How then do the Democrats win from time to time? The answer is that every once in a while a third party candidate emerges who drains off enough votes to hold the Republicans under 50%. One need only look back at the 1990's when Ross Perot's insurgency split the Republican vote and allowed Bill Clinton to win twice without ever reaching 50% of the popular vote.
In today's NYT David Brooks considers the possibility of just such a split emerging over the issue of fiscal responsibility. He writes:
There's going to be another Ross Perot, and this time he's going to be younger. There's going to be a millionaire rising out of the country somewhere and he (or she) is going to lead a movement of people who are worried about federal deficits, who are offended by the horrendous burden seniors are placing on the young and who are disgusted by a legislative process that sometimes suggests that the government has lost all capacity for self-control.
He's going to be set off by some event like what is happening right now with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He's going to look at an event like that one, and he's not only going to be worried about the country's economic future - he's also going to be morally offended. He's going to sense that something fundamentally decadent is going on.
Brooks may well be right. In conversations this past year with well-connected Republicans I have often heard expressions of disgust at the fiscal irresponsibility of the current administration. It is very possible, indeed likely, that the Republicans will go into the next round of presidential elections as divided as they were in 1992. If they do, the Democrats, regardless of whom they run, will have an excellent opportunity to retake the White House.