We live in a very interesting time in human history and in the history of our country. Our society and the very foundations of our civilization are undergoing rapid change fueled in no small part by an explosion in information technology and other technological advances. The well-being of each nation state is integrally tied up with what happens in other parts of the world. We could be on the cusp of living in a world where illness, poverty, starvation, and war are all fading into history as we take on a more responsible stewardship for the vulnerable ecology of our planet.
Sadly we’re not there yet and how things will unfold in the future is very uncertain. What happens in the United States is very critical in this historical drama because our missteps can result in tremendous setbacks for the entire world as illustrated by the economic turmoil of 2008.
Political outcomes in this country make a tremendous difference. The last Republican president brought us the Great Recession and the Iraq War and its disastrous consequences including the rise of the Islamic State. With Obama as president, we’ve had economic growth and relative stability and some better foreign affairs outcomes as witnessed by the Iran diplomatic initiative as an alternative to war.
Of course, the President of the United States is not solely responsible for economic or foreign affairs outcomes, but how they respond the challenges that we face going forward can make the difference with regard to whether we end up in a positive or negative tipping point.
Now we’re in a new presidential election cycle and there is no incumbent running. On the Democratic side, only two candidates have a chance to win: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The tremendous enthusiasm and overflow crowds that Sanders attract is a real surprise. Bernie is a democratic socialist and his message is a populist appeal to economic and political justice that addresses issues of wealth inequity and undue political influence of big money interests.
There is an element of the corruption of our present society that he points up. This is a plutocratic distortion where the interests of the wealthiest are protected at the expense of everyone else. This trend was exacerbated by the Citizens United Supreme Court case which allows individuals to contribute unlimited amounts of money to Political Action Committees that advocate for candidates that support their interests.
The winner of the Democratic nomination is going to have to tap into this unhappiness about how our society is rigged in favor of the wealthy. My reading is that Clinton is going to win easily.
Sanders doesn’t have sufficient credible standing with minority voters compared to Clinton. Moreover, at age 73, he looks old. He doesn’t fit our image of a strong and vigorous president.
When we look at the primary contest in all of the states, Clinton has a clear advantage in funding and from having an experienced political team already in place.
On the Republican side, we see an unprecedented number of major candidates running for the nomination of their party: 17 in all. These include a business man, Donald Trump; a business woman, Carly Fiorina; and a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. In addition, there are 4 sitting Senators and 1 former Senator: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Rich Santorum and 4 sitting and 5 former governors: Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rich Perry, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.
There are a lot of reasons why so many people are running for the Republican nomination this year. There is no incumbent this year and the highest office is much more winnable than when running against an incumbent president.
This year the Republicans don’t have a clear front runner or someone who is the consensus choice of their party the way Clinton seems to be for the Democrats.
The political duopoly of two parties that we have in the United States has historically meant that very seldom does one party win the Presidency in three successive elections. Harry Truman after Roosevelt and George Herbert Walker Bush after Reagan are the exceptions since WWII. So the Republicans feel this is their big chance to win the White House.
With Citizens United, a candidate only needs a couple of super wealthy donors to be financially viable and sustain their campaign. Underdog candidates feel they have a chance to hang in the process long enough to capture the imagination of the electorate.
We have to ask ourselves why anyone wants to run for president. The answer is usually because they want to have power and influence. They also want to imprint the country with their own ideas of how things should be.
On the spectrum from narcissism to idealism, I think the balance is tipped a bit on the narcissism side for this cycle especially on the Republican side. Bernie Sanders stands out as someone who has more idealistic focus than others. I give Clinton some credibility in this respect as well.
Running for president, even if you have virtually no chance to win the nomination, can still be a ticket to a better book deal, speaking fee, or Fox channel gig. It’s a chance to be relevant and capitalize on this time in the media spotlight.
Also, you could be picked for vice-president or given a choice spot in the government of the next president. Finishing number two or three is not without its perks and rewards.
If Trump were not running, the big three in the Republican field would be Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. Ohio Governor John Kasich has the best chance to come out of obscurity to be the nominee.
Kasich is the person who has the best chance of beating Clinton in 2016. He’s got a 55 percent approval rating in his own state so he could claim a positive track record of executive accomplishment. He would probably carry Ohio in a general election and that might be the deciding state.
The problem with Kasich is that he expanded Medicaid in his state as part of the Obamacare option where the federal government helps pay for Medicaid. That’s a fatal flaw in a year where alignment with right wing positions trumps electability.
Jeb has by the far the most money and is the favorite of the establishment wing of the party. His establishment ties work for him but are also a liability. It’s too easy for Republican primary voters to perceive him as more of the same establishment political initiative that failed in 2012.
Moreover, Jeb is gaffe prone and is sort of boring as a candidate. He would be a retread of the George W. Bush presidency and, although there may be some Bush nostalgia in the Republican Party, this doesn’t translate to the general electorate very well so his electability is not something that can be taken for granted.
Marco Rubio is an attractive and personable candidate but lacks substance. His time in the Senate has not resulted in any positive outcome associated with his personal effort. He is a likely choice for vice-president as the eventual nominee will want to capitalize on his Cuban ethnic background.
