December 30, 2015 (San Diego) This has been an interesting year. This is one that surprised many within the beltway but confirmed long term trends otherwise. There is a dynamic that started with the Conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan. This was, quite frankly, to seed absolutely distrust in the government.
This quote from the former president is one of the best examples of this. “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” This started a trend that has accelerated over the last few decades. It is to the point that people who are involved in politics on a professional basis, are suffering from a trust issue.
Government is so broken that we cannot trust it to the professional politicians. This is where Donald Trump enters the picture. His campaign has been a pure exercise in a rejection of establishment politics. He is doing well in the polls, and we expect him to do well in the coming primary season. His is also the end result of this nihilist ideology that has been lapped up by many in his base.
It first made an obvious appearance in it’s modern form with the Tea Party activists, and their campaign against Obama Care. Some refrains often heard at tea Party Rallies were things like “keep the government out of my Medicare.” (Did somebody forget to point out to these people that Medicare is a government program, but I digress…)
Trump represents the end result of more than a generation of a rejection of democracy and government. Voting rates in the United States are extremely low. According to Pew they were at almost fifty four percent in 2012. For comparison Mexico was at sixty three percent and Canada at fifty four percent. While the Canadians are doing better, the top country in developed economies was Belgium, with a voting rate of eighty nine percent.
While some of this is influenced by whether voting is compulsory (as in the case of Belgium) or not. There are other factors, and raw numbers do not tell the full picture.
What we do know is that politics in the United States have become polarized. Congress is indeed quite dysfunctional, and this process did start in the 1980s, and accelerated when Newt Gingritch became Speaker.
Trump is just the final stage in this process.
He has surprised the beltway, but that is because the beltway, and particularly the Republican establishment that helped create the conditions for Trumpism, cannot believe this is their Frankenstein.
There are other forces at play, which also favor people like Senator Ted Cruz. He is young, he is brash and he is the ultimate outsider (while drawing a government paycheck as a United States Senator.) They do translate to fear, alienation and the end stage of mistrust and lack of understanding of how the government works. See that choice quote about the government staying out of Medicare.
What about the other side for presidential elections? For starters we are having somewhat of an outsider running for President. Senator Bernie Sanders is also running an outsider insider campaign, but he applauds the role of government. Yet, he gets a lot less press than his opponents, Hillary Clinton, or for that matter Trump.
He is the mirror image of this nihilism of government that has infected the American right. He believes government can work and can do some good stuff. You know like Medicare and schools and regulations. Speaking off, he would like to regulate many of the same corporations that own the same media that has spread his message, but nothing even close to Trump, who finally is going to start spending money on his campaign.
The rest of the candidates, whether it is Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton are establishment candidates. Clinton is having no issue with her message, the other two men are.
So what does this tell the Presidential election and us about 2016? Well, we could see the voters cast ballots for establishment candidates, such as Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. Somehow, at least in the early contests, we don’t expect that. We at Reporting San Diego expect this cycle to be out of the norm. We expect this cycle to see votes that none in the beltway expects, or is willing to go on record that we will see those votes. We expect a base revolt.
American history gets these moments every so often. The last time the Republican party ran such an outlier, they were handed their heads on a platter during the general election. That was 1964. In some ways the Reagan election of 1980s was the beginning to the counter-revolution against both the New Deal and the Great Society. That counter revolution promised the end of these liberal ideas and made great strides, but now that revolution has come to it’s natural end. This is nihilism and the kind of anti government rhetoric that means no elected official can be allowed to function.
Voters are angry because the promise of the end of those policies has not come to pass. They want that. Of course this means the end of Social Security and Medicare, what about keeping the government out of my Medicare? So yes, we understand Trump’s appeal to voters, and we also believe he will do well.
2016 will be an interesting year in politics. Perhaps this is one of the most critical elections in a few cycles. Yes, know each election is called this. But this one is a debate between the establishment and the base, in our view, on both parties.