(Will 2016 be the year the 2 party system in the U.S. implodes? Many have raised the possibility that neither the Republican nor Democratic parties will be intact when the dust finally settles in November.
Discord within the parties has defined the presidential race from the beginning of this election cycle. The emergence of two of the most unpopular and mistrusted candidates in our history may well prove the trigger of transformation of the two party system.
The disunification of the Democratic Party and the rending of the Republican have the same root cause--an abiding mistrust of the established order. Years of political deadlock, harsh economic downturns with relatively mild rebounds, expanding divergence between the haves and the have nots and, wars without end have many longing for change. Not a change of personality but of fundamental character.
It is startling that voters will be casting their ballots in November not so much for a candidate as against one. A recent Pew survey found that among Trump supporters only 44 per cent were actually for him, while 53 per cent were against Clinton. (Pew Research Center, see Figure below)
The numbers are little better for the Democrats. Only 53 per cent of self-identified Clinton supporters were for her, while 46 per cent are motivated by their dislike of Trump. Should those numbers hold up through the fall, neither candidate will be able to claim a mandate to govern. (Pew Research Center, see Figure below)
The tenuous nature of any November victory is likely to maintain, if not deepen, the gridlock voters have come to loathe. To the victor will go the challenge of leading a deeply divided nation.
Looking to Europe, it is clear that the emergence of left-right parties opposed to the established order has shown itself in spectacular electoral upsets. Recent election results were as much a surprise to the challengers as to the challenged. At the beginning of 2016 who could have imagined that: Britain would vote to exit the European Union; Chancellor Merkel would be repulsed by the far right Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) causing her right-center Christian Democrats to place third in her home district?
The emergence of the left leaning populist 5 Star Party in the mayoral races in Rome and Turin has the Partito Democratico wondering if it will gain a leadership position in next year’s national elections. Unlike Germany, the battle in Italy is between the left-leaning party of Prime Minister Renzi and the further left party founded by Italy’s leading comedian and blogger, Beppi Grillo.
Whether the far right National Front in France, the Independence Party in the UK, Germany’s AfD or the leftist 5 Star Movement in Italy, the message is the same. Voters are tired and suspicious of the established order and willing to send a less than subtle message that they are no longer willing to take it.
They want change! Not gradual, not incremental, but catalytic and discernible change!
Beyond a general feeling of discontent, voters here and abroad are demanding reformation for much the same reasons. They feel established politicians neither understand nor sympathize with their plight—offering unkept promises in place of real solutions. Lethargic economies, corrupt governments, a fear of foreigners and political in-fighting have come to characterize the new normal. Nativism is considered nationalism and, therefore, justifiably jingoistic. The system rigged.
Is it any wonder then that voters are willing to support outlandish and questionably competent change agents like Nigel Farage, Marie le Pen, Frauke Petry and Donald trump? Experienced politicians like David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton are neither likeable nor trusted. Rather than professional politicians, voters are increasingly willing to support bigots, comedians and reality TV stars.
More of the same is simply unacceptable. The possibility of real change has become worth the risk, in the minds of electors. Establishment pundits and politicians pass off the rise of populism on both the right and the left as fleeting fancies. A phase being gone through by unruly constituents. I believe they are wrong and that the summer of discontent will become winter for the traditional two party system in the U.S.
The takeaway from the primaries is that Trump and Sanders have both tapped into a dark pool of discontentment. Having very different perspectives and appealing to polar opposite bases, both candidates profited from voter antipathy towards professional politicians and the Washington establishment. That the left and right share the same sense of disaffection is a sign of the depth of dissatisfaction and the unlikelihood it will dissipate.
Trump has become the spigot through which hatred and bigotry flow. Although, I have trouble reconciling his choice of Bannon as campaign chairman, I believe—or perhaps simply want to---he is no more committed to the principles of the alt-right than he is to conservative Republican tenets. That he accepts the endorsements of David Duke and Milo Yiannapolous is more a matter of ego than affection.
Whether he believes in the doctrines of such demagogues or not, he gives voice to them. In trumpeting their messages on the stage of presidential politics, he legitimates them. Trump comforts and aids those who’s vile vocabulary violates the very spirit and letter of the constitution. Having let the genie of hate and divisive discourse out of the bottle, he will not go lightly back into the shadows--neither will Trump.
Should he win or lose in November, he has marked the Republican Party as his territory and exposed it to a populist takeover by the Breitbart barons and their minions. I believe it will prove problematic for establishment Republicans to take back the party of Lincoln.
Faced with the challenge of evicting the newly entrenched, will what promises to be a most uncivil war be worth it? Do the newly dispossessed stand a chance of quick victory?
Starting in January of 2017, preparations for the 2018 mid-term elections will need to begin. Establishment Republicans can ill afford to fight on two fronts. Neither can they expect to prevail on either—much less both.
It is easy to see a troika of Trump, Bannon and Ailes turning the Republican Party brand into a dog whistle for the far right. They have the resources, the recognition and a reason for revenge. Between Breitbart, alt-right, remnants of the Republican Party and what could be a new cable network, they have all the makings of a viable political party. Why leave now?
Possession being 9/10ths of the law Trump and company have no reason to leave. Their egos wouldn’t permit it. Besides, they have scores to settle—with the Party, Fox News, CNN and anyone ever opposed to them. Hot or cold, revenge will prove their reward.
Rather than stay and fight, regular Republicans will find the path of least resistance backing out and creating the New Republican Party. No resources will be wasted, no wounds need be healed, no problem getting on the ballot in all states and territories. Most importantly, they can immediately focus their sights on 2018.
Re-branding themselves as left-of-right Republicans, the New Party will have most of the resources of the old: recognized politicians; experience at the federal, state and local levels; financial backers like the Kochs, Bushes, and Romney cohorts; and, an expansive media reach through commentators like Kristol and Will and Fox News. Hell, they can even count on CNN.
Many of Trump’s core supporters will follow the Donald. Those more centrist and classical conservatives will enlist in the army of the New Republic. Over time, I can easily imagine that a left-of-right party would find support from a significant portion of the 42 percent of Americans who consider themselves independents.
But--you might say--third parties in the U.S. have never fared well. Look to Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party. He was a fabulously popular political icon, and yet, he lost his bid for a third term and gave the election to Wilson and the Democrats. Look to Huey Long, George Wallace, Ross Perot and John Anderson. They all ran and lost! Why would another attempt at a third party turn out differently than in the past?
I’m glad you asked, as I am currently working on the answer. In Part Two of this series, we will see how the Democratic Party faces a similar situation as that facing the GOP. Check back with me at www.civilnotion.com.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.