by: Dave Cox
With all of the craziness coming to a hopeful conclusion this week, I’ve been struggling with understanding exactly how we got here and, more importantly, how to wrap this up and summarize it into something that makes some modicum of sense.
- Email scandals
- Bombastic statements
- Blurred lines between government and charity
- Unchecked political power
- Unconstitutional proposals
- Sex scandals
- International interference
- FBI investigations
This list could go on and on – potentially without end – but that’s old news by now. The left latches onto their torches and the right (specifically, the populist right) latches onto theirs and the grand political wheel of finger pointing, demonizing and burying the opponent spins out of control. A lot of people believe that Donald Trump is the obvious wildcard in this election because he is a loud, brash, unapologetic outsider. Are you ready to have your mind blown? That’s actually not the case at all. In reality, Hillary Clinton is the wildcard. Think about it: Bernie Sanders tapped into a populist, frustrated and angry left. Thousands upon thousands of people attended his rallies. Hell, people practically worshiped the guy. He tapped into the anger and frustration of people on the left who felt let down by the system as well as by their leaders and he brought in countless people who weren’t terribly interested in traditional politics at all. At times it looked like people were attending the greatest rock show ever produced at his rallies.
With very different policy points, it all sounds an awful lot like the rise of Donald Trump. Trump struck a chord with an entirely different population of folks than Sanders, but they share the same kind of frustration as the Sanders supporters. They feel that the system has failed them and that they finally have a chance to flip a big ol’ middle finger at Washington. He fills arenas with supporters, some of whom border on manic. They hang on to every word he utters and they take every opportunity to tell the political system that they’ve had enough of their shit. He has brought in countless people who didn’t identify as Republicans or Democrats or even independents. They were just pissed off and they needed someone to carry the mantle for them. Trump was winning to be that guy.
Good or bad, THAT would have actually made sense in some strange way: The angry, frustrated and alienated left versus the angry, frustrated and alienated right in a head to head battle of pure populism. It would have been the ultimate convergence of a political shit storm and it would have produced the love child of a severely ailing political system as our next President, regardless of the winner.
But that didn’t happen.
The angry populists forgot one thing: THIS system is about strategy, planning, weirdly drawn districts, a solid ground game, political favors, lobbying, corporations, and nod-and-wink moments between the political elite. In other words, the wildcard this time is Hillary Clinton and her 40+ years of perfecting the minute details of the election process as it stands today. While Sanders filled coliseums, Clinton targeted key donors, pivotal districts and big-time influential supporters. While Sanders created such a frenzy that people were getting his likeness tattooed on their bodies, Clinton was making sure she left no stone unturned across the primary map, particularly in the early primaries where momentum can make or break a campaign. She had the giant machine that meshed perfectly with the gears that have been in place for decades – or perhaps even longer. She had the sheer political muscle to squash a populist uprising within her own party with relative ease. The GOP had 16 other guys who thought the same thing, but they couldn’t figure out how to rally behind just one of them, thus they quickly, and unceremoniously, failed.
In another odd twist that could only accompany the 2016 election, the Libertarian Party decided to play it safe and nominate their 2012 candidate, Gary Johnson, who garnered just under 1% of the popular vote the last time around and an 11th hour Libertarian and liberal Republican governor as a hopeless means to bring in folks from both sides. In other words the “Party of Principle” tried to lure us into their tent with a freaking vanilla milkshake. Not the good kind of milkshake that makes your heart happy, but the bland kind that you have to get because the other milkshake machine with the really good flavor is broken.
What all of this means is that we have a massive number of people in this country who are fed up, but they underestimated the power of the savvy political elite Clinton wildcard. In Bernie Sanders, he simply had to bear the brunt of being swept away early because of the primary calendar. Despite his experience and a lifetime of being a politician, he was squashed like an annoying little gnat. The messenger was old, but the socialist-populist message was still figuring out its way in American politics. It’s like a baby that’s still in need if diaper changes and is absolutely no match for the well oiled and well connected Clinton machine. With Donald Trump, we have a political puppy who eats the couch when you’re not home and poops under the dining room table. The nationalist-populist message is there, but it’s often ill formed and poorly communicated. On both sides, we have BIG numbers of people who are frustrated and angry and they’re just looking for different ways to ease that pain. The problem here is that anger and frustration alone don’t win elections. Our electoral process was intentionally designed to avoid the wide swinging whims of the day. If either of these messages fully form down the road, they may very well start to shape future elections. Granted, Trump still has a chance in this one, but realistically, that chance is slim because Clinton has known from day one how to wrap up the electoral map and she has the organization and connections to execute it.
So now, on the eve of the election, we have the one surviving populist “backlash candidate” in Donald Trump and one candidate who unexpectedly took on the role of the wildcard in a career politician – Hillary Clinton. I honestly can’t think of a more fitting way to summarize the circus that is the 2016 Presidential election.