We often hear that the Republicans are demographically doomed, and that seems to be true on its own level. Yet I think people draw the wrong conclusion from this fact, which is similar to an easy misinterpretation of Marx’s claim that the rate of profit tends to decline. As Zizek points out, this doesn’t mean that the rate of profit will automatically decline — instead, the need to constantly fight against this tendency is what produces the famous innovation and dynamism of capitalism. Similarly, the inevitable decline of the Republicans’ demographic base is what prompts them to make the super-aggressive power plays that we’ve seen (weaponization of the fillibuster, voter suppression laws — even the recent disturbing trend of callous remarks about rape could be viewed as a violent counterattack in the “culture wars”).
I have no doubt that if every election were clean and had high turnout, the Democrats would basically always hold power at the federal level — and moreso over time, given demographic shifts. Certainly it’s this dynamic that produces the Democrats’ principled advocation of a “level playing field.” Here’s the thing, though: in the last analysis, political parties exist solely and exclusively to seek political power. Given that this is the case, why would we expect the Republicans to quietly accept their inevitable eclipse? Why wouldn’t they try to rig the rules in their favor?
And of course the obverse is true in the case of the Democrats’ inevitable demographic victory: it is precisely what makes them so radically ineffective, so prone to compromise and give up. Just as the tendency toward defeat makes the Republicans more powerful and dangerous, so too does the tendency toward automatic victory in the long run lead to defeat or, at best, heartbreaking mediocrity in the short run. (Relying on the inevitable growth of the political power of minorities, for instance, leads to Republican attempts to suppress that power preemptively — and Democrats are partly hamstrung in their attempts to push back because advocating too one-sidedly for “their” voters doesn’t fit with the framework of pure procedural fairness that their long-term demographic advantage has led them to put forward.)
In short, it’s possible to imagine Republicans effectively holding the upper hand forever through desperate last-ditch gambits, while Democrats smugly wait for all eternity for them to overreach and discredit themselves.