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It's Not Republican vs. Democrat, It's Establishment vs. Anti-Establishment

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, likely to receive enough pledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot, even before the party convention. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is acting as if and is being regarded as though she is also the presumptive nominee for their party. But Hillary only leads Bernie Sanders by slightly more than 300 pledged delegates. Her large margin in the unofficial delegate count is due to her overwhelming lead in superdelegates, those who could vote either way on the first ballot. Sanders has a chance to close the gap in pledged delegates even further, given his current lead in West Virginia, and a virtual dead heat in Oregon, although Clinton continues to lead in the large delegate count states of New Jersey and California. The path to the nomination for Bernie Sanders is, in his own words, “narrow,” but it is not yet closed.

A Clinton-Trump contest in November will be historic in that it may be the first time that two candidates with disapproval ratings well above 50% in the general population face off against each other for the presidency. Each of them has been nominated by their respective bases and their bases are wildly different and neither may represent the majority of voters in a general election. Donald Trump has garnered support largely from disaffected white male moderately conservative voters who are angry at Washington politics and who view the United States as having failed in both foreign and economic policy under Barack Obama, and for many of them, also under George W. Bush. They care less about traditional conservative social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage and more about getting jobs back and making the country safe from terrorists. They see Trump as a can-do type of candidate who can accomplish both of these goals. Their view of their candidate’s ability to do these things is based much more on his rhetorical skills and charismatic personality than on any particular plan he has offered for achieving such outcomes.

Hillary Clinton’s support comes from a varied group consisting of women, who see her move into the Whitehouse as a historic gender victory, of Blacks and Latinos who are familiar with both she and her husband, but not Bernie Sanders, and who (rightly or wrongly) regard the Clintons as historical champions of rights for minorities, and of the Democratic party establishment, which consists of lifelong party functionaries, elected officials, union leaders and deep pocketed lobbyists and donors representing corporate America (a similar group to those who supported the unsuccessful candidacy of Jeb Bush on the Republican side).

The two groups which are not well represented by either candidate are establishment Republicans and anti-establishment, progressive Democrats. In the primaries these two groups have been represented by the “Never Trump” coalition and by Bernie Sanders, respectively. They have been outvoted. Some of them refuse to follow either Trump or Clinton as their party’s candidates, although the number who will do so in the election is unclear and many of them may change their minds by November. But Hillary is hated not only by most Republicans, but also by a sizeable portion of progressives. And Trump scares not only Democrats, but also many, including many vocal leaders, within his own party.

In a Clinton-Trump election, the two groups opposing each other may well be moderate, center-of-the road Democrats, plus Blacks and Latinos, but minus a large group of young or progressive voters VS. anti-establishment Republicans and independents minus a small group of war-traumatized supporters of establishment foreign policy positions. It is not clear which of these groups will be larger.

The danger of a Clinton-Trump election for Democrats is that it may easily end up becoming an establishment vs. anti-establishment election. If so, the large cadre of Bernie Sanders supporters who voted in the Democratic primary may simply stay home. During the primary process, Bernie was able to push Hillary to the left as she tried to entice his progressive supporters to vote for her. Without Bernie, she will no doubt move further toward the center, her main argument being that she represents a tradition, implemented by the Obama Administration of which she was a part, of staid, neo-liberal policies that have secured an economic recovery, attended to the environment and kept the U.S. safe. She will say that Trump represents an economic policy that has an anti-trade, protectionist stance that doesn’t fit the global economy of which we are a part, that he wants to go back to a health care approach that failed a significant percentage of Americans, that he and his supporters favor draconian and bigoted approaches to immigration, and that his head-in-the-sand anti-science disregard of climate change will lead to disastrous consequences for the planet’s future. With regard to foreign policy she will claim that Trump’s reckless abandonment of traditional bulwarks of our foreign policy, such as staunch support for NATO, and uncritical support of Israel, is dangerous, if not blasphemous and she and Trump will each try to outdo each other on who is the most capable and most aggressive in being able to construct a military policy that will destroy ISIS and other sources of terror. The issues of income disparity and the control of wealth over our political process, perhaps even the issues of over-incarceration and racism in the law enforcement establishment and its practices may disappear as topics in the campaign.

Hillary and the Democratic party are already pivoting to the center. The leading candidate for her running mate, favored by the Democratic establishment, is reputed to be Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia, whose politics are less liberal than Clinton’s. It seems unlikely that politicians who might solidify the party’s progressive credentials, such as Elizabeth Warren, will be chosen for the Vice Presidential spot.

