“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” – William Goldman, Hollywood screenwriter
1964: Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, tarred as a terrifying, warmongering radical, suffers an overwhelming defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson. People say the GOP may never recover.
1968: Johnson – under fire from his own party because of the Vietnam War – declines to run again. His likely Democratic successor Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated, and George Wallace’s independent run for President causes further chaos. Republican Richard Nixon – the same Nixon who lost in 1960 and couldn’t get elected Governor of California two years later – is elected President.
1972: Democrat George McGovern is overwhelmingly beaten by Nixon in the Presidential election, following a disastrous campaign in which McGovern goes through two running mates and much of his own party abandons him. He doesn’t even carry his home state. All of this comes after Nixon, a devout anti-communist, shocks the world by re-opening relations with Mao’s China. People say the Democratic Party may never recover.
1976: Watergate brings down Nixon, and takes down many Congressional Republicans with him. Successor Gerald Ford holds off a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan, and the media has a field day with his high-profile gaffes. Americans send Democrat Jimmy Carter to the White House. People say the Republican Party may never recover.
1980: Reagan is elected President, and the GOP takes back the Senate, after Carter struggles with the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, economic stagnation and Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge. People say the Democratic Party, tainted with the malaise of the seventies, may never recover.
1982: The Democrats make big gains in the midterm elections, and the Reagan Administration struggles with a gruelling recession and increasing international tensions. Half the world is convinced “Raygun” might start a nuclear war at any minute. People say Reagan may never recover.
1984: Reagan wins re-election in a 49-state landslide, establishes a productive working relationship with Soviet premier Gorbachev, and the Cold War begins to thaw. People say the Democratic Party may never recover. Two years later, the Democrats win back complete control of Congress, and the Iran-Contra scandal damages Reagan’s Presidency – but not quite enough to keep his Vice-President, George Bush, from succeeding him in 1988.
And then a year later, the freaking Berlin Wall comes down.
1991: after triumphing in the first Gulf War and deftly handling the collapse of Communism – including the literal dissolution of the mighty Soviet Union – President Bush attains previously unimaginable levels of popularity. Prominent Democrats decline to seek their party’s Presidential nomination, fearing another blowout. People say the Democratic Party may never recover.
1992: After Bush is hit with a recession, a primary challenge from Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot’s third-party bid for the White House, Democrat Bill Clinton – the Governor of Arkansas – wins the Presidency. People say the old and tired Republican Party may never recover. Two years later the GOP takes over Congress in an electoral earthquake from which people say Clinton may never recover. Two years after that, Clinton is re-elected in a landslide.
2001: After the 9/11 attacks, Americans rally around Republican President George W. Bush, whose popularity soars. The GOP takes control of Congress in the 2002 mid-terms, the United States invades Iraq and takes down longtime foe Saddam Hussein, and Bush is re-elected in 2004. People say the demoralised Democratic Party may never recover. Two years later, after Iraq succumbs to sectarian violence and Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans, Democrats control Congress again.
2008: something once thought unthinkable happens – a little-known but exceptionally gifted and charismatic African-American Democrat named Barack Hussain Obama beats out the heavily favored Hillary Clinton to win his party’s nomination, and defeats respected GOP Senator John McCain in the general election. The Republican Party is tied to a brutal recession and an unpopular war in Iraq, and McCain’s polarizing running-mate Sarah Palin – loved by the party base, a laughingstock to many more – creates further turmoil. People say the Republican Party may never recover.
2010: the GOP storms back to life, sweeping both Houses of Congress and openly proclaiming their intent to make Obama a one-term President. People say Obama may never recover. Then 9/11 mastermind Obama bin Laden is found and killed on his watch, Obama is re-elected in 2012, and people say demographic trends mean the Republican Party may never recover.
2016: you know what just happened, and people are saying the Democratic Party – and the United States itself – may never recover.
2018, 2020 and beyond: that’s up to you, Americans.
In politics, just like the movie business, nobody knows anything.