Jonathan Chait and the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis

I’ve tried to avoid replaying the issues of the election, but it interested me that Jonathan Chait, possibly unwittingly, recently endorsed the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis. Chait wrote,

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

Chait gets things wrong sometime. He may be wrong this time. But he might not be wrong. We’ll see.

The Sarandon Hypothesis is from 2016. I confess I didn’t pay much attention to Sarandon, but as I understand it, she argued that it might be better in the long run if Trump beat Clinton, because Trump would be such an awful president he would destroy the Right and bring on the progressive revolution. A Clinton presidency, on the other hand, would have simply continued the slow death of progressivism in the U.S.

Trump is proving to be such a disaster there might not be anything left of the United States to salvage. But so far, his administration has not helped the Republican Party one bit.

For as unpopular as the president has become, Trump’s own party has been hit even harder when it comes to poll results. Republican support has dropped significantly over the past few weeks, with Americans now disapproving of Republicans 70 percent to 21 percent — a 14 point negative swing from two weeks ago.

The HuffPost aggregator has the Republican Party at 37 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable. Democrats aren’t doing much better, however. They’re at favorable 40 percent, unfavorable 50 percent. But you know who’s even less popular? Congress.

So we’re a long way away from seeing whether the Sarandon Hypothesis holds water. The strongest factor working against it, IMO, is the Democratic Party, which still seems reluctant to own up to what it got wrong last year. But we’ll see.

18 thoughts on “Jonathan Chait and the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis

  1. There is some validity to this theory in the short term. I do, however, remember the same hypothesis with respect to W, both in 2000 and 2004. He’ll make such a mess of things, we heard, that the Democrats would regain control of Congress for the foreseeable future. Then, with a newly-enlightened electorate, no Republican would be allowed anywhere near the White House ever again and we would certainly enter a golden age of liberalism.

    W did screw up pretty much everything he touched and his approval rating was down around 30% by 2006 when the Democrats swept Congress. By 2008, after both W and Republicanism had helped tank the world’s economy, W’s approval rating hit rock bottom at around 27% and we were able to get a Democrat into the White House.

    At the end of 2008, most Republicans were describing the Republican brand as “dog food” and arguing that it would take a Republican civil war and a total realignment of the Republican Party before they could even hope to regain control of Congress, let alone the White House.

    And yet, less than two years later, the Republicans regained control of the House. So, here we are. No closer to liberal nirvana despite suffering through eight years of W. I suppose I don’t have enough faith in the electorate to believe that suffering through Trump will get us any closer to the liberal promised land.

  2. The high point of an HRC presidency would have been the Supreme Court nominations.

    How will you evaluate the Sarandon Hypothesis if Roe v Wade is struck down and the court continues to advance the rights of corporations and individuals to control legislation? I was expecting a court who would uphold Roe and strike down state restrictions which end access to a legal medical procedure. I expected Citizens Untied to be reversed and strike down extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression.

    I agree Trump is going to be horrible, but we may pay the price for 20 years with a Trump Supreme Court.

  3. Who is to lead us liberals/progressives to the “Promised Land?”

    We need a younger, non-Clinton candidate.

    I’m only slightly prejudiced (read: VERY!!!!!), but I’d really like my US Senator from NY to run for POTUS:
    NO! NOT UpChuck Schemer.
    But, Kirsten Gilibrand!

    She was the first, and continues to to to be the only one to say “NO!!!!!” to every single half (actually,

    much less)-baked thinv that t-RUMP, Ryan, and/or Mitch, want to do, to further turn this countr

  4. Oy…
    I, must have hit ‘submit’ before I’d corrected my typo’s.

  5. Yeah, we’ve a long way to go, but I’m favorably interested in Gillibrand. I don’t care if she’s hard socialist, or even Bernie-type Social Democrat, but she’s gonna have to spend more time in the South and in the Rust Belt and listen to the local party members. She needs to ignore the fcuking consultants and listen to politicians from Red states and academics from less prestigious schools. She needs to get some ideas that Wall Street hates for ways to get people some money in their pockets. Right now, Kristen Gillibrand looks like she might do that or at least be willing to. But it’s still three years and six months away, folks. Lots more can go wrong and lots of people are happy with Trump. The Democratic Party right now is MORE UNPOPULAR THAN THE REPUBLICANS.

    • Procopious — As I wrote in the post, the most recent polling data show us that the Democratic Party is NOT more unpopular than the Republicans. It’s pretty close, but the Republicans actually are more unpopular than the Democrats. Try to adjust.

