Saturday, August 15, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump And Sanders; Jesse Ventura And Ross Perot

At this time in 2019, perhaps a bit earlier, perhaps a bit later,
there will be at least one unlikely  and relatively outrageous
candidate for president who will rise amazingly in the polls
and defy their party’s political establishment or create a
third party movement.

No one knows now, four years before, who that might be.
Unlike 2015, this will occur probably only in the opposition
party because one of the nominees in 2016 will then be the
incumbent president, and running for re-election.

Since the 19th century, sensationalistic and often demagogic
third party and other candidates have appeared in most
presidential cycles. Occasionally, they alter the outcome.
Peter Cooper in 1876 and Ralph Nader in 2000 very likely
changed the final result, although they themselves received
relatively few votes. Everyone thought the candidacies of
Strom Thurmond on the Democratic right and Henry Wallace
on the Democratic left would cost Harry Truman the 1948
election, but they did not. George Wallace in 1968, and Ross
Perot in 1992 perhaps changed the results in those years.

In the late 19th century elections, a number of populist and
strange-sounding third parties appeared, often with eccentric
and demagogic presidential candidates. In 1912, the third party
candidate was himself a former major party president
(Bull Moose nominee Theodore Roosevelt), and he clearly
cost his successor Republican President William Howard Taft
re-election as Democrat Woodrow Wilson won with a weak
plurality. (Roosevelt actually received more popular and
electoral votes than Taft; the only time in modern history
that a third party candidate outpolled a major party nominee.)

Each era produces its own variety of odd political characters.
In 1998, a professional wrestler named Jesse Ventura won a
last-minute upset victory as governor of Minnesota. He
defeated two well-known major party opponents by running
as an independent centrist populist. He then became an instant
international political celebrity, oversaw a very respectable
one-term administration, and some thought he would run for
president (which he did not).

A few years earlier in 1992, Texas businessman Ross Perot
emerged as an independent party candidate, and for a while, even
led the two major party candidates, Republican President George
H.W. Bush and Democratic Governor Bill Clinton in the polls.
Both Ventura and Perot were centrist populists, unlike the right
and left wing populist figures of the 19th century and the left wing
populists of the early 20th century. As such, they appealed to
many independent and non-affiliated voters in the emergent and
all-important political center.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2015 represent a return to
the polarized model. Sanders on the left is not unlike the late
Senator Paul Wellstone who ran briefly for president in 2000, and
Trump on the right is not unlike Pat Buchanan who ran in 1992
and 1996. (By the way, what did happen in 1992, 1996 and 2000?
Answer hint: the late Mr. Wellstone, Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Nader
are not former presidents.)

My point is that, although the dates, names and personalities are
different, we have seen this phenomenon many times before.
Figures from big business like Lee Iaccooca, Perot, Carly Fiorina,
George Romney and Wendell Willkie; from sports like Bill Bradley,
from show business like Ronald Reagan are thrust suddenly into
the presidential political arena. Most do not succeed, although
Willkie won the the Republican nomination in 1940, and Reagan,
the exception who confirms the rule, went on the become a
successful two-term president. But usually, in these cases, the ego
has been larger than the opportunity. (Both Bradley and Reagan, it
should be noted, had considerable political experience and
electoral success prior to running for president; Bradley as a
U.S. senator and Reagan as governor of California.)

The meteoric appearances of a Donald Trump and a Bernie
Sanders are commonplace scenarios in the American presidential 
election cycle, especially in that period just prior to when actual
primary and caucus campaigns begin, They depend on a thirsty
media and a not-yet engaged public as they fill news and
entertainment vacuums.

Unlike comets in the sky which reappear periodically to sight in
timeless orbits, these meteors consume themselves as they
approach the earth.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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