A few weeks ago, I was preparing a column in which I would compare how the election of 1968 is so similar to this one. And certainly there was a similar pattern: conflict and violence between two contrasting visions of America, our involvement in an overseas conflict which we could not well explain how we got into it, much less how to get out, and so on. Perhaps we could make some predictions about the future, based on what played out previously.
But at the time, a few weeks ago, it looked as if there would indeed be some form of contested convention on the right, and that the democrat party would not. Quite the opposite in 1968! But now it is clear that this is more like 1968 than I thought it would be. The republicans have a clear nominee, just as Nixon was in 1968; and the delegates will walk in, nominate him, and that is the end of the matter. I think it will be quite different for the democrat party, if Sanders does persist as he promises to do, if not a contested convention it will be chaotic.
But the real point of this column is to show how the “roles” have reversed.
The past few cycles, the GOP has made an effort always to nominate a candidate who is a) an “establishment” favorite and b) who they feel would have the widest range of appeal in a general election. What they always forgot was that their own base of support was lukewarm about that candidate at best, and that explains their failure in the past two cycles (and their close failure in 2000.) It is a rule of politics that a candidate must energize his main base of support before he can even think about trying to appeal to the independent voters. Republicans voted for McCain and Romney not because they were enthusiastic about those candidates, but because they did not want the alternative. That’s what the republican party depended on to win victories; and the victories so optimistically predicted never materialized.
The end result was a mediocre candidate who could not energize the base and had limited appeal to independent voters. The democrat party, on the other hand, was able to nominate candidates responsive to the feelings and sentiments of the base.
How that has switched now! No matter what one thinks of Trump, it is clear that he is responsive to the feelings and sentiments of the Republican party, or a majority of it. The massive numbers he has been pulling in the states he has won is a sure testament of this. On the other side, Hillary is the establishment favorite yet she has a lukewarm support at best, without the energy the current president had, or like Bernie Sanders has at the moment.
Hillary’s candidacy is comparable to McCain in 2008. Many voters on the left don’t care for her (or, in some extremes, despise her as much as Trump) but will support her anyway due to a miserable alternative. But it is in vain to make predictions on how that will work out as in victories, as so much can change in such a short time, as we have certainly seen so far.
We will also see a significant third party surge, perhaps large enough to throw the election in the opposite direction. There has been a huge spike of interest in the libertarian party and particular candidates in the past few days, which I think will increase as the circus intensifies. We may take solace in that!