The Political Establishment’s Disconnect from America

March 7, 2016 Topic: Politics Region: United States Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: U.S. PoliticsEstablishmentDonald TrumpRepublicans

The Political Establishment’s Disconnect from America

Americans have become sick of Washington to a degree not seen in our lifetimes.

Despite his resounding win on Super Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was the target of stinging criticism, not from his competition as would be expected, but from the leading voices within his own party. Their attempts have unwittingly revealed the extent to which the U.S. political establishment in general and the Republican party in particular have lost touch with the American people they ostensibly exist to serve.

In just the past week, Trump has taken some seemingly major blows from the elite of the party he seeks to represent in November. On March 2, more than one hundred of the most well-known Republican foreign policy experts published an open letter opposing Trump. Using unusually harsh language against someone from their own party, the signatories wrote that “as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.” Piling on the next day, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney blasted Trump with equally ferocity.

In a speech he accused Trump of being a “phony” and was playing the American people “for suckers.” Trump’s domestic policies, he continued,

“would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”

What it appears the Republican establishment—just like their Democratic brethren across the aisle—has failed to grasp, however, is that the American public has become sick of “Washington” to a degree not seen in our lifetimes. While public opinion is still spread across the map in what they do want, there is a remarkable convergence on the growing agreement they are against the status quo, regardless of party affiliation.

Over the past several decades there has been an increasing belief among the politically hardened inside the Beltway that Americans’ dissatisfaction with the system is irrelevant because at the end of the day, what choice do they have? It’s either Republican or Democrat. As a result, it appears neither party seeks to clear the high bar of appealing to the electorate with superior ideas, but instead shoot for what they believe is the far easier task of making their opponents more odious to voters.

In 2012 Politico reported the winning Obama campaign ran a staggering 85.5 percent negative ads; Romney’s campaign had “only” 79.2 percent negative. Fox News recently reported that in the race for the GOP nomination that Senator Ted Cruz had “produced more negative ads than any other candidate, but a single Trump spot attacking Cruz on immigration aired 1,377 times—among the highest of all negative spots.”

What the political elite may not be considering, however, is that at some point negative saturation will reach critical mass and no longer have effect. The GOP establishment’s failure thus far to dissuade its followers from supporting Trump might be the first major indicator that such a point has been reached. In fact, their aggressive efforts to oppose him might be having the opposite effect. That is unfortunate, because much of the criticism of Trump is entirely valid.

I’ve previously warned about his troubling embrace of torture, and others have rightly pointed out his policies maligning specific racial or ethnic groups, and other policies he supports have received just criticism. Yet it appears much of Trump’s support is based on the fact he’s pushing back against the establishment rather than any policy positions he has. In fact, many probably aren’t even aware where he stands on some of the most important issues because their primary interest is in finding some alternative to the alienation they’ve felt from political elite.

Without question, the disgust with the political status quo among voters is near or at an all-time high.  Who could blame them. Since President Dwight D. Eisenhower first warned of the creeping influence of the military industrial complex, through the explosion of billions being spent annually lobbying, and most recently with the 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates for unrestrained corporate political contributions, regular Americans have—quite literally—never been more removed or had less influence over the government than they do today.

It could be that when the electorate hears the establishment railing against a candidate who is so clearly bucking the system, in an effort to demonstrate their displeasure they support that very candidate, almost irrespective of where he stands on the issues. That dynamic serves the interests neither of the electorate nor the parties themselves, yet according to exit polls conducted by ABC News during Tuesday’s voting in Mississippi and Michigan, the trend is continuing.

The poll revealed that

“Six in 10 voters in Mississippi and a little more than half in Michigan say they’d like the next president to be someone from ‘outside the political establishment.’ Trump’s won six in 10 of these voters to date. The share of ‘outsider’ voters in Mississippi matches the high to date.”

If both the Democratic and Republican parties believe they have the superior governing philosophies and policies, then they had better make a significant course correction in how they do business and start acting like mature adults. If those running political campaigns want to continuing following the rule book of the past several decades and fight each other to see who can dig the deepest in the mud, they are likely soon to discover their efforts backfire. Whether third party candidates or those running on the fringes of their party, U.S. voters may be ready to support any outlier that has charisma and even the appearance of strong leadership—the epitome of Donald J. Trump.

Daniel L. Davis is a widely published analyst on national security and foreign policy. He retired as a Lt. Col. after twenty-one years in the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments, and is a member of the Center for Defense Information's Military Advisory Board. The views in these articles are those of the author alone and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @DanielLDavis1.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore.