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A year ago, few Americans would have predicted that Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, would be leading a formidable insurrectionist challenge to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Presidential Primary, or that real estate magnate Donald Trump would be leading in the polls in the Republican Primary. Why is this happening? It is a reflection of the ideological absolutists in both parties who are disenthralled with their party’s political establishment. The absolutists have held their nose in the name of party unity, but are now agitated and want a nominee who will not prevaricate, dissemble, or equivocate in their message. Restless Insurrectionist syndrome is infecting the body politic.

In 1992, liberals in the Democratic Party who had supported the candidacies of Jerry Brown, Tom Harkin, and Larry Agran in the primary reluctantly supported their party’s nominee, the centrist Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in the General Election. Progressives were moved when Harkin said in the primary: “I’m the only real Democrat in this race,” when Agran called for a 50% reduction in U.S. military expenditures, and when Brown branded Washington D.C. a “Stop and Shop for the moneyed special interests.” Yet the liberals became united in the interest of retaining the White House after a 12-year drought. They accepted Harkin’s call to: “link arms, dig in our heals, set our sights to put Bill Clinton in the White House.”

Many rationalized that Clintons’ centrist rhetoric was merely campaign fodder and that as President he would govern as a progressive. Yet as President, Clinton proved to be a bone fide centrist. He championed deficit reduction over stimulus spending, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, extended normal trading relations to China, supported U.N. Sanctions on Iraq, and signed a landmark Welfare Reform bill into law.

In 2008, Barack Obama defeated the preponderant frontrunner Hillary Clinton by running against the political legacy of Bill Clinton. Obama accused the Clinton’s of “triangulation and poll-driven politics.” He called Hillary a “corporate Democrat.” Obama enraptured progressives by declaring he would lead “not by polls, but by principle; not by calculation, but by conviction.”

Some on the left became disenchanted with Obama for delaying action on immigration reform, for deporting more illegal immigrants than his Republican predecessor, George, W. Bush, for agreeing to extend all Bush tax cuts in exchange for extending unemployment insurance, for increasing the use of predator drones, and for signing a health care law which provides 31 million new customers for the nation’s insurance companies, rather than eliminating their influence by working to pass legislation establishing a single-payer Health Care system.

Among progressives, Hillary and Obama have become tethered as centrists who are too quick to work and compromise with the Republicans, and who are not wedded to a liberal philosophy. Then along comes Bernie Sanders at the opportune electoral time. During his time in Congress, Sanders developed one of the most liberal voting records in the U.S. Congress. In past elections, he would have been seen as a fringe liberal candidate with a narrow appeal and low ceiling. Yet grassroots progressives are looking for an ideologically unadulterated nominee and believe that in a political environment where the entire political establishment is scorned upon, voters in the General Election will see a candidate with no political filter as a refreshing respite. Sanders supporters believe he can win the General Election without altering his message, and then govern as the liberal of their dreams.

Conservative activists are in a similar predicament. There was a similar mutiny away from the establishment in 1992 when conservative Pat Buchanan won 37.5% of the vote in the New Hampshire Primary against President George H.W. Bush. Buchanan styled himself: “a real Republican.” Bush had lost much trust on the right by reneging on his 1988 campaign pledge of: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” New Hampshire was Buchanan’s high watermark, as he failed to replicate that redoubtable showing in other contests.

In 2000, with the party locked out of the White House for eight years, Texas Governor George W. Bush was nominated and elected President. Conservatives held their noses as President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, expanded the Federal Government’s role in education, and when he signed legislation adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, the biggest entitlement program since 1965. Bush spent much of his second term barnstorming the country calling for an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, which conservatives vociferously oppose.

The illegal immigration issue has become a litmus test for grassroots conservatives, the conservative intelligencia and conservative media. This was evinced in 2014 when Randolph-Mason College Economics Professor Dave Brat ousted U.S. House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in a Republican primary for Cantor’s Congressional seat in part because of Cantor’s support for comprehensive immigration reform. The race became a cause celeb, as conservatives from around the nation campaigned for and donated to the electoral neophyte, Brat.

