expanded electorate he’ll be working with?

In terms of the remainder of his first term, I think the president will focus on things he can do without congressional action and on the narrow areas — if any still exist — of common agreement between the parties. There is still a lot he can do, especially through the appropriations process.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Originally published by TAP.

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