WASHINGTON – The American voters are angry and upset. They “feel” more than know that the country is losing ground. Many look at their own circumstances and see that they are not moving ahead in terms of disposable income and new opportunities. In fact, millions have been treading water, or lost ground.
The game is rigged
Right at this juncture, the same despondent and disgruntled Americans are told by aspiring national leaders that this is happening because a few clever scoundrels, domestic and foreign, rigged the game, (“Wall Street”, the 1%”, “large corporations”, “big oil”, “China”, “Japan”, you name it). The wealthy and powerful and our dishonest international competitors get all the financial gains squeezed out of a not so hot US economy, while the vast majority of the American people is left with nothing.
Confused people, confused politics
All this –unhappy citizens and populist politicians promising quick and sweeping change– is coming together, (in a rather confused and disjointed way), in this election year.
The Republican Party, excluded from real power since it lost the White House in November 2008, decided that the best course of action was to tear itself apart.
There are some within the party who think that only a radical conservative revolution could save them, and the country. Motivated by this belief, they proceeded to attack all the “Establishment Republicans”, found guilty of having sold out. These are politicians willing to compromise with the other side, essentially traitors who need to be humiliated and defeated, so that the true orthodox principles can be restored.
But then there are many other Republicans who do not want to go back to first principles of pristine conservatism. They want something completely different. They want national leaders who are completely outside the existing parameters of professional politicians beholden to the “special interests’.
No more “Establishment Politicians”
The net result of this confused political upheaval is that the (once respected) experienced candidates for the GOP nomination have been wiped out, simply because they are “same old”.
In his quest for the Republican party nomination, early favorite Jeb Bush, (twice Governor of Florida, and a recognized national leader in education reform), hardly registered anywhere. Despite enormous financial backing, and despite spending much of it on hundreds of expensive TV ads, he failed –miserably. So, he is gone. And so are all the others.
Who’s left standing? Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a right-wing populist, (ostensibly a
“true conservative”), and Donald Trump, a wealthy celebrity TV personality, (he is the populist with no well-defined program, except for his promise to “change everything” in Washington in order to make “America Great”.)
The considerable (although not overwhelming) support Trump is getting represents the purest expression of a yearning for “something totally different”. Oddly enough, Trump’s main qualification for the highest office in the land, according to his supporters, is that he is a complete novice.
Indeed, the fact that he plainly admits that he does not know much about the complex policy implications of complicated issues is viewed by his supporters as refreshing. And they are not worried about electing to the highest office in the land someone who does not have governing experience. “Trump is rich. He is very successful. Therefore, he must be clever. Of course, he will figure out some common sense solution for this and that, once he is in the White House.”
This is where we are now
That said, here is the odd (provisional, as we are months away from the actual nominations, and then the elections) outcome of the generic anger vented by the Republican base. The old guard (Walker, Bush, Christie, Jindal, and Rubio) has been attacked and discredited by the “revolutionaries” and wiped out. They all abandoned their quest for the Republican nomination. (Ohio Governor John Kasich survives as a contender. But his chances of getting anywhere are very, very low).
No national leader
The yearning for total change promoted two potential candidates, Trump and Cruz. However, both of them have limited appeal beyond their grass-roots supporters.
In other words, this revolution produced mostly internal disruption and feisty factional leaders. There is no new Republican leader here with a good chance of getting real national support.
And here is why this odd season most likely will spell political disaster for the Republicans. Trump is the most likely Republican nominee. However, this is not due to his ability to attract broad-based support from a variety of Republican constituencies, hopefully extending it later on to millions of independents who will vote in the November general elections. No, this is due to the fact that he has a strong, but limited base of support among the “insurrectionists”, while the other more “traditional” candidates have been abandoned by the base.
Trump’s support at 40% looks a lot more impressive when the number two contender gets 18% and number three, four and five (when they were still in the race) were way behind, in single digits. Trump has won most Republican primaries. But usually with strong pluralities, hardly ever with clear majorities.
This is important. The fact is that Trump, although clearly on top, is not an exceptionally strong candidate. In reality he looks stronger that he is because very few primaries voters were supporting the other candidates. Again, getting 40% or even 45% of Republican primaries voters is impressive; but it is not good enough to win a national election in November.
But this is only half the story. The other half is that, while 40% to 45% of Republican primaries voters are definitely for Trump, the rest of the country finds Trump an unappealing (or worse) choice. Trump has an incredibly high unfavorable score. According to the most recent polls, about 63% of all voters (this includes Republicans, Democrats and Independents) do not like him, while 30% like him. Many Republicans have stated that if Trump is the nominee they will not vote for him.
Trump will not get elected
So, here is the thing. Trump in the end may get the GOP nomination because a large plurality of Republican primaries voters supports him, while nobody else has emerged who looks like a plausible alternative, not even number two Ted Cruz.
However, the support Trump is getting represents less than half of the GOP base, and 1/3 or less of the national electorate. If these polls do not change, nominating Trump spells defeat for the Republicans in November.
The Democrats have their own problems
Yes, this would definitely be the case, if the Democrats would nominate a strong candidate. But guess what, they will not. In the Democratic Party we also see an insurrection against the establishment. But it played out differently.
The Republicans essentially “killed” the Establishment candidates and promoted populists like Trump and Cruz. The Democrats are still going with Hillary Clinton, their anointed “Establishment Candidate”; but many are having buyers remorse. Hence the rise of ultra-leftist Senator Bernie Sanders.
The surprising resilience of this most improbable challenger may be due to the fact that Clinton also has high negatives. She started with 40% and now she is at 54%. Not as bad as Trump. But not very promising either, for a national politician with a long CV, (former Senator and former Secretary of State), who wants to be President.
In what is now a two candidates race, Clinton is definitely ahead and likely to finish ahead. But it is astonishing that Senator Bernie Sanders, until yesterday a complete nobody who promotes idiotic ideas about wealth redistribution and “free everything” for the masses, has become a real challenger, with a massive national following and unsuspected fund-raising abilities.
Voting for a lunatic
Many Democrats go for Sanders as their way to show that they do not want Clinton, that is business as usual. They want someone entirely different. And, boy, is Sanders “different”. That he is.
However, the very notion that mature voters would vote for a left-wing lunatic who would destroy the American economy just to show that they are fed up with the Establishment represented by “Clinton Inc.” gives you pause.
Again, let me stress that Sanders’ chances of getting the Democratic Party nomination are really slim. Still, on a national basis, Democrat Sanders is getting millions of votes, while Republican Jeb Bush, an accomplished Governor with a real record, got almost nothing. But who is Sanders? What has he done? What following and national recognition did he have prior to these primaries? Notwithstanding years in national politics, practically zero.
Populists and lunatics
So, here is the thing. These days, populists (Trump) and lunatics (Sanders) are in. Experienced politicians, (granted some of them shopworn and fatigued), are out.
Just like what is happening in Europe, here in America voters are also upset and angry. They want immediate positive change (impossible in any democracy); and they are willing to vote for the clever (or unhinged) new aspiring leaders who promise it.
Whatever the outcome of this confused political year, one thing is certain. The American society is not becoming more mature. Picking untested populists and “socialists” as the best people to run the most important country on earth is not a sign of maturity.
On the contrary, as these strange (frankly dangerous) political choices reveal, we are regressing into infantile temper tantrums, (“kick everybody out”), mitigated by foolish dreams of complete fixes magically carried out by super smart outsiders.
If this is the approach that most Americans these days have towards the political process, let me just say that emotions and childish dreams are a pretty lousy foundation for a functioning modern republic.