Enter Donald Trump. The Donald is telling grass roots conservatives what they want to hear. He minces no words on illegal immigration, calling for a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border paid for by the Mexican Government. He also goes right after Hillary Clinton in an unequivocal manner, calling her: “The worst Secretary of State in the history of our country.” In addition, Trump taps into an economic nationalism on the right similar to the one Buchanan tapped into in 1992, calling for tariffs on China and Mexico and opposing the Transpacific Partnership.

Judging by history, insurrectionist candidates like Sanders and Trump are usually squashed by the party establishment in the primaries. In 1984 and 1988, the Reverend Jesse Jackson could not defeat the establishment candidates Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, respectively. In 1992 and in 1996, conservative Pat Buchanan fired up the conservative base, but could not defeat the Republican establishment candidates. In 2004, Democrat Howard Dean struck a resonate chord with the left for his opposition to U.S. involvement in the War in Iraq. However, the establishment candidate, John Kerry, defeated him.

On the rare occasion that an insurrectionist does in fact win the nomination, they usually prove to be electoral disasters in the General Election campaign. In 1964, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) defeated the Republican establishment candidate. In the General Election, rather than veering to the center, Goldwater and his supporters only hardened their ultra conservative message. At the Republican National convention that year, Goldwater’s moderate opponent, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, was booed by conservative forces. In his acceptance speech, Goldwater told the nation: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” The Goldwater campaign tried to use Goldwater’s unabashed conservatism to their advantage by adopting the campaign slogan: “In your heart you know he’s right.” The campaign of his Democratic opponent Lyndon B. Johnson retorted: “In your gut, you know he’s nuts.”

Goldwater doubled down on his conservative bone fides by selected U.S. Representative Walter Miller (R-NY), a staunch conservative, as his Vice Presidential runningmate. When a news reporter asked Miller if he thought Goldwater was extreme, he asked the reporter: “Are you married?” The reporter replied: “Yes.” Miller responded” “Would your wife rather you be moderately faithful to her, or extremely faithful.” The Goldwater/Miller ticket suffered a thumping, winning just six states.

Similarly, in 1972, the Democratic Party nominated insurgent U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) over the establishment candidates. The liberal activist bloodline of the party was inflamed by their leadership’s failure to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. While his opponents for the nomination took a more nuanced position on bringing troops home from Vietnam, McGovern stated without reservation that as President he would “announce a definite early date for the withdrawal of every American soldier.” McGovern campaigned from the hard left, proposing to give every American a $1,000 income supplement, and calling for a major truncation in the U.S. Defense Budget. With little support outside of the left in the General Election, McGovern won just one state, Massachusetts (and the District of Columbia). Republican President Richard M. Nixon garnered a whopping 94% of the Republican vote, 66% of the Independent vote, and 42% of the Democratic Vote.

While some political observers may point to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory as an example of an election where an unapologetic insurrectionist conservative won the Presidency, there were a litany of contributing factors. First, Democratic President Jimmy Carter had a job approval rating just above 30%. Prior to the only debate the two party nominees had, which took place just one weak before the election, Reagan and Carter were in a virtual dead heat. Carter should have been down by double digits based on his low poll numbers. While Americans wanted to retire Carter, they had reservations that Reagan was too extreme. Reagan won that debate and the election, not by the incessant espousing of conservative positions, but by appearing moderate. When Carter accused Reagan of opposing Medicare and Social Security, Reagan humorously retorted: “There you go again.”

Furthermore, Regan ran a Pollyannaish platitude-laden campaign. His campaign brochure read: “Ronald Reagan believes in the need to devise lasting solutions to problems, and in the need to combine a sense of caring with a sense of the cost involved.” Contrary to popular belief, Reagan espoused mainstream Republican views, favoring a balanced budget, tax cuts, and an increase in Defense spending. Reagan said the U.S. and Mexico should “open the border both ways” and pledged to “improve quality health care for the aged and poor through Medicare and Medicaid.”

Sanders and Trump exemplify the Restless insurrectionist syndrome. History is replete with examples showing that insurrectionist ideologically pure candidates usually lose to the establishment candidates. On rare occasions when they do in fact win their party’s nomination, they are trounced in the General Election due to the fact that they have difficulty connecting with less ideologically pure voters. On the outside chance that both insurrectionist candidates win their respective party’s nomination, we will be in uncharted territory.

