Right under our noses, the unthinkable happened to both major political parties at the same time: they were hijacked. By populists. Common threads tie all of history’s political renegades, but 2016 is the first time the establishment of each party was shaken to its core.
Kudos to Republicans for surviving its internal upheaval, and despite the raucous and at times, classless behavior of some of its players, its nominees played it straight and won fair and square. As for the Democrats, not so much. This weekend, the email grenade went off again—will the Dems never learn about email?—and we not only learn the DNC had its establishment thumb on the scale, it’s been alleged the most conservative darling of all was playing a double game with Democrats. The only surprise is that whatever Hillary’s collusion, it hasn’t yet been discovered.
Whatever low-class performances might have annoyed some people during the Cleveland show, it’s already clear the Philadelphia circus will be of the no-class variety. It’s actually hard to imagine Hillary Clinton accepting her party’s nomination when her major opponent never had a fair chance at it. For Clinton, the fixes have been in ever since she was First Lady.
When she ran for the senate in New York, the conventional wisdom was that like RFK five decades before her, it wasn’t so much an election as an inheritance, and the narrative of her being so much sharper than Bill gave her an inside track to the 2008 nomination. Obama and his creators outflanked her and finessed a deal: she got SOS, setting her up for yet another inheritance in 2016.
Just when she had things nailed, the BernMeister showed up. Imagine her outrage. His successes as a non-Democrat populist called for yet another fix, another inside track. And she got it. Her decades long machinations and lies finally paid off. Or did they?
One thing she couldn’t fix was Donald J. Trump. Just as Sanders is not a Democrat, Trump is not a traditional Republican, but the Trump-Sanders phenomenon is nothing new on the American political scene. The first real American anti-establishment populist was none other than Andrew Jackson, who bucked the plantation elite, and railed against the native Indian as a threat to the safety and westward progress of the new nation, but he was in a class by himself.
Trump and Sanders more closely resemble the movement that spoke for farmers in the 1880s when they demanded free silver to erase their credit ills and government ownership of railroads to control shipping. Though a powerful political bloc of the era, they never elected a president.
The likes of William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat, gave way to Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican not much cherished by conservatives. As another anti-establishment candidate, he aroused popular fervor with industrial trust-busting and food and drug safety legislation long overdue.
Then came Wisconsin’s Senator Bob La Follette, and Louisiana’s Governor Huey Long, Democrats and progressive populists both, and of course, there were other outsider Democrats like Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, but the latter two were not populists by any definition. The quintessential politician outsider and only Republican of the parade aside from Teddy Roosevelt was Ronald Reagan. He promised to make America great again and did, and what he started has been the measure of Republican success ever since.
While Bernie personifies a descendant of the Progressive Party of a hundred years ago, it is Trump who breaks all the old molds, and as a former Democrat (like Reagan), he is a zealous convert: not for conservatism but for the Teddy Roosevelt populism that carried a big stick. Only Donald Trump does not speak softly, and at the podium, is not the polished diamond that was Reagan. It doesn’t matter.
What Trump says, loudly and sometimes rudely, is that America must put itself first again—a practice of every nation from the time of Abraham. If he doesn’t lose the election because of some ill-tempered rant, he “should” win handily.
“Should,” is not a synonym for “will,” however. He “should” win, all things being equal, because he has touched that last nerve of the real Joe or Josie Six-Pack, the guy who can no longer mine coal to feed his family, who no longer packs a lunch box because there are no decent factory jobs available at any skill level.
Josie does hair and waits table. Her credit cards are maxed out and her pride is down around her ankles because she and Joe can’t buy stuff for their kids and they can’t take a nice vacation. She is worried about getting pregnant. They are both overweight and health insurance is impossible.
Donald Trump may be a Wharton guy but he talks to Joe and Josie the way they talk to each other about jobs going to Mexico, punching one for English, illegals taking their service and construction jobs, jihadists shooting up the place, and all the upside down craziness coming out of Washington and the courts about their speech, schools, and guns. Joe and Josie may not care who uses what restroom—as long as their kids are OK—but they do care about the sudden, nasty, and extreme changes to their way of life.
Working Democrats their whole lives, they are done with the Hopey-Changey thing. They believe the system is rigged, but they doubted Bernie had what it takes to finally fix things. Trump says he will manage the borders. They really don’t care about a wall, but they want the problem fixed. No terrorists. Deal with the illegals. Trump says he’ll get jobs back—coal, Keystone, factory work—and that’s word music to them.
Joe and Josie don’t know what a populist is and don’t care. They’ve so had it, they’ll consider doing something their parents would never do, and they won’t tell anyone they’re doing it. They’re voting for Trump.