It’s mid-November, and the permanent political class, the K Street lobbyists, and most of the mainstream media are waiting to exhale. Like a character toward the end of a Terry McMillan novel, they are just about ready to proclaim their joy at the storm abating and passing. You can hear it in their articles, see it in their smug faces on the Sunday morning news programs: they’re very much planning to get on with their lives very soon, status quo preserved.
The Bernie Sanders flirtation was real, but Hillary Clinton will be the candidate. The Donald Trump and Ben Carson flirtations are real, but Marco Rubio will be the candidate. This is a narrative that the status quo loves, partly because it means they don’t have to look for other work.
The problem is that it’s a terrible narrative for ordinary Americans, who made it clear in 2015 that they don’t like that story and they want it to change. Meanwhile the calcified Democrats, Republicans, and their enablers laugh at the barbarians at the gates.
Of course it’s true that, barring some unexpected revelation, Hillary Clinton will beat any of the people who appeared on that Milwaukee stage for the #GOPDebate three nights ago. Of course it’s also true, gleeful liberals, that eight more years of an Obama-style President will result in eight more years of Republican gains at the state and local level – to the point where even the bluest states will have deep red legislatures. If there’s any doubt about this, The New York Times laid out the math yesterday.
One problem is that we’re still voting too defensively, voting against instead of voting for. This isn’t how the founders wanted it. I could pull out all the anti-party quotes from Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton – but you can easily google them on your own. No serious person disputes that the founding fathers would have been horrified at the way that two parties have taken over our nation’s capital.
The larger question: can we really take eight more years of what the Times clearly identifies as a zero-sum game which results in a zero-gain sum for most Americans? Eight more years of people suffering while politicians score partisan points?
The popularity of Donald Trump represents a rare opportunity to break the cycle. His almost-casual racism aside, he breaks from some key conservative orthodoxies, particularly in his rhetoric from about a decade ago. He had discussed a tax increase on the 1%, but the day he finally put a tax plan on his website, it turned out to be more of the same-old same-old supply-side voodoo economics. Oddly, about a week later is when Trump stopped leading every single national poll. Coincidence?
Gallup, America’s premiere polling agency, found that 45% of Republicans feel that the rich pay too little in taxes. 45%! Of Republicans! That change from ten years ago is, as Trump might say, huge.
In the fantasies of the political-commentariat establishment, structural realities mean that Donald Trump will eventually have to drop out of the race. Actually, my fantasies are somewhat similar, but they go a little more like this:
Trump’s website pivots back to Trump’s original rhetorical support for a tax increase on the 1%. The political-donor-media establishment (very much including Fox News) gangs up on Trump, and eventually he drops out of the Republican race to form a third party, maybe the Populists, maybe the New Libertarians, maybe the Problem Solvers, whatever. The Trump-led third party will be based on taxing the one-percent and ending corporate welfare, but otherwise supporting Republican dogma (charter schools, defunding Planned Parenthood, draconian immigration reform, return health care to the states, etc.).
This is a third party that could (re)turn America in the direction the founders envisioned.
In my fantasy, Trump stages an event very much like the infamous Mitt Romney “47 percent” meme, including the event’s only camera positioned exactly on the water table to his left. I mean exactly: get the same chairs, get the men and women with the same haircuts with their backs to the camera. Standing there with his daughter Ivanka and his vice-presidential running mate Michael Bloomberg, Trump doubles down: citing the Gallup 45%, he says “My job is to worry about that 45 percent.” He wants all of that 45%, and he’s going to get it, and look out, he may get a few other voters as well.
“45 percent” becomes the phrase on all the lips that spoke “47 percent” three years ago. Especially in a new 3-way race where 34% is enough to become President. At a certain point, it will seem like Trump meant 45% of everyone, not just the Gallup-cited Republicans. In a splintered, fragmented America where a 20 share counts as a TV ratings landslide, 45% will feel like the new 75%.
Trump will campaign as someone with Republican ties who can pass legislation working with a House and Senate that in 2017 will probably still be majority-Republican. Besides just “winning,” a Trump-Bloomberg-led party will campaign on unexpected alliances with parts of Congress and the States, rejecting the Trans Pacific Partnership, passing gun background checks, creating tax breaks for states than try single-payer health care, restoring our pre-Patriot Act Fourth Amendment rights, creating onerous penalties for companies that move to islands to avoid taxes, and dozens of other things that Demos and Repubs jointly refuse to do. Even if such a party lost, it would make for a sea change in rhetoric and perhaps policy.
I know, I know, the most predictable net benefit would be to Hillary. Maybe she even becomes President. Maybe the Republican Party splits in half, breaking the calcified hammerlock on the state and local legislatures. But the Democrats will soon realize they can’t get too smug. They’re still the party of far too many things that majorities of Americans don’t want. And a real third party will make that evident in a hurry, just as it has in the last two cycles in Britain.
Frankly, I’m not so sure that Hillary wins a three-way-race in 2016 between herself, Trump, and Rubio. Sure, she’ll poll well. But Trump is nothing if not a movie character, and a good movie character always has one trick waiting up his sleeve. How’s this for an October 2016 Surprise…
Trump announces that his daughter Ivanka will be running in his place. The Constitution says you have to be 35 to be elected President, and guess what? Ivanka turns exactly 35 a week before Election Day 2016. (You couldn’t make this up.) Think about all the millennial support! In fact, starting right now (November 2015), Ivanka should try to attend as many NAACP and LULAC group meetings as possible. So she’s basically Trump without the racism, the youngest freshest face of the three, daughter of an immigrant, and the (possibly) First Woman President to boot. (Heck, maybe she’ll even sound more like 2004 Donald, and support more centrist ideas.) For Trump’s more ignorant supporters (according to Dems, this covers most of them), they’ll see the name “Trump” on the ballot, not bother to find out if the first name is Donald or Ivanka, and check the box. A lot of centrists will decide we can’t do worse than the last thirty years or so, and realize they prefer Ivanka to eight years of Hillary battling a Republican Congress. Ladies and gentlemen, your first chief executive from the Problem Solver Party, President Ivanka Trump!
Well, if the establishment can have their fantasies, I can have mine.