Sunday, May 8, 2016

Could the Center Decide the 2016 Election?

In what has become the most bizarre and topsy turvy presidential election season perhaps of all time, both political parties have been rocked by major tectonic shifts in the persons of Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and presumptive nominee Donald Trump for the Republicans. And while Hillary Clinton has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination, she has been pushed hard by Sanders, whose progressive agenda has energized the base in a way not seen since the glory days of the 1960s.

The prevailing logic is that a Trump/Clinton matchup will come down to which candidate can turn out their base most effectively. Which is why the Clinton campaign is doing all it can to make nice/nice with the Sanders campaign so that they can shore up the progressive vote in November.

But Bruce Bartlett respectively disagrees with that assessment. He posted the following in Facebook:
My characterization of Hillary as a moderate Republican must be interpreted in light of the fact that BOTH PARTIES have moved sharply to the right. A main-stream Republican today would be very conservative by historical standards and those on the far right of the party today would not exist in respectable company. Such people - like racists, bigots, gun nuts, conspiracy theorists and all the other kooks - were once treated by both parties as human scum and to be ignored and shunned. Similarly, in the Democratic Party there is no left wing at all. Bernie is a mainstream Democrat by historical standards and Hillary is to his right. That makes her a moderate Republican on the political spectrum of the 1960s/70s.
He then went on to write in another post,
I think a genuinely moderate Republican would win the [general] election in a walk. But it's impossible for a moderate to even exist in the Republican Party, let alone get its presidential nomination. Thus there is a vacuum that has been filled by Hillary, who is basically a moderate Republican. I know this annoys the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but she is giving the country what it wants, I believe.
Now, it's important to consider that Bartlett is a former Republican who is seen by many in the Party as a RINO. And, like fellow "RINOs" David Brooks and David Frum, has been highly critical of the current state of the GOP. I would also note that the DNC would take issue with Bartlett calling Sanders a mainstream Democrat. Bernie's supporters would too.

But Bartlett does make a couple of salient points. One, both parties HAVE indeed moved to the right. Bartlett is not the first to point this out. Ironically, it was comedian Bill Maher who arrived at this conclusion years ago. On his Real Time show back in June of '09, he said the following: "We have a center-right party and a crazy party. Over the last thirty years, the Democrats have moved to right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital."

The second point that Bartlett makes, though perhaps not the way I would've put it, is that general elections are NOT primaries. The primary reason that Republicans keep getting shellacked in presidential elections is because their candidates are seen by the general electorate as being too extreme, while Democratic candidates are seen as far more moderate.

The 2012 presidential election is a case in point. Republican nominee Mitt Romney had been a successful and moderate Republican governor of a blue state who signed into law what would eventually become the template for Obamacare. It was widely believed that his business acumen, coupled by an anemic recovery, would carry him to victory. And yet Romney was defeated soundly by Barack Obama because he was pulled so far over to the right he was never able to run on his record. The electorate didn't so much reject Romney as they repudiated the GOP platform.

Whether both political flanks like it or not, most general elections are decided by the Center and not by the Right or the Left. Yes, Obama got his base to turn out, and that was critical to his success. But he also won with both centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans. If Hillary prevails in November, it will be no different.

That's one of the reasons if I were the Democratic Party I would be extremely worried about Trump. For all the talk about the racists and xenophobes that have turned out in droves at his rallies, he has attracted a good many disaffected blue-collar voters to his side of the fence. His out of the box, fly by the seat of your pants, style of campaigning has not only infuriated establishment and Tea Party Republicans alike, it has completely changed - perhaps forever - the paradigm that candidates have to kowtow to their party's base in order to get nominated.

I'll say it now: Donald Trump will be the ultimate wildcard this fall. His message will not only appeal to the typical flat earthers who almost always vote Republican, but will resonate with many people who heretofore would never have considered voting for the GOP.

And that's why Hillary Clinton might be the best - and perhaps only - chance Democrats have of holding the White House. Yes, she is hardly the first choice of progressives, but in a general election, her moderate, incrementalist approach, not to mention her steady demeanor, will stand in sharp contrast to a man who's idea of looking presidential is to go five minutes without insulting someone. The irony is that the very thing progressives can't stand about Hillary could prove to be her greatest asset come this November.

Of course the opposite could be true. In which case, we're fucked.

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