Monday, April 18, 2016

Election perspective from the edge

To catch up on the pattern breaking presidential election, I as usual called this one badly, nagging people for most of the summer and fall that Donald Trump's "lead" consisted of not one single pledged delegate. I kept hammering this one as his initial "victories" conveyed fractions of a percent of the necessary convention votes. I said some similar things about Sanders on the Democratic side. I advised people to follow the money, as the pacs have better polls than the media publish. I noted the pacs on the conservative side switching to Senate races as a kind of white flag (this may prove out). But mostly I missed what was happening until after the first "Super Tuesday" when Jeb Bush was quoted directly saying that the Republican party seemed split and hinting that the party system itself was in decline.

Party system in decline has been the arc of my lifetime, as I remember watching on television the first one-ballot conventions (1956) of both parties, annoyed they were pre-empting my favorite kid's shows. Citizen's United I flagged for friends as another nail in the coffin of political parties, hastening the day when ad hoc coalitions of money would package and present nominees of theoretical parties. I did not flag that this would create a crisis first for the Republicans, when pac money would actually fail to deliver a packaged candidate.

What I think today, is that the paradigm shift is better seen as the end of one of the long periods of political stalement. We had a series of very close presidential elections, and presidents at the inner edge of each party, often tied up with Congressional majorities of the other large party. One time this happened was 1840-1856, when we had a series of Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs, while the three major leaders of the period (Clay, Calhoun, and Webster) never got past the Vice Presidency. Another possibility is 1876-1912, an era of Republican presidents who retreated on Lincoln priorities, with Democrats largely controlling Congress from the end of Reconstruction.

In each of these cases, there was a dead Gorilla on the floor -- slavery to 1860, and robber barons and corruption to 1912. I'm not saying no one spoke of these things. And I cannot say that 1860 ended slavery or 1912 ended gross capitalism. But in each of those elections the party system broke down and voters and parties could not sustain compromise. In 1860 both parties split, and a new party won the presidential election. In 1912, the Republicans split, and a new Democratic coalition seemed to assemble.

So what is the dead gorilla of  1988-2016? It may well be the issue of wealth and poverty, with increased discussion of terms of trade and immigration. This would explain some of the success of Trump and Sanders, and the interesting phenomenon of dissatisfied voters going from one to the other in open primary and caucus states. The rupture is such that at this time, it is hard to see that either party will assemble a strong ticket, although the Republicans would appear to have the larger problem. Oddly, the think tanks of the conservative world had prepared position papers about wealth and poverty, reframing into Republic themes of "job creation" by promoting business. Promoters of this had a nickname "reformaCons" and some program ideas about prison reform and mental health as well as education and higher education. But these policy papers and the candidates who were studying them seem to be off the table now. It is possible the Republican money people will simply concede the presidency and regroup for another two years in opposition in Congress, if they do not lose the Senate in the process. This is a better option if the Democratic ticket is based on the relatively conservative and tentative leadership style of Clinton-Obama.

The Democrats are also split deeper than they would prefer, and by similar problems with defining a platform in an atmosphere where business rights and responsibilities are suddenly in play. They had been coasting along as a party somewhat more socially liberal than the Republicans, and if anything *more* pro-business. That isn't playing with voters very much better than traditional Republican themes about national security are playing in Republican primaries.

Always important to notice what is unsaid: The usual undebateables are more remote than ever. Anyone heard a word about the nuclear arsenal or any foreign policy field outside a few great powers and the Middle East? South America? Could be underwater.

Also notable: Repubs have largely stopped mentioning Obama. One line about repealing affordable health care, with an exception for people with previous conditions. His foreign policy, once the fantasy game of conspiracy theories is now just "tired." His incredible usurpation of unconstitutional powers (both parties have built the Imperial presidency for more than 70 years) -- a few lines from the Dems about trade treaties (all fast-tracked by Republican Congress), not a word about letting states legalize marijuana despite existing federal law against doing so. Announced 7 years ago, not a peep.

What will happen? Who will be nominated? I don't know. They don't know. It is hard to see a high turnout with candidates who carry so many negatives (Kasich is the surviving exception, and his negatives are there, just in storage). Lots of pac money and dark money to be spent, on someone or more likely against someone.

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