There is an old saying “horses run into a burning barn.” There is a lot of anecdotal and empirical evidence to support this, the prevailing theory being that horses who associate their stalls with safety and security will run to them when they are frightened and faced with something they perceive to be a threat–even when the threat is their traditionally safe haven.
I see in this a parallel to the Clinton success in the 2016 primary. As it stands, it looks like Donald Trump is the all but certain candidate for the Republican nomination, something I confess I never would have predicted–but should have. I did predict that the 2016 election would see a tectonic schism within the Republican party, between the establishment and the rabble it has been recruiting for decades to swell its ranks; I didn’t see Donald Trump as the standard-bearer for the uprising. I really thought it was going to be Rick Santorum. Trump continues to surprise me. His success is predictable in hindsight–by which I mean, nobody (including me) saw it coming but those of us who follow politics can piece together why it has happened and is happening: Trump is the apotheosis of what I shall call The Reagan Rule of Government. This rule states that government is not, nor can it ever be, the solution to any problem; rather, that government itself is the problem. Despite a massive amount of evidence to the contrary, despite centuries of history, and despite the ridiculously contradictory argument–that any voter should elect a candidate whose position is that the most unproductive and dangerous element of our society is the job they are asking to be elected to–this rule has been accepted as canon by a significant number of voters. Out of this clamor has arisen a savior, whose very lack of experience and qualification is exactly what makes him the best choice for a lazy populace that takes so much of its comfortable existence for granted, without a thought in the world about how much of that comfort depends on a robust and functional government. There are countries where calling the police after a crime has occurred, or the fire department when a house goes ablaze are not options. Where roads are little more than stretches of dirt without plants growing on them. Where electricity comes from a gas-powered generator behind your hut, unless you live in a city–where it only works some of the time.
While news outlets report on Trump like he is an unstoppable force, carrying up to 40% of the vote, it’s important to keep in mind that he is carrying 40% of the Republican primary vote. That is not the same thing as carrying 40% of the general electorate, it’s not even close. As it stands, voters who are or lean Republican represent just under 30% of eligible voters. Registered Democrats or voters who lean Democratic represent roughly 47% of eligible voters. That leaves roughly a quarter of all eligible voters without a party-line preference. Note that polls during primaries only sample eligible voters–which, in most states, means that Clinton And Sanders polls only reflect registered Democrats and polls about Trump, Rubio, Cruz, et al are only reflecting registered Republicans. this is because most states have closed primaries, in which only registered members of a political party can cast a vote for that party’s candidate. This means the poll numbers are skewed; not only does Donald Trump’s 40% not reflect a majority of his party–the accurate term is “plurality”–but it represents a mere 40% of 30% of eligible voters. That’s 13% of the eligible voters in the country. Yes, Trump’s Republican numbers will climb as the herd thins when candidates drop out, but he’s still going to have a hell of a time winning independent voters with the campaign that he’s run so far, which–while wildly successful with homophobic, sexist, nativist bigots–is not a strong sell for the majority of modern American voters. His is a campaign that might have worked in the 1950’s, possibly some of the 60’s, but which is darkly anachronistic in the 21st century, where most Americans are now actually aware that they know at least one gay person or couple and that it really doesn’t make any difference in how they interact. A time when people are backing away from organized religion in record numbers as the voices of the most prominent religious figures–Pope Francis excepted–become increasingly strident, divisive and angry.
Trump’s appeal is among the stragglers, the people who are frightened of the changes in societal norms and mores, and he appeals to their insecurities and uncertainty that they feel. It’s clear that the media is fascinated with him, but he’s different. Most political cycles are boring, and let’s be honest, Trump does say silly things that we just aren’t used to hearing from a political candidate for high office.Unfortunately, the press he’s getting and the media inertia towards Clinton appear to be creating a vortex that the Sanders campaign may get sucked into.
I don’t really sense that most Democratic or Democratic leaning voters are particularly crazy about Hillary Clinton. Full disclosure, I’m not. I may or may not vote if she gets the party nomination. If I vote for Hillary, it will be solely because Trump has locked up the Republican ticket and there’s some chance he could win the general. In other words, if I vote for Hillary, it’s because she is a less-shitty choice than Donald Trump–and lest anyone think that’s an endorsement of Clinton, a wombat named Tim would be a better choice than Donald Trump for president. As presidential candidates go, you have to dial the bar all the way down to Lyndon Larouche or Alan Keyes to find someone less capable or qualified to be president.
It seems Hillary’s appeal is that she has been touted as the ‘inevitable” 2016 nominee for years, and the media is having a hard time letting go of that narrative. I think also that there are some Democratic voters picking her because of that narrative, and because the specter of a Trump or Cruz presidency is terrifying. Faced with this looming potential disaster, I think some voters are running scared, heading for the burning barn. The media narrative is that a democratic socialist can’t win, but I am not buying it. The irony is that primary voters, in an effort to ensure a win against an almost certainly poor alternative, are choosing the weaker candidate. I think Clinton can beat Trump in the general, and likely will if they face each other–but Sanders has the potential to storm this race. This is how their recent rallies looked, respectively.
I believe Clinton will face a stiffer challenge against Trump than Sanders would. Sanders has a broader crossover appeal. This is problematic because a close race is a losable race, and could signal to future candidates that running as the most racist, misogynist, ignorant, willfully misleading candidate since I started observing politics is the key to locking up the Republican nomination in future contests. Trump is the American equivalent to Vladimir Zhironovsky. He cannot be the role model for future Republican candidates, or of any major political party. Sanders is the candidate for right now. Clinton is a political insider and a windsock, taking whatever positions are currently popular. She doesn’t stand for anything; rather, she triangulates voters based on polling data.
Right now, Sanders is a longshot, and that’s a shame. Democrats are running scared, when they should be reclaiming their past glory, proud of standing by the working voters who buy into Trumps brazenly empty promises. A vote for Hillary isn’t as safe as the media would have you believe; in an election year when one candidate is unexpectedly storming his party on an anti-establishment platform, it may not be the year to front your own party’s establishment candidate. Not when you have a popular alternative with an equally anti-establishment platform, and an actual record of consistently principled positions.