Future Shirk

Issues abound, but will the two parties tackle them?

Illustration by Peter Noonan

Election years present the chance to discuss all kinds of issues, and there is a lot to discuss in New Hampshire politics in 2018. With a race for governor and a pair of Congressional contests, there should be a good mix of matters to debate. Among the topics likely to come to a campaign ad near you are gender equality, legalizing marijuana, the health care system and tax cuts. But for our two primary political parties, the biggest discussions will likely be sidelined

Generally, such broad issues would be enough for any election in American politics. But the year 2018 is an inflection point for both political parties, and big questions loom. For example, is the Republican Party now the party of President Donald Trump? Or is it holding onto traditional Republican values of social and fiscal convervatism and strong national security that spreads American values around the globe?

Democrats have their own identity questions. The upcoming presidential election will be the first time in 25 years that a Clinton hasn’t queued up. And, as with the Republicans, energy inside the party has shifted to the base. Remember that Bernie Sanders, a self-identified socialist, won the last New Hampshire presidential primary by more than 20 points.

In theory, the 2018 elections should serve as the first real test in determining the future direction of these parties, but it may just be a conversation delayed.

This is because 2018 is shaping up to be a wave year for Democrats. With President Trump at a 33 percent approval rating in the Granite State, it’s looking likely that Trump’s Republican Party will get trounced in upcoming elections. One could say that the Republican Party lost because they didn’t embrace Trump enough — or that they didn’t distance themselves enough. The same type of analysis could be done when it came to the Democrats winning, but it too would be largely useless. A wave election doesn’t give anyone a chance to test anything in the general election.

There are signs that a wave year is coming to the state. In 2017, Democrats won special election races in traditionally Republican areas, including Wolfeboro, Hooksett, Laconia and Sandown. In Manchester, a Democrat defeated a four-term Republican incumbent, and in Nashua, Democrats ran the table on aldermanic seats, kicking out a lot of Republicans in the process.

While Democrats are bringing their “A game,” it is very likely that, had Hillary Clinton won the presidential race, it would be Republicans winning everywhere. The last presidential contest was, after all, a race between the two most unloved candidates in modern American politics.

Due to the fact that New Hampshire has been arguably the most swingy of swing states in the country, who wins elections in the state is increasingly more of a reflection of how popular the sitting president is than how the parties themselves or the specific candidates are doing.

New Hampshire saw this when Republicans won big in 2010 and when Democrats won big in 2006. However, in those years there wasn’t the deep soul-searching about the future of American politics.

So it appears that while we should be talking about the future of both parties, that conversation will be put off until at least 2020. What a few years it will be.

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