This election will be the first one in which candidate-centric rhetoric will be much more than just calculated distraction from substantive policy debate because Donald Trump broke the GOP presidential nominating system. An angry, ignorant demagogue without a clue about the job he seeks successfully hijacked the GOP nomination. The simple truth is that nobody can predict what Donald Trump would do as president. No one can count on him to champion any coherent policy agenda. His rhetoric is literally insane. His promises and boasts are indistinguishable from what one would expect from a mental patient.
Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee. On the one hand, to borrow loosely from Joe, it’s a really big, er, deal. On the other hand, ambivalence reigns amongst Democrats and Secretary Clinton is deeply unpopular for a major party nominee. The history of women in politics suggests it had to be this way.
James Carville put a note up on the wall of his campaign headquarters for Bill Clinton in 1992, “The economy, stupid.” It was a reminder of one of the key elements of Democratic campaign and an effort to say on message.
For any third party candidate with dreams of the White House, I suggest something similar: “It’s the electoral college!” Don't ever forget that this constitutional arrangement controls your destiny.
Obviously, Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination would be a terrible turn of events for the Republican Party and the modern conservative movement. The Republicans are serious under dogs in the presidential election this year regardless of who they nominate. The electoral math, turnout in presidential years, the state of the economy and foreign affairs, all favor the Democratic nominee, though these advantages only tell part of the 2016 story and can be over-valued. The real ace-in-the-hole for the Democratic nominee is the clarity of the institutional partisan stakes in 2016, and the persistent power of “party identity,” which remains the principle driver of voters’ political and electoral calculations.
For Trump, political interests and principles are just variables in a market analysis. He jumped into presidential politics this year because he saw very friendly market conditions. He recognized the timing was good for responding to the pent up political demands of a certain type of voter, and that in 2016 at least he is more well positioned to exploit that demand in the short run than are the professional pols on the national stage.
The editors of the New York Times, citing recent Gallup data and analysis, have suggested that because more than 40% of Americans in 2015 identified themselves as “independents,” rather than Democrats or Republicans the 2016 presidential election may turn more on candidate-centric factors. They quote Gallup’s analysis as follows: “[T]he lack of strong attachment to the parties could make candidate-specific factors, as opposed to party loyalty, a greater consideration for voters in choosing a president in this year’s election than they have been in past elections.”
This analysis reminds me of the line from the movie “My Cousin Vinny” when the judge denies Vincent’s objection. It is cogent, logical, and reasonable, but wrong.
As he surveyed the landscape of emerging political campaigns in the 1840s, former President John Quincy Adams denounced the “fearful extent [of] itinerant speechmaking” and the “revolution in the habits in the manners of people” that it brought about.
Adams wondered where this all might lead. Now we know: it leads to presidential candidates like Donald Trump and there will be plenty more in future.