My prediction is that Scott Walker will emerge as the Republican nominee. He will be proclaimed as the new Reagan as a super conservative who can win the general election. Walker is very socially conservative and will appeal to those in the party who champion these issues. Also, he’s a genuine Tea Party fiscal conservative and can claim to have reduced the size and impact of government interference in his state.
Walker has only a high school education, does not come from wealth and privilege, and has an anti-intellectual attitude. His father was a Baptist minister. All of these aspects should appeal to working class voters.
Of course, when you look at the record of his impact in Wisconsin on the economic front, it’s pretty much a horror story. Falling median income levels and lethargic job growth have lead to a shrinking middle class in Wisconsin since he became governor.
Walker has pioneering the stripping of union rights and the reduction of funding for education. Wisconsin now spends more on prisons than it does on public universities.
Seen through the filter of Tea Party mentality though, many of these results are accomplishments rather than disqualifying outcomes.
Walker is a very capable and shrewd politician. In his political career he’s won 10 elections in a row. He can give the impression of being a reasonable man even when he’s got an extreme agenda.
Also, and not least in importance, he’s got the backing of the Koch brothers, the sixth richest people in the world with a combined net worth of $86 billion dollars.
Donald Trump, however, is currently leading and even lapping the field with a support level more than twice that of the nearest competitor. My reading is that Trump’s popularity is a bubble that will burst once we get closer to actually counting any votes. The romance with the Trump candidacy is somewhat similar to the feelings people when they first meet someone they are attracted to. The tendency is to project ideal qualities onto this person and be blind to their shortcomings.
However, once the romance phase ends, you have to deal with day to day reality and then issues of compatibility have to been taken into account. In case of the Trump candidacy, this moment of reckoning will happen when he has to define policy positions and outline his plans for addressing the real issues we face as a country. How will he deal with climate change, for example?
Donald Trump is an actor playing himself in a reality show called the Republican Presidential Primary Race. One sense in which our culture is askew is highlighted by the fact that Fox News media organization is sponsoring him in a reality television segment called a debate. This is after Fox News set up the rules for who could participate in this show limiting the cast to 10 characters and relegating the other 7 main candidates to a warmup act.
Politics has always been a diversion and even seen as a kind of sport. But, it’s still sad to see that the only other choice we have in who can be president is going to be partly decided by who is best at a game that is rigged to support the bottom line of a right-wing media empire.
My forecast on the debate is that it’s going to be underwhelming and not live up to its hype. The other candidates are going to ignore Trump as much as they can and he is going be somewhat out of character by trying to seem like a reasonable person and refraining from personal attacks.
This debate is not Trump’s Waterloo though. He’ll continue to be strong for a few months until the public gets bored with his act. There is really no substance to his campaign.
Why Trump has shot to the top of the primary field requires some explanation. His poll numbers actually spiked after he demonized Mexican immigrants and denigrated Senator John McCain’s war service record.
This is unprecedented in recent political history. Trump is gaining traction by violating norms of political correctness. This is seen as a virtue because it gives him the appearance of someone who speaks his mind and as someone who is not being manipulated by political consultants like a merchandized product. He is one person running who is not a professional politician. Thus, there is a hope that maybe he can change the way things have always been done.
Also, Trump outrageous statements give voice to what some in the political extreme of the Republican base believe but are afraid to say. He comes across as a spokesperson for those who are in extreme reaction to the liberalization of our culture.
This liberalization is blamed on the left wing elite and left wing media. In reality, it’s part of the increased pace of evolution of attitudes and social norms in our country and in the world as a whole fueled in no small part by the democratization of media through social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Trump’s credibility is his persona as a successful business man. “I am very rich,” he boasts. He claims his personal wealth means he doesn’t need outside money to run for president and so is not going to be obligated to donors and lobbyists after he wins the election.
His economic message is a kind of plutocratic populism. The answer to the issue of middle class wage stagnation, for example, is just to make everyone rich. He can run the country successfully just as he has run his companies.
His populism appeal draws on the same sense than the electorate as a whole share that there are profound disturbances in our society that need remedies. Only from the standpoint of the extreme political right wing base, this disturbance is sourced in government interference.
Trump is Mr. Blusterful and this aggressive style appeals to people who see themselves surrounded by sinister forces defined as any group that is not like them.
Trump’s appeal is very limited if you look at the general electorate. In the most generous reading of his poll numbers, he’s got no more than 25% support of the Republican electorate.
If you count Republican partisans and those who lean Republican as 40% of voters, this is still only 10% of the whole. He would be anathema to more than 50% of the general voting population.
Trump is not going to run as a third party candidate. He can’t afford it.
In spite of his boosts of how he could easily self-fund a campaign for president, he is actually a puny billionaire. According to the Forbes list, he only ranks as number 405 in the world and counting duplicate rankings where two or more people have the same rank because of the same wealth level, this means there may well be 500 people in the world who are richer than Trump.
Conservative purity rather than pragmatic electability is going to dominate the Republican primary season this cycle and Trump’s prominence only pushes things more in this direction.