On Face the Nation this Sunday, I attempted to explain the 2016 cycle in 40 seconds. Pull back from the close ups on Donald J. Trump’s tweets, and the political realignment we are experiencing becomes obvious and impossible to ignore. The post-Cold War left-right politics of the nation have been breaking down in slow motion for two decades. They are now being replaced by a different type of inside-outside politics.
The Trump phenomenon is neither a disease nor a symptom – he is instead the beta-test of a cure that the American people are trying out. It won’t work. But this is where our politics are going: working and middle class Americans are reasserting themselves against a political and cultural establishment that has become completely discredited over time and due to their own actions.
Of course, as one more sign of how weak the establishment is, elected Republicans are the last people in the world to understand what’s going on. “While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election.
“Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches. He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.”
This is madness, of course. Assuming he is the nominee, attacking Trump and embracing Hillary Clinton by extension will hurt you both with Trump supporters and with conventional conservatives. Instead, Republican Senators should run as principled conservatives who will keep President Trump honest.
If you had said a year ago that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president was endorsed in the same weekend by Jeff Sessions and Chris Christie, it would sound like a big tent kind of candidate, wouldn’t it? Well, the Republican Party is a big tent party, and it is adapting to be a bigger tent – encompassing supporters of Paul Ryan and of Donald Trump.
This is not a temporary adjustment. It is a new reality, as Angelo Codevilla writes today. “America is now ruled by a uniformly educated class of persons that occupies the commanding heights of bureaucracy, of the judiciary, education, the media, and of large corporations, and that wields political power through the Democratic Party. Its control of access to prestige, power, privilege, and wealth exerts a gravitational pull that has made the Republican Party’s elites into its satellites.
“This class’s fatal feature is its belief that ordinary Americans are a lesser intellectual and social breed. Its increasing self-absorption, its growing contempt for whoever won’t bow to it, its dependence for votes on sectors of society whose grievances it stokes, have led it to break the most basic rule of republican life: deeming its opposition illegitimate.”
Democrats and Republicans who still think that this is a phase – a fever they just need to wait out before a return to normalcy – are utterly delusional. They keep talking about voters “waking up” to realize that Trump is a bad choice – but the whole reason Trump is the choice is because voters believe they have woken up to the truth about the American leadership class. The old order is breaking down, thanks to Iraq. Katrina. The financial crisis. The failed stimulus. Obamacare’s launch. The Tea Party. Occupy Wall Street. Sanders. Trump. The American people are trying to find a new way, and they are looking for outsiders to lead them through the wasteland.
To the establishment, this breakdown looks like chaos. It looks like savagery. It looks like a man with a flamethrowing guitar playing death metal going a hundred miles an hour down Fury Road. But to the American people, it looks like democracy. Something new will replace the old order, and there are a host of smart, young leaders on all sides who must prove they have the capability to figure out how to create or retrofit institutions that can represent and channel this new energy.
In ten years, the Republican and Democratic parties may still exist – but they could look as different from what they were in 2012 as the difference between Tower Records and iTunes.