With the close of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia,
stage 2 of the 2016 presidential election contest ended, and
the finals of stage 3 are now underway. It will last three months,
and there is little doubt that they will be long and politically
Hillary Clinton received her historic nomination, and her
convention went well enough that she should receive, as Donald
Trump did from his convention, a notable bounce. Philadelphia
was not without controversy and conflict, but the Democratic
establishment has appeared to pull itself together for the autumn
match with the upset Republican winner who has disrupted U.S.
politics so far. Mrs. Clinton did choose a moderate, Tim Kaine,
as her running mate, and the choice was generally well-received.
What remains in both parties are large disaffected groups.
Establishment and moderate conservatives have only partially
accepted Mr. Trump. Some will stay home or not vote for
president; others will vote for the Libertarian Party candidate.
Left of center Bernie Sanders liberals have only partially
accepted Mrs. Clinton. Some will stay home; others will vote
for the Green Party candidate or the Libertarian Party candidate.
Some voters from each party will cross over to vote for the other
party’s nominee (but they will be likely relatively few).
An interesting reversal of tone took place at the Democratic
convention. The liberal party, under President Barack Obama,
has eschewed the notion of the United States as an “exceptional
nation” for the past eight years. In Philadelphia, attempting to
contrast themselves with Mr. Trump’s “dark” message, the
Clinton campaign has suddenly embraced patriotism and
Reaganistic optimism (thus defending the state of the nation).
The “victimhood” theme expressed by Democrats in recent
years is now apparently to be replaced with a message that
everything is going well.
Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech was portrayed by the liberal
media as not only “dark” but “negative.” His theme of “Make
America Great Again” was rebutted with speeches about how
the nation is still very great --- not a theme of Mr. Obama’s
administration. Actually, Mr. Trump is only doing what
challengers always do (Bill Clinton did it in 1992; Mr. Obama
did it in 2008), that is, complain about the other party’s regime.
The true question, however, is not whether Mr. Trump was too
negative or Mrs. Clinton was too positive. The realpolitik
question that needs to be answered in the next three months
is which candidate, and which party, will best fulfill the hopes,
and quell the anxieties, of the majority of voters on the left,
right and center. I have pointed out for many months that aside
from loyalist party regulars, there is an historic and
unprecedented “mutiny of the masses” taking place across
ideological lines in 2016. This phenomenon has defied the
predictions and expectations of partisans and pundits alike,
and will probably continue to do so.
Mr. Trump continues to be “outrageous,” jarring and disruptive
in public; Mrs. Clinton continues to try to “safely” appeal to
everyone at the same time. These are two very different
approaches which fit their political personalities. The
unanswered question is which person and which approach will
be most credible and persuasive to voters in November.
Answers will come, but I caution that those answers are not
yet clear. They perhaps won’t be clear until the contest is
Ignore the polls. Roll with the punches. Prepare for anything.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.