Friday, May 20, 2016
Sanders, Trump and the challenge to parties
A month or so ago it looked as if the Republican convention would be the best spectacle for those who love a bit of political anarchy. With Donald Trump marauding his way through the Republican primaries, faced by establishment opponents who clearly loathe him, what would have been better than a convention which tried to overturn the popular vote and insinuate a more acceptable candidate. This would be a better spectacle even than Ronald Reagan's attempt to usurp the nomination of sitting president Gerald Ford in 1976.
Yet in such a short space of time the Republican conflict appears to have died down in the face of a pretty well invulnerable Trump candidacy and it's the Democrats who look like hosting at least a fractious, if not fully contested convention. While Republican leaders accept the inevitable and start looking to make their peace with the candidate they desperately didn't want, the Sanders campaign for the Democratic nomination strides on, now even bringing violence and chaos in its wake.
The difference would seem to be party loyalty. Trump himself may not be particularly loyal to his newly acquired Republican brand, but he's holding the good hand. He's the presumptive nominee. Those old establishment Republicans - or, to be more accurate, those new establishment Republicans like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio - are going to hold their noses and endorse Trump, because they need their party to win in November. And win not just the White House but Congress as well. Trump can corral the Republican party because the party needs him.
The Democratic party, meanwhile, neither needs nor wants Bernie Sanders. The problem is that Sanders will fail to get the Democratic nomination but will still need to create the maximum disruption against the party in order to gain any traction. Like his fellow insurrectionist, Sanders has no loyalty to the party whose label he recently adopted. In a two-party system, both he and Trump saw their only chance for presidential success as being to take a major party hostage rather than run as a failed Independent. Trump's gamble has succeeded, Sanders' has failed. But Sanders' momentum is such that he can at least keep going, and since he's not really a Democrat that party's leadership appeals to him will have no impact. Any more than Republican appeals had any impact on Trump.
Effectively what we are seeing are the attempts of two maverick insurrectionists to turn the party system against itself. It is arguably the logical consequence of a political system which forces everyone to adapt to the two-party system. If that's all you can use, then it is hardly surprising that the parties themselves become a target for otherwise independent, or socialist, or Green, or whatever other type of candidate who might be out there.
As it stands, then, the Democratic convention is going to be the most exciting. Sanders is looking to gain traction in the California primary and has made no bones about taking his fight all the way to the convention floor. The cries from the Clinton camp, and the establishment Democrats, will fall on deaf ears because Sanders has no use for party unity. The slightly maudlin calls for Sanders to accept his defeat graciously so that Clinton can look to the general election battle against Trump are mis-directed and misconceived. There would be no need to make appeals to Sanders if Clinton had managed to effectively dispatch his candidacy via the primary vote. His continued campaign is as much an indication of her serious electoral difficulties as it is his own stubbornness.
2016 will not mark the end of the two-party system in American politics, but it has shown just how it is possible to subvert the parties in the interests of outsider campaigns. The establishment - in either party - rules no more.