Pundits love to predict the parties are going extinct. They're almost always wrong.

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tags: election 2016, Trump



Seth Masket is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Denver and the author of The Inevitable Party: Why Attempts to Kill the Party System Fail and How they Weaken Democracy.

In the 160 years since the collapse of the Whigs, party obituaries have been quite common — almost always premature, rarely ever accurate. Even the Democrats — widely (and accurately) blamed for the Southern secession and four-year Civil War that resulted in the death of two percent of the nation's population — nearly managed to recapture the presidency just a decade after the war ended.

In the fall of 2008, the “woolly mammoth” concept of the GOP was all too common. That November, the Republicans were trounced in the presidential election, and Democrats added to their majorities in both the House and Senate. “Republicans fear long exile in the wilderness,” warned a Guardian headline just a few days before the election.

That exile was short-lived. By 2010, the extinct Republican mammoth had roared back to life: In the midterm elections that year, Republicans retook the majority in the U.S. House. And though Obama was reelected in 2012, during the 2014 midterms, Republicans held on to the House and gained nine seats in the U.S. Senate, securing a majority in the chamber. Six years after being declared dead, the GOP controlled the House, Senate, 31 governorships, and 68 of the nation’s 99 state legislative bodies.

It’s the most recent example of a cycle that has played out again and again over generations of American politics: a party suffers a major defeat, is declared dead, then comes back to win major victories two, four, six years later.

In the 1994 midterm elections, Democrats were so thoroughly humiliated — losing control of the House for the first time in four decades — that pundits suggested they were no longer a functional party. President Clinton even had to defend his own relevance to the political process. Two years later, Clinton won reelection and the Democrats gained two House seats.

The Republicans were similarly advised to close shop in 1964 after Barry Goldwater’s rout by Lyndon Johnson (Johnson won 61 percent of the popular vote and 486 votes in the Electoral College). Four years later in 1968, Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency.




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