The Skeptics

Both Republicans and Democrats Are Endangering the Two-Party System

The victory of Donald J. Trump over the standard-bearer for political convention in the United States, Hillary Clinton, shocked the majority of the polls, pundits and so-called political experts. It shouldn’t have. The fact that it did reveals the widening disconnect in the United States—not between the rich and poor, white and black, religious and irreligious—but between the political elite and the rest of the nation. The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties ignore this fact to their detriment—or ultimately into the ranks of derelict political parties like the Whigs.

Many of the most mainstream polling firms and major political experts had confidently predicted a Clinton victory, some suggesting she had a 93 percent chance of victory. Up until sunrise on November 8, these predictions didn’t appear unreasonable. Consider the following:

Clinton had the backing of American intelligentsia, the bulk of the major media and the opinion makers in Hollywood, and swamped Trump in raising cash by an almost unprecedented two-to-one margin. In the days leading up to the election, Trump had lost the backing of major GOP leaders; many other party leaders refused to endorse or campaign for him. Trump did almost everything imaginable to lose the election.

He demeaned women, debased Islam, insulted Hispanics and blacks, ignored and sparred with Republican leadership, and disrespected the parents of a service member who had been killed in combat. He was reviled by the Hollywood elite, made positive comments about various global dictators, and other than holding a strong position on partial-birth abortion, did not cater to the religious right. Politico magazine captured the spirit of the negatives Trump embraced that are normally fatal to presidential candidates.

“Time and again, Trump poured gasoline on himself and lit a match,” the magazine assessed. “Time and again, pundits predicted fatal self-immolation. Instead, Trump often rode the ensuing firestorm like an Atlas rocket. His poll numbers actually went up after he insulted John McCain’s war record.” Ultimately, Trump didn’t win because of the mistakes he made or the policies he advocated. He won both the Republican primary and the general election because of who he wasn’t: a status-quo, conventional candidate.

How could Trump have won despite so many blunders? Clinton had an advantage in virtually every category that historically indicates the winner. She should have won by a landslide, both in the general and electoral college. But all her advantages proved to be insufficient. Early indications are that the Republicans are feeling good about themselves heading into January, as they’ll have control of the White House, the Senate and the House. They shouldn’t.

In fact, the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties should feel vulnerable and a healthy sense of crisis. Whether it’s been a nonstop series of wars abroad that the public doesn’t see the need for, the Affordable Care Act that was forced on Americans whether they wanted it or not, or a Supreme Court that continues legislating from the bench, the American public’s toleration of status-quo Washington finally reached a tipping point on November 8. If the GOP and Dems want to continue being the only players in the bipolar world of Washington politics, they are going to have to make substantial changes.

The GOP was given ample warning during the primary season that the party suffered from a serious disconnect from its base. Jeb Bush had almost as many advantages in the GOP primary as Clinton on the Democrat side. Yet he was one of the first to fall. While the Republican Party leadership didn’t initially pick a winner, they did make clear their preferred loser: Donald J. Trump.

They put a great deal of energy into discrediting Trump and eventually threw their full weight behind the last conventional candidate standing, Ted Cruz. Trump nevertheless crushed Cruz. The Democrats had a similar problem, but saw it manifest itself in a different way.

As recently as October 2014, Clinton was leading all challengers for the party’s nomination by 64 percent to 15 percent over her then-closest competitor, Joe Biden (Sanders had only 4 percent at the time). Many believed the race for the Democratic nominee to have been already decided. By standard campaign convention, there was no reason why major donors would put money behind any other candidates, since none had a chance. And in any event, it made more sense to solidify the party base and then focus on expanding Clinton’s brand among independents and even dissatisfied Republicans. But that’s not what happened.