Different Wars, Same Stalemate


For the history buffs out there, this summer has been full of stories commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The war is notable for many horrific facts, most notably the scale of the carnage. But it was also noted for its limited scope in terms of geographical footprint. The front lines of the war barely moved over four years, spreading to little else but western France. In fact, one of the terms most associated with the war itself is “stalemate.”

Stalemate also has come to define our national political dynamic, in which both major parties are entrenched in a seemingly endless war of attrition. The battlefield never really shifts and both sides fail to make any real progress. What's interesting about this particular stalemate is that the two warring sides are not even fighting the same war.

The Democrats, led by their militant left, seem to be waging a “War on Economics.” Some of their policy proposals suggest a visceral contempt for job creation and have them appear to be in denial about basic laws of supply and demand, the labor market, wages and prices, and appropriate levels of regulation and taxation -– the list goes on.

Their insistence that market intervention for government-mandated wage increases, benefit coverage and organizing workers has absolutely no unintended consequences for job growth and international competitiveness is preventing them from finding any common ground for real progress on those issues. In fact, after two years and millions of dollars spent on the minimum wage issue, federal legislation has gone nowhere and only a few predictably liberal states have advanced the issue. Despite the issue polling strongly, they can’t seem to forge any consensus in most of the country.

The Republicans, on the other hand, seem to be gleefully heading down their own path to political irrelevance by waging a different war, a “War on Demographics.” For whatever reason, they seem to be hell bent on alienating anyone in the country that isn't a 55-year-old, white, heterosexual, Christian male. The intransigence on immigration speaks for itself. The additional unnecessary tussles over civil rights, gay marriage and a long list of other social issues leaves one scratching one’s head. 

The result of all this is, quite literally, an institutional stalemate.

As a result of a superior redistricting strategy after the last census, the Republicans have drawn themselves enough safe congressional districts that their majority in the House really shouldn't be in jeopardy for the foreseeable future. But to protect that majority and appease those conservative voters and activists, incumbents have had to veer more and more to the right to fend off potential primary challenges from even more stridently conservative candidates. 

The continued drift to the right makes individual candidates more competitive locally, but the Republican Party less competitive nationally. As a result, they have a stranglehold on half of one branch of government –- the U.S. House of Representatives – but are finding a very tough road to the one they dearly want -– the White House. Losing to Obama the first time was losing to a unique candidate and campaign, and was clearly a referendum on change. Losing to him a second time was a referendum on the GOP. 

While not a great campaign strategist myself, I am fairly familiar with arithmetic. If one's strategy is to continually poke a significant majority of voters in the eye, then they probably aren’t going to win too many national elections. 

The Democrats have skillfully seized on this dynamic and been able to put a much more populist veneer on their traditional class warfare fight that has, up to now, never really resonated with enough voters to create a meaningful mandate. The only difference now is that Republicans have given them the opening. The combination of the two has provided the winning margin in the last two presidential elections.

In 2008 and 2012, Obama overwhelmingly -– and predictably – won the populous blue states like California, New York and Illinois. Yet he also won the battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio. Because of the nature of population densities, it would not be surprising to see a Democratic candidate win more popular and electoral votes yet actually lose a majority of states. Simply put, cows and cornfields don’t vote. But Obama actually won a majority of states in both cycles –- 26 in 2012 and 28 in 2008. That should ring alarm bells in Republican circles. 

If I were a retail business operator –- especially a small businessman -- I would have no choice but to assume that without a seismic shift in the political environment, the same scenario will play out in 2016. And with it, no relief from Congress on critical business issues like immigration and tax reform, leaving a Democratic administration to continue running wild with regulatory overreach.

If Republicans continue to run a series of local House elections and drive a narrative around proving their conservative credentials, Democrats will continue to run a national election -– and the current stalemate will continue. Only in this stalemate, it may be the small businesses that end up in the political no man’s land.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News

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