As the primaries wrap up, it has become clear that the long time front runners in both parties will win the nomination: Donald Trump (R-NY) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY). The nomination and widespread support of Trump has come as a surprise to the Republican establishment, who a year ago was ready to anoint Jeb Bush (R-FL) or Scott Walker (R-WI) as their nominee. Trump’s distinct platform and attitude has mobilized masses to vote for him, revealing an identity crisis of the Republican Party, but the identity crisis of the Democratic Party may give Trump the presidency.
The Republican Side
Inside the Republican party, a debate on the ideology and platform took place very publicly through the primary process. The results revealed a clear disconnect between the base supporters of the party, and the establishment candidates and leaders. There was agreement on some items, like low tax rates, but Donald Trump pushed the party in a direction that made establishment leaders uncomfortable. Away from xenophobia and misogynistic remarks, Trump denounced the war in Iraq, and called NAFTA a trade agreement a loss to the US economy because it hurt jobs. To couple with the fear of immigrants taking American jobs, Trump has mobilized a sizable portion of blue collar white workers who see Trump as the only candidate who understand their struggles. Voters are not sheep simply voting for a candidate off of name recognition but, they are voting for a redefinition of the Republican Party.
The results of Trump’s platform are clear. No one ever gained enough traction to mount a legitimate opposition. With Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Kasich (R-OH) dropping out of the race after the Indiana primary, Trump is assured the nomination, and the Republican Primary process has chosen the candidate with the most enthusiasm.
The Democratic Side
Like Trump, the Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaign has been the one to garner the enthusiasm of the electorate. He has been able to hold incredible sized rallies from last summer through this week. His platform, advocating for Nordic style Democratic Socialism, has challenged the identity of the Democratic Party, who is represented by Hillary Clinton. Due to Sanders’ support, Clinton has been drawn to the left of her initial platform, though still has been hawkish in international policy and more neo-liberal economically. Throughout the primary process, Sanders closed the polling numbers nationally from 62.2-5.6% advantage to Clinton a year ago to 46.8-45.8% Clinton advantage on April 10th, 2016. As Clinton seems to have secured the nomination, the national polls are at a 50.3-44.5% Clinton advantage. (Real Clear Politics Aggregate).
The identity of the voters of the Clinton and Sanders voters differ greatly. The young and college aged voters, and therefore future of the party, are overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders. Sanders has won states that have caucuses, which require more commitment than a simple primary, and states that have heavier white populations. Clinton has won older voters, black voters, states with a primary system, and those with closed primaries. Clinton has represented establishment politics, and hasn’t seen the same kind of enthusiasm as Sanders, but is ahead enough in the delegate count that we can assume her nomination.(FiveThirtyEight) The lack of enthusiasm for Clinton could be troubling as American politics are more polarized than they have ever been. The trend of elections has been to mobilize the base of voters, as opposed to being centrist to win borderline voters.
The Clinton-Trump Race
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have incredibly high unfavorability ratings for presidential candidates posed to gain the nomination of their parties.The strategy for both candidates, especially Clinton, appear to be that they are not the other candidate.Trump as the off-the-cuff outsider without any coherent policies, has momentum and enthusiasm. Clinton is a calculated insider with policies that have shifted over time to fit popular opinion. The distinction between the two is pretty clear.
If you watch cable news, you would think the Republican Party is in inner turmoil, but I see the Trump nomination as the current character and identity of the party. As their nominee, the GOP has the man who is most popular within the base by a wide margin.
The inner turmoil of the Democratic Party isn’t being written about. Sanders has revealed a huge portion of the Democratic electorate that not only wants his policies, but doesn’t trust Clinton as the presidential nominee. The Dems don’t have their version of Trump on the ticket, but have the Mitt Romney of 2012 on their ticket: a boring party-line candidate.
The Republican Party may not like Trump has their lead man, but he has popular support, and is their best chance of winning the White House in November. They will get behind him, because the alternative is allowing a Clinton Presidency.
Because of the identity of the candidates representing the GOP and Dems, it would not be a surprise for the next President of the United States to be Donald J. Trump. The media and opposition has written him off as a fringe candidate for too long. He is a legitimate representation of the direction of the Republican Party electorate. It’s time that conversation about his campaign starts to reflect it.