The battle over gun control that played out in the House chamber last week should be understood as a beacon of clarity piercing the fog of candidate-centric media hype. The 2016 election is about dueling public policy agendas and the duelers are the Democratic and Republican parties in Washington, DC, not Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The identity and personal politics of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20, 2017 will not have much influence over the direction of public policy and governance in America. The party membership of that individual, however, will greatly impact the direction of governance and public policy going forward. Clinton and Trump will make all manner of claims about their personal positions and policy preferences, but the truth is that neither of them would be able to lead in the manner they claim. We live in a hyper-polarized political age that makes presidents party leaders first and foremost. Campaign claims about rising above party or bringing the warring sides together or the classic promise to “work across the isle” for the best interests of the American people are utter nonsense. Presidents today cannot be “uniters” on policy and voters who think the quality or content of our politics depends in any significant way on the identity of the President are living in an alternate reality.
Donald Trump, a professional self-promoter, can take positions on this or that policy issue that offend his GOP base all he wants, but were he elected he would not prevent his party (which would control all three branches of the federal government) from moving forward with ultra-conservative policies that ignore his campaign poses to the contrary. Hillary Clinton, a professional politician, calibrates her positions with those of her party’s most energized voices because she understands that parties, not presidents, run the country’s government. For his contrarian posturing, Trump often gets kudos for authenticity and courage, despite the fact that these poses are actually worthless when the rubber meets the road. Clinton, on the other hand, is constantly derided and lampooned (from both the right and far left) for her willingness to change her positions to be more in step with her party’s base even though this approach is much more consistent with how things actually get accomplished in our political system.
Why is this? It’s because these story lines provide the commercial media with profitable news content, and because both sides (and their consultants) need energized donors, volunteers, and voters, not thoughtful, rational, citizens.
Wake up folks! There are only two options for voters this fall: Move the federal government decisively to the right, or continue with divided government. Donald would not be able to defy his party on trade or any other issue on which he is trying to stake out centrist or liberal positions. Hillary will not magically find common ground with the Congressional Republicans who have spent the last eight years making the defeat of a Democratic president their primary mission. If you are a committed conservative of the Tea Party variety, vote for Trump, but if you are a moderate or liberal voter, your only rational option is to vote for Clinton, which is to say, at least two more years of divided party control of the federal government. There is no progressive revolutionary option, nor would there have been if Bernie Sanders were the Democratic nominee because the personal political principles of the occupant of the Oval Office cannot be imposed on the U.S. Congress (Thank God).