An extraordinary electoral defeat last November has left the Democratic Party on life support -- not yet dead, but still reeling from the overwhelming "shellacking" it absorbed -- and facing structural challenges that few commentators have systematically analyzed.
With a net loss of 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate for the Democrats, a look at the election map shows that our country is almost entirely red, with blue sections mainly situated on the liberal east and west coasts, which is notably different than the pre-2010 map that had some blue in the South and Midwest.
On the state and local level, the Republicans picked up a historic 680 state legislative seats, and now control both chambers in 25 state legislatures. Overall, GOPers won 11 governor's races, including key races in states like Nevada, Virginia and Iowa, states that President Obama won in 2008 and that he will need to win re-election in 2012.
And, according to the 2010 census, Democrats are expected to lose six congressional seats in states that Obama won in 2008, and at least six Electoral College votes once congressional districts are redrawn, further diminishing his prospects in 2012, and providing the GOP with the same clout -- if not more -- than it commanded in 2001.
Exit poll data provides an explanation for why the Democratic Party has suffered such extensive across-the-board losses.
The Democratic Party has become isolated on the left -- having lost critical support from the center and the right. Democratic House candidates lost the independent vote this year by an 18 point margin -- after receiving an 18 point victory among the same voters in 2006 -- while support among moderates declined by substantial margins in both the House and the Senate.
Having shed the broad-based coalition that it had previously enjoyed, the Democratic Party has become marginalized, with support now made up disproportionately of liberals, who represent just 20 percent of the electorate.
Moreover, a huge ideological shift has taken place in the American electorate as the proportion of self-identified moderates has trended down, while conservatives have gone up. This decline of moderate voters, combined with the decrease in support among moderates, accounts for much of the Democratic losses we witnessed this past November.
What is responsible for this change for the worse in the standing of the Democratic Party? Where does power in fact lie in the Democratic Party? Who in fact is in control?
Driving this change for the worse is the fact that at the elite level the Democratic Party has been captured by special interest groups who have to a very large extent determined the agenda of the Democratic Congress and indeed, the White House during the first two years of the Obama presidency.
While the electorate may be trending toward the center-right, power within the Democratic Party lies with the most liberal members of the Senate and the House, and especially with the special interests on the left, including public employee unions, environmentalist groups and trial lawyers, that have influenced the agenda of the Democratic Party and moved the party far to the left of mainstream America.
These special interests have used the power of the purse to co-opt the agenda of the Democratic Party vis-a-vis campaign contributions and independent expenditures.
Despite Obama's claim that special interests gave Republicans a corporate-funded advantage during the 2010 election cycle, overall, the Democrats raised considerably more money than the Republicans from political action committees.
Seventy-six percent of the $102,839,147 donated by lawyers in the 2010 election cycle went to Democrats, while the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union spent $87.5 million alone on independent expenditures, more than any other special interest, including the widely derided expenditures of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Consequently, these special interests have an enormous amount of influence, and have used their power to hijack the highest levels of the Democratic Party both in terms of ideas and access.
The trial lawyer lobby used its influence to derail efforts to overhaul the nation's tort and liability laws, while the public employee unions lead efforts to block comprehensive pension reform.
Andy Stern, president of Service Employees International Union, visited the White House more than any other visitor in Obama's first year, making 22 visits and meeting with Obama seven times, while the White House political director, Patrick Gaspard, was an SEIU lobbyist for nine years before joining Obama's campaign in 2008.
Environmentalist groups achieved a regulatory victory in December with the EPA's announcement that it will propose New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and refineries in 2011 to curb CO2 emissions, despite the failure of cap and trade.
Note, too, that, while Obama has bashed Wall Street and insurance companies whenever needed to advance his programs, he has been eager to accept campaign contributions and negotiate with these very same banks and corporations behind closed doors.
During the 2008 election cycle, $39,905,842 of campaign contributions to the Democratic Party came from the securities and investment industries -- no doubt contributing to Obama's decision to continue to fund multiple bailouts despite objections of the Democratic base, as well as implementing far less draconian set of financial reforms than might well have emerged.
His schedule reflects this delicate balancing act between the competing spheres of influence within the upper echelons of the Democratic Party. During the second week in December, Obama met with the business community on Thursday, committing himself to entrepreneurship and private sector job creation, then met with labor leaders on Friday and said that he is still committed to their core principles.
Democrats must break the stranglehold that trial lawyers, public employee unions, and special interest groups have on the party. If they can't do that, it will be very difficult to take the party off life support, and the 2012 election could very well be the final nail in the coffin for the Democratic Party.
Pollster and Democratic political strategist Doug Schoen was a political adviser to President Clinton and more recently co-authored with Scott Rasmussen "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party movement is fundamentally remaking our two-party system."