Clinton will be a gigantic target for Trump’s claim that his candidacy represents a battle between the political establishment that has been running this country (into the ground, according to him and his supporters), and a new breed of action-oriented, America First, non-politicians who are the only ones who can save the country from the disastrous path down which it is going. This is a message that has resonated in the primary campaign amongst Trump Republicans, Sanders Democrats and independents. Additionally, for every flaw that Democrats can point to in Trump’s personal and business history, he can point to an equally damaging political misstep, or failure to be truthful or forthcoming in Hillary’s long political career.

Bernie Sanders presents few of the vulnerabilities to a Trump campaign that Hillary presents. His greatest weakness will be his claim to be a socialist and his past flirtation with support of leaders such as Fidel Castro, both of which easily arouse a knee-jerk negative response in political conservatives, none of whom would vote for a Democratic candidate anyway. His personal life and senatorial credentials are impeccable (even his votes against gun-control bills is not a vulnerability against Trump), and he is stoutly anti-establishment. His foreign policy naivete is more than matched by Trump’s and his opposition to American military adventurism not only plays well with most Americans, but is not too different from Trump’s own less clear position. His focus on increasing wages, taxing the rich, offering government-paid-for health care for all and paying for free public college tuition are all popular with a wide portion of the electorate. They are very different from Trump’s positions, but Trump’s economic plan, which appears to hinge upon his personal flair for negotiating favorable trade deals with other countries, presents no coherent alternative. Sanders must just convince the moderate middle of America that his vision of creating a Scandinavian-style modern democratic socialist  country in which the government guarantees a quality life for all of its citizens (but does not own the means of generating income as in true socialism) is the direction America needs to go.

The greatest danger of a Sanders’ candidacy for the Democratic Party is that he would be unable to convince the large body of support coming from Blacks and Latinos, which Hillary now possesses, to invest in his candidacy. They are not likely to support  Trump either, but without them, the Democrats lose a substantial portion of their base. Appeal to these groups has not been Bernie’s strong suit, but campaigning for him by Hillary and a sagacious choice of his vice presidential candidate could alter his appeal.

Bernie Sanders is a long-shot. On the other hand, national polls have consistently showed Bernie beating Trump by a wider margin than would Hillary. I support Bernie because of his progressive values, but also believe that he can offer a stronger opponent to Donald Trump than can Hillary Clinton. We’ll see what happens.


Reader Comments (3)

I don't see any danger in a Bernie Sanders candidacy. I see great danger in Hillary choosing a less liberal VP candidate. I am regularly contriubting to Bernie's candidacy because I believe he is saying what I have felt for a good many years. Hillary is hawkish, beholding to big energy lobbies. I too think he is a strong candidate. I just got off the phone with a Democratic congressional group beating the drums for money for Democratic Congressional candidates. I told him to take me off the list. I will support very progressive candidates...and Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkeley who has stood up to support Sanders. Whatever the outcome I will not stay home...I have voted Democratic in every election for 50 years. But I want Bernie's ideas to influence the eventual candidate and the debate.

May 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTricia Knoll

It shames me as an American that 'people' feel the need to change our American Free Society into a rigid, socialist, anti-individual country that benefits no one but people with ideals that never have proven successful any where and at any time in history! But hey, at least we are both free still to state our opinions and fight for what we believe in. With Bernie..and even Hilary, these kind of open discussion will soon be a memory of democracy! So, I will vote for Trump, not because he is the ideal candidate, but because he is NOT Hilary or Bernie! I may not love him as my candidate, and all he wants to do, but at least he still believes that people are the controllers of their own destiny, and not at the will of the Government. Last I checked, the Government was of the will of people. If Bernie has his way, my will (to work, build a business, make money & be successful the way I define it, go to doctor's of my choice, educate my kids, pick my beliefs, and even talk to people,) won't matter. Because, you know, Government knows best!

May 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Torphy

Elizabeth: I would be alarmed and unable to support Bernie Sanders if what you fear about his candidacy and his general philsophy were true. But it isn't. He favors a social democracy, which is defined as a political ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice, including such things as income redistribution, within the framework of a capitalist economy. His model is the Scandinavian countries and Iceland, all of which are social democracies (sometimes called democratic socialist countries, but that is easily confused with countries in which the government owns the means of production, which is not true of them or of what Bernie envisions). Despite your feeling that these kinds of systems don't work or allow individual freedoms, all of these countries score higher on human rights and individual freedoms in the Freedom House rankings than does the U.S., they also score higher on WHO rankings of their health care systems, UN rankings of their educational systems, and are in the World Bank top 20 countries in terms of rankings on new business startups. And in terms of the World Happiness Report for 2016, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland are the world's happiest countries.

May 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

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