In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a remarkable victory and launched an era of Republican dominance. The ascendancy of Reagan and the Right was predicated on “a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom.” Reagan called it “the basis of conservatism.” That idea resonated with the American public in 1980.
However, Reagan did not win this victory in the public consciousness ex nihilo. One of the dominant factors shaping public opinion is the availability heuristic — the tendency of people to give extra weight to the evidence that is readily available or to listen to the story that comes to mind easily. The public did not wake up one day to high inflation, economic stagnation, and the Soviet threat and say “government is the problem!” They reached that conclusion because the Right (and Reagan himself) had spent decades developing and communicating a compelling story about the cost and consequences of government.
As it turns out, a compelling story is enough to win elections by a large margin.
Unfortunately, after taking power, Republicans began walking away from their story. It is, after all, very difficult to be the anti-state party if you are the state. Republicans were captured by government, the exigencies of power, and the incentive to maintain it. In the years since 1980, Democrats cast about for a motivating purpose — a story that would carry them back to a long-term governing majority. They tried liberalism, moderation, and triangulation.
Now, they’re back. But the Left did not retake the executive and legislative branches by being more liberal or more moderate, or by clever political jujitsu. Democrats became the majority because they changed the story.
Complete Republican dominance of the executive and legislative branches gave the Left the incentive to pursue new strategies — to develop new infrastructure, new communications channels, and organizing methods. The Left moved messaging, mobilization, and money outside the traditional Democratic establishment, giving their movement new power and new energy.