Back in the 1990s, on his show TV Nation, Michael Moore urged voters to nominate a ficus tree as a candidate in local elections. His point was that a tree would be as responsive to voters’ needs as many of the candidates. The sad part is people took him up on the offer and actually tried to get ficus trees on the ballot. At the time, I thought it was a complete waste of time and effort and accomplished nothing of substance. I’ve now heard of something even more foolish.
Apparently, some democrats are considering voting in the republican primaries for Donald Trump or Ben Carson with the hope that one will win the nomination and be an easy foil for presumptive democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Not only is the idea ill-conceived, it is almost certainly doomed to failure. If democratic voters have so little confidence in Hillary Clinton as a candidate that they have to pull stunts like trying to rig the republican nomination to get her elected, what makes them think the voters next November will have any more confidence in her. Democratic efforts would be better directed nominating a candidate their constituents can truly rally behind, just as they did in 2008.
Strategically, the Democratic party is always lacking. They won the House in 2006, and gained the Senate in 2008, and were unable hold onto this majority beyond the following election, despite the fact that their opponents had started two wars, ran up the deficit to historic levels, and brought about the economic crisis that had given them the presidency and both houses of Congress. In 1988, at the end of the Reagan administration and, against a much less popular vice president, they nominated Michael Dukakis, who, by all accounts, was a decent person; he was just the wrong candidate and efforts to make him seem stronger backfired at every turn.
The democrats are now touting Hillary Clinton as the only electable candidate, but seem to forget several crucial points. While Bill Clinton was a better candidate than Dukakis, and did win in 1992 and 1996, his election and reelection owed more to Ross Perot drawing ultra conservative voters away from the republicans than anything the democrats did on the campaign trail. Al Gore’s candidacy in 2000 was seen by many as a means of extending the policies of the Clinton presidency, and voters either stayed home or voted for someone else, leading to the close election which, when factored alongside numerous voting irregularities which the Supreme Court glossed over in their decision to end the recount in Florida, gave the presidency to George W. Bush. In 2008, given the option of Hillary Clinton, who was again the choice of the democratic establishment, or a young, untested, junior senator with a foreign-sounding name, democratic voters chose Barack Obama. To imagine the constituency is now ready to enthusiastically embrace Clinton as a candidate is dubious at best, regardless of her qualifications.
Here’s how I see the election playing out. If Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the primaries, all the young, enthusiastic supporters who’ve been following Sanders will check out of the process entirely, or worse, will switch to supporting an anti-establishment republican. Die hard democrats will vote for any democrat over any republican but young progressive voters will not support Clinton, who they view as another establishment candidate, no better than her opposition. If Clinton gets the nomination, it doesn’t matter who the republican candidate is, he can start writing his inaugural address. (Note: I know one of the republican candidates is a woman, but she’s not polling well at this point, and I seriously doubt the republicans are ready to nominate a woman to head their ticket.) A combination of voter apathy and voter suppression will keep the race close enough for the republican base to make all the difference. One only needs to look at the results in the recent governors’ race in Kentucky to see what happens when the constituency doesn’t care enough to show up at the polls. The democrats need all the young, energetic voters they can attract, and Hillary Clinton simply cannot deliver them.
In a nutshell, the election in 2016 is not about a particular candidate, but about energizing the electorate to take responsibility for their political system. The current system, run largely by the lowest common denominator politicians, is a direct result of the electorate taking no interest whatsoever in the process. We hear repeatedly that this or that candidate is the best, but can’t get elected, which usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the voters decide a candidate can’t be elected, they stay away, and bring about the predicted outcome.
Many people blame Ralph Nader for siphoning votes away from Al Gore in 2000 thus getting Bush elected president, and given the dynamics of the typical US election, there’s some truth to this. Others have pointed out that most of the people who voted for Nader weren’t likely to have supported Gore anyway, which is probably closer to the truth. The fact that Nader even ran was a symptom of the problem. If the democrats had been able to generate sufficient excitement for their candidate, there most likely wouldn’t have been a third party challenger in the first place. Plus, republicans had Buchanan as the Reform party candidate to steal votes from Bush which evened the playing field somewhat.
In situations such as 2016, where there is an incumbent two-term president, most voters would opt to keep this president in office if not for term limits. The most notable recent exception appears to have been at the end of the second Bush presidency. Despite this, there have only been two sitting vice presidents who went on to be elected in their own right, Martin Van Buren and George H. W. Bush and both were one-term presidents. For all their fickle behavior, US citizens like the real deal, and won’t accept substitutes for favored leaders. In the minds of many voters, Hillary Clinton is seen as an extension of the Obama administration, and since voters are unable to reelect him, they’ll want someone in office with a totally different point of view.
The only scenario I can envision which would work in Clinton’s favor would be if the GOP rejects Trump’s candidacy and he launches an independent run for office. That would neutralize the republican base, allowing democratic stalwarts to dictate the outcome. If Trump and Clinton get their respective nominations, a united republican base and the loss of young progressive voters would be more than sufficient to insure Trump’s election. Democratic voters who think they would be doing Hillary Clinton a favor by voting for Trump in the primaries would instead be insuring her defeat if Trump gets the nomination.
I sincerely hope I am wrong, and if Hillary Clinton is nominated that this time next year people are reminding me of this post to point out how far off my forecast was. I will gladly accept any criticism of my predictive abilities. If, however, Donald Trump or another of the current republican candidates is the one taking the oath of office in January, 2017, I plan to re-post this, and immediately start looking for a job overseas.