For political junkies and observers alike, the 2016 race for the White House seemed pretty predictable: a gang of Republican essentially dull hopefuls, trying, after rather embarrassing failures in 2008 and 2012, to appeal to the young, women, blacks, and Hispanics, all of whom they had written off.
The Republican establishment hoped that the boy wonder Marco Rubio would make the difference: he was young and Latino, and even if he held what were essentially Tea Party conservative views he might be able to become the Republican’s answer to the “Obama effect” of 2008. Their fall back was Jeb Bush, the latest representative; a political dynasty with deep ties to the Republican establishment, and its money.
The democrats had Hillary Clinton, and even with rumours of vice president Joe Biden joining the race, it would be a year for establishment politicians.
What wasn’t expected was the rise of Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the relatively unknown Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. With their entry into the race, 2016 has become a circus to say the least.
So what is happening? Americans, at least older white ones, are frustrated with Washington; nothing is getting done, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class are disappearing – to them the “American Dream” is dying. The right-wing think the country is heading too far to the left and the left fears the country, controlled by the banks and the super-rich, has not moved far enough to the left.
Cue the outsider movement and campaigns that prey on people’s fears. Trump and Cruz, preach about terrorism, immigrants taking jobs, and the acceptance of liberal cultural changes, such as gay marriage, changes that they consider unholy. Their solutions: a wall along America’s southern border, mass deportation of illegal immigrants, banning Muslims and legal torture. It’s working: Trump went from a joke to winning Republican primaries in state after state.
He is now the GOP (Republican party) front runner, followed by Ted Cruz. Bush and Rubio have both dropped out after humiliating loses. Cruz is, incidentally, one of the most hated politicians in Washington. The choice for Republicans, between Trump and Cruz, is that between bad and worse.
The same phenomenon is happening on the Democratic side. Bernie Sanders describes Wall Street billionaires as the source of all that is wrong with America, and to young people coming out of college with student debt and no job it’s working.
The problem with Sanders’ plans – for a single-payer health care system free of the burdens of private insurance companies, for free college tuition, the breaking up of big banks, and campaign finance reform – is that they stand no chance of being implemented by the Republican-controlled Congress. They would be pronounced dead on arrival.
In my opinion, the Vermont senator’s campaign is not much different than that of Trump’s. While he does not incite violence; just as Trump preys on security fears, Sanders preys capitalises on fears that you will not be able to afford to go to university and, if you do, it won’t make much of a difference to your life because you’ll be so buried in student loans you’ll never be able to breathe.
If you survive, America’s corrupt campaign finance system will prevent you from ever truly experiencing democracy. Though Sanders may not incite violence, and he may not have a prejudiced bone in his body, but fear is fear. He is a decent man, his ideas in theory are good and he wants what is best for most Americans.
But as a self described socialist, he has become the democratic equivalent of the Tea Party, angry but impotent. The real fear now is that a Bernie Sanders’ nomination could result in a Trump presidency.
Bill Clinton said in 2004, after George Bush won his second disastrous term, that “strong and wrong often beats weak and right.” It would seem strong views that wrong and loud are drowning out more realistic positions. Hillary Clinton and John Kasich hold more moderate and realistic positions but they are being drowned out.
So what comes next? At this point anything goes. As the primaries come to an end and the conventions draw near, if the trend continues anything can happen. What do I think in an election year that has featured as much entertainment as substance? I think the best is yet to come.
It will start with what may be a contested convention for the Republicans. This could be the establishment’s last chance at a Trump derailment. But as the July convention in Cleveland nears, Trump is gaining more and more delegates.
He may be just short of the 1,237 needed to win the nomination, and the delegates he has won in the primaries are only tied to him for one ballot. However, any real effort to lure delegates away from Trump could result in a massive division amongst the Republican electorate. If that were to happen I would not count out the possibility of Trump running as a third party candidate, which again would divide voters come November 8th.
As for the Democrats, Clinton is so far in the lead I would be surprised if Sanders could pull past her. But ask any true Clinton supporter and the pain of 2008 is still too real for them to be comfortable in assuming Hillary is the nominee.
If Donald and Hillary go head to head it is going to get ugly. I will admit I would love to see them face off in a debate: a rabble rousing sexist with not a valid policy idea in his head against a tough woman with head full of detailed policies and experience to match.
I recommend getting a comfy chair and some snacks because the race to be number 45 is only just beginning.