â€œThis may be the most important election of your lifetime. Â You need to exercise your right to vote.â€Â
Every four years we hear it.Â Based on its repetition, itâ€™s probably not true. Â If every election is the most important, none is any different.
The 2106 election could well be the most important election of our lifetime, not because your vote will make much difference. Â Itâ€™s a foregone conclusion.Â Forget the polls. Â The risk markets (the London bookies) have spoken. Â Hillary is a 4 to 11 favorite.
The 2016 election may be the most important election of our lifetimes because it reflects a fundamental pivot of our party system. Â For the last hundred years, the Democratic Party has been the progressive voice. Â It started with money in the FDR administration, Social Security, and Keynesian pump priming in response to the Depression. Â Slowly, the Democratic Party became the reliable progressive voice on equality issues.
Democrats supported change: spend on social welfare, advocate liberal social policy. Â The Republicans on the other hand were the party of the status quo. Â Spend less.Â What we do spend, spend on the military. Â Retain old social norms: race, gender, orientation.
The 2008 election reflected this pattern predictably. Â Republican McCain, a hawk, had been opposed to the establishment of Martin Luther King Day. Â He ran against Democrat Obama, black, and a former community organizer.
You could draw a horizontal line on the whiteboard with every issue and stance marked on the continuum. Â For every issue, McCain fell to the right and Obama to the left.Â As the election neared, predictably, both candidates drew to the center, but never gave up the right-left division. Â If the sole election question were, â€œstatus quo or something new?â€ the choice was simple.
What about the Status Quo?
In 2015, a powerful and silent voting bloc reexamined its commitment to the status quo, the Trump constituency. Â Any description of the group will upset someone.Â The Trump bloc would describe itself as hard working people with traditional values. Â This group has been hit hard by globalization.Â It has born more than its fair share of the burden of defense of the country, ever since the elimination of the draft. Â Critics would describe the Trump bloc as less educated, white wage-earners, mostly male, and nostalgic for a time when a lifetime job at the mill or factory could support a family and buy a boat.
Trump, keen judge of human character, saw the collective unhappiness of this constituency. Â It had been part of the Republican base, taken for granted by its elected representatives. Â Trump identified the trade deals and immigration policies supported by Republicans as more important to them than gun rights and conservative social causes.Â He peeled these angry men out of the mainstream Republican Party. Â By populist talk early in the campaign, he eliminated the traditional Republicans one by one. Â Bush, Rubio, Kasich â€“ none of them stood out.Â Now heâ€™s up against Cruz, a reactionary conservative, who will fail at the convention.
Hillary, on the other hand, has spent a quarter century positioning herself for this election. Â Against any other Republican candidate, this election would be as predictable as 2008. Â Hillary would be slightly left of center.Â A traditional Republican would start far the right, to establish his conservative bona fides and then move to the center as the election approached. Â For reasons that are unrelated to Hillary herself, she will do well in the election. Â What is striking, though, is that she will be the vote for the status quo, not the Republican.
Sanders, an unrepentant socialist since his days in the Liberty Union party would have been a footnote in the 2016 election were it not for Clintonâ€™s position so close to the center. Â Heâ€™s old.Â He wants to spend money the country cannot afford. Â Nevertheless, like Trump, he sensed a part of the Democratic Party that doesnâ€™t feel constrained by fiscal limits. Â He tapped into an unhappiness with our conduct in the Middle East that has gone undiscussed. Â His constituency is young and liberal.Â In a peculiar twist, anger about our conduct in the Middle East is the same emotional wellspring Trump tapped into.
Sanders, not a Democrat, is running under the auspices of the Democratic Party machine. Â Clinton needed a rival; she couldnâ€™t run unopposed for the nomination. Â The DNC saw that sponsoring Sanders was a good way to keep him under control, to be eliminated at the first ballot at the convention. Â They probably saw him as less risk as a Democrat than as a wild card like Ralph Nader in 2000.
If you draw the same horizontal line across the whiteboard today, before the conventions, Sanders, Clinton, and Trump end up bunched together.Â Click here for procon.org analysis. Â On that same spectrum, Kasich and Cruz define the right side clearly. Â Itâ€™s too late for them, though.
No Longer a Line from Left to Right
For the three remaining players, a line across the whiteboard no longer makes sense. Â A circle would be the right geometry.Â Sanders wants to bust up Wall Street, reinstituting Glass Steagall. Â Trump wants to tax Wall Street.Â Clinton looks like an old-time conservative, supporting laissez-faire on Wall Street. Â On social issues, the circle rotates.Â Sanders is reliably liberal. Â Clinton is moderately liberal.Â Trump is unpredictable. Â He has moved from favoring marijuana legalization to no discernable position. Â He could as quickly move back.Â Trump talks big about confrontation with China, but he is unlikely to start a war. Â As to the Middle East, he is clearly more dovish than Clinton. Â Or he may just be unspecific.Â Clinton, on the other hand, has a policy paper on everything.
With the exception of his firm positions on the Mexico wall and treatment of Muslims, Trump is barely distinguishable from the two Democratic runners. Â By brilliant and brash speechmaking, Trump built an image into which his supporters can inject whatever specific meaning they dream. Â He will make America great again by superior deal making.Â That approach gives him almost unlimited flexibility. Â By avoiding a firm position at the start, Trump avoids criticism.Â How can one argue against a greater America and superior deal making?Â Among the press and current policymakers, it earns him scorn and derision.Â Trumpâ€™s constituency distrusts the press and the current regime; their scorn is irrelevant.
So where will this leave the American voter come November? Â Clinton will be a known quantity, whose position has been polished by bumping against Sanders and Trump both. Â The most likely outcome of the conventions is elimination of Sanders and a reluctant endorsement of Trump as the Republican nominee.
Possible but Unlikely
In the possible but unlikely column would be a Sanders bolt from the Democratic Party and a run as an independent. Â Despite caucusing with Democrats in the Senate, Sanders never did sign up with the party. Â He could bust loose and take his supporters with him.Â Then the Trump-Clinton contest really would be a horserace.
More likely, but still improbable would be smoke-filled Republican convention from which Trump does not emerge the nominee. Â This would likely be disastrous for the party.Â A new or recycled candidate would have a hard time mounting a bid in the four months remaining. Â It would fracture the party, ruining its Â chances for 2020. Â Party brass is likely to swallow hard, accept Trump and his inevitable loss, and start a rebuilding effort aimed at 2020. Â To be successful, that means the GOP will have to reconstitute itself from the ground up.
Most Important Elections of a Lifetime
Yes, the election of 2016 may well be the election of a lifetime. Â You will be able to tell your grandchildren that you voted in the election that was the last of the old Republican Party.