2016 primaries: populists propel polarization
If there's one thing that Americans of all political stripes agree on this election year, it's that the Washington political establishment is rotten to the core, and must go! In both parties, populists are leading the charge -- but in opposite ideological directions.
We have already been through two primary elections and two state party caucuses, and the relatively moderate "establishment" candidates are withering under heavy fire from the ideologically-charged "Bases" of the respective parties. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and then yesterday, Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary by a handy margin, while Clinton did likewise in the Nevada Democratic caucuses.
Among the candidates on the Republican side whom I consider to be serious (see January 31), Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb! Bush have already withdrawn from the race. (Technically, they have "suspended" campaign activities, perhaps being available in case of a deadlock.) Man, that is brutal! So, it comes down to whether the level-headed faction within the party can rally behind either Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Would Kasich accept the V.P. position from the youthful Rubio, as has been rumored? I seriously doubt it. Could Kasich appeal to enough "Base" (anti-"Establishment") Republican voters? I doubt that too. It's going to take something like a miracle for the Republicans to unite behind a candidate who might appeal to independent voters and therefore win the November election.
I have been harping about the pathology of polarization for several years, but the problem has gotten so bad that not many people in either party are willing to listen. In their minds, it's perfectly clear: polarization is the other side's fault! On the Republican side, we have Donald Trump, who delights in blurting out profanities and getting into a polemical exchange with Pope Francis over the issue of a border wall. The other candidates have rightly challenged Trump's many flip-flops on policy issues over the years, but for many of his supporters, that's beside the point. What they want in a candidate is someone who can channel their own pent-up rage at what is happening to America. It's a combination of nativism, populism, and xenophobic nationalism -- none of which have anything to do with authentic conservatism. As I have written in the past (see, for example, the bottom of my November 9, 2011 blog post), the populist element in the Republican Party embodies a sinister "pseudo-conservative" tendency.
Ted Cruz also makes a populist appeal, but he's more of a theocrat than a fascist. "Values voters" flock his way, and once again, there is a problem with consistency on issues. That's one reason the top two GOP candidates have been accusing each other of being "liars" -- both of them are shamelessly loose with the facts and change their positions to suit their immediate political purposes. Aside from his disagreeable personality, what bothers me the most about Cruz is his record of disruption in the U.S. Senate. He has filibustered and tried his best to prevent budget bills from being passed, threatening a shutdown of the U.S. government more than once, just to score political points with right-wing voters. It's totally irresponsible and utterly disgusting.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders continues to attract a huge following of voters, but it's doubtful that he can overcome the entrenched Democratic establishment which favors Hillary Clinton. (Unlike the Republican side, there really is a party "establishment" on the Democratic side.) The effect will be to pull Hillary toward the left, and that may help the Republicans in November, because the appeal of socialism is not yet that widespread in American. Maybe if there's an economic collapse in China and unemployment shoots back up in the U.S., that could change...
In sum, it's a very dismal outlook this year for rational-minded conservative voters. For the time being, I will refrain from commenting futher on the prospects of particular candidates.
The Virginia primary
In Virginia, we're going to have a primary election on March 1, a.k.a. "Super Tuesday." There was a big kerfluffle over whether those voting in the Republican primary should have to sign a statement affirming their party allegiance. Why is that such a big deal? Why in the world should anyone who is not a Republican have a say in who the party chooses as its nominee? This is one side-effect of the open primary system which Virginia uses, and which should be abolished, in my view.
In the end, it didn't matter. After a legal challenge, the RPV State Central Committee voted to rescind that requirement, after many thousands of taxpayer dollars had already been spent on printing the necessary forms. Never mind! This was all little more than silly posturing by those who want to pretend that the GOP welcomes folks from all walks of life. Reality is somewhat different... Stupid, stupid, stupid.