  6. When the Democrats give the voters a reason to vote for them, they will. When the Democtrats realize that cowering in a corner and shouting “We’re not Republicans!” isn’t a winning strategy, then they’ll start winning again.

    • “When the Democrats give the voters a reason to vote for them, they will. When the Democtrats realize that cowering in a corner and shouting “We’re not Republicans!” isn’t a winning strategy, then they’ll start winning again.”

      Hear, hear.

  7. Count me as thinking this idea Bernie had it in the bag is naive to say the least. As time has moved forward, I’ve come to think it’s very possible Bernie would have gotten beat worse than Clinton this election. Florida would’ve likely been off the table when Republicans played the Sandinista tapes on loops. His ban-all-fracking position would’ve been played over and over on am in radio in multiple states too and that would’ve hit like a Boulder in a lake. We know many of his voters in some states were anti-Clinton, not pro-Bernie. Plus, the press would’ve eaten up his hypocrisy–and you are kidding yourself if you don’t think it’d be covered like that–on votes like the CFMA, crime bill, and it wouldve swooned over phony scandals like his wife’s Burlington College “payout.”

    Biggest though, is Bernie just didn’t get the votes in the primaries. The Democratic base was skeptical of him in too many states. He basically did well in the most closed, least democratic, most party-controlled forums, the caucuses. In terms of primaries, this was middle of the pack in closeness. But it’s in the past now anyway and reasonable people can disagree.

    • KC — I am not arguing, nor have I ever argued, that “Bernie had it in the bag.” Bernie Sanders is beside the point, so get over it. This is more about the long-term effect of Trumpism versus Clintonism on the respective parties.

      All last year I felt strongly that nominating and electing Hillary Clinton to the White House would be the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party, and Chait seems to have thought the same thing. As awful as Trump is, his defeat of Clinton provides a huge opportunity to the Democrats to get their act together and become a better party. Although so far they are still resisting the political reorientation they really need.

  8. “Trump would be such an awful president he would destroy the Right and bring on the progressive revolution”
    It’s a nice thought but I’m not sure that argument holds water. The republicans (and their voters) love incompetence in government, it’s a badge of honor. Here is a short list of republicans currently serving in congress, tell me I’m wrong: Louie Gohmert, Trey Gowdy, Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim (snowball) Inhofe, Mo Brooks, Virginia Foxx, Ted Yoho, Steve (cantaloupe) King, Blake Farenhold, etc. Trump I fear is just another incompetent asshole in a long line of incompetent assholes, he fits right in. Trump will most likely fuck things up enough to get a democrat elected president in 2020 but I don’t see a “Progressive Revolution” happening anytime soon, not in this country!

  9. Methinks the Sarandon Hypothesis is in part justification for Bernie or Bust. I do not believe however those who now stare into their way-back crystal balls to say that Bernie would have lost, since it was apparently those same crystals that told these same soothsayers that Trump would never win, with some going so far as to insist that White House drapes could be measured as a Clinton victory was all but assured.

    Given the weakness of the democratic party, their dearth of ideas, leadership and lack of skill and effectiveness in rallying base and disaffected Trump voters around an alternative message, a la the Tea Party in 2010, I see the only hope for dems in 2018 is grass roots activity. And there has been plenty. But can dem leadership resist the temptation to look down their noses and snuff out anything that doesn’t put fealty to wealthy donors first and just get out of the way, if not embrace and run with it?

  10. The Sarandon Hypothesis is that we’d come to our senses.I don’t know if I could agree with that. I think the lynch mob mentality that put Trump in office is a chronic condition of the American electorate..and the only certainty we can count on is that people will always gravitate to the lowest, basest, primal urges to satisfy a spiritual deficiency.
    To support my hypothesis… Donald Trump was elected President. What more can be said?

  11. “When the Democrats realize that cowering in a corner and shouting “We’re not Republicans!” isn’t a winning strategy, then they’ll start winning again.”

    I agree, but I differ from most. Democrats need to attack the republicans from the right. Not from the crazy fundamental insane right but from the “put the conserve back in conservatism” right. Liberals need to argue for good government that works. I feel the only thing that can save liberal democracy is climate change, it’s our last hope!

  12. Sorry Maha, I just don’t get it. What does “better party” mean? This party won the popular vote in two presidential elections in a row and would’ve likely taken back control of the House in 2012 if not for gerrymandering.

  13. I think that it is a good bet that the Democrats will save the Republicans yet again. Not that the Democrats are incompetent, but that they (the leadership and donors) don’t really mind if the Republicans win elections. Except perhaps elections for the president.

  14. Mahagroupies — Mahablog is being migrated to another server, so hang on to your butts for a few hours until it’s done. Thanks!

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