 

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In Politics, It’s All About Timing

by Rich Rubino on July 29, 2015

In 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was a champion to conservatives who admired his combative approach to critics and his willingness to stand up to the public sector unions. Moderates saw him as a blue state Governor who worked well with Democrats and who balanced the state’s budget. The Republican establishment took notice, seeing him as the candidate who could bridge the ideological chasm between conservatives and moderates, and by doing so close party ranks, unifying the party.

Many prominent Republicans beseeched Christie to seek the GOP 2012 Presidential nomination. Polls showed Christie sporting a redoubtable lead against all other potential Republican opponents, and leading President Barack Obama in a hypothetical general election matchup. However, Christie resisted the pressure and announced that he would not run for the nomination, averring: “Now is not my time.”

After the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, lost the race to Obama, Christie began preparing for a 2016 Presidential bid. Christie was at the high watermark of his popularity. One year later, he exhibited his electoral bone fides by being re-elected as Governor of Democratically leaning New Jersey with 60 percent of the vote. He was ready to use this landslide victory as an argument to Republican voters that he could garner votes behind enemy lines in a General Election campaign as well. Then, Christie’s good political fortune regressed. It was revealed that after Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to join other Democratic mayors in endorsing Christie, Christie aides schemed to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge allegedly as political retribution. This began a nosedive for Christie’s job approval rating in New Jersey. This was then compounded by discontent among state residents over Christie’s frequent out of state political trips and the credit downgrades in New Jersey. Consequently, Christie now harbors job approval ratings of just 30 percent in his home state, and is in the middle of the pack of Republican Presidential candidates nationally.

Contrawise, after delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Barack Obama, then a recently minted nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, rose to national political stardom in the Democratic Party. After being elected to the Senate, liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats requested that Obama campaign with them in their home states. Obama was one of a very few national Democrats who were welcome in Nebraska to campaign for the re-election of conservative U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and in Vermont to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. Consequently, members of the Democratic high command geminated with rank-and-file Democrats and persuaded Obama that 2008 was Barack Obama’s time. Despite a dearth of experience, and the fact that he made the following pledge to his new constituents: “I can unequivocally say that I will not be running for national office in four years,” Obama broke his pledge and sought the nomination.

There was a vacuum for a major candidate who was charismatic and not an entrenched member of the Beltway Establishment who had opposed the Iraq War from the start and could assemble a coalition of African-Americans, gentry progressives and disaffected Independents. Obama saw that the electoral stars were aligned in favor of his candidacy. He ran and won. Had he waited, the issue of the Iraq War likely would have become a less prominent issue, and Obama would have been seen as just another U.S. Senator with Presidential ambitions.

Similarly, the timing of Bernie Sander’s in entrance into the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination is politically impeccable. With the more centrist Hillary Clinton as the preponderant front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination, there was an aperture on the left for an unreconstructed progressive candidate. Many grassroots Democrats have never gotten over Hillary Clinton’s 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The Occupy Wall Street movement unleashed a cavalcade of opprobrium toward the financial elites on the left. Hillary is viewed with suspicion for her ties to Wall Street and the fact that seven of her top ten donors since 1999 are Wall Street related.

Sanders was a vociferous opponent of the authorization of the use of force in Iraq, and the flagship issue of his 2016 Presidential campaign is combating what he calls “unquenchable greed of the Billionaire Class” The result is that Sanders is surging in the polls, is drawing better than expected crowds to rallies around the country and is making Hillary less immutable than many political observer thought she would be in the Democratic Primary.

For Hillary’s husband, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, the timing of his centrist message was spot on. In 1984, U.S. Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) ran for President as what is now known as a “New Democrat.” The impetus of his campaign was to foster economic growth rather than push for the redistribution of wealth. Hart argued that the Democratic Presidential nominee should not be captive to labor unions and to the “special interest government in Washington.” However, Democratic voters nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale, a traditional liberal. Mondale was trounced in the General Election, losing 49 states.

Four years later, two centrist candidates, former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Senator Al Gore (D-TN), ran for the nomination, but again, the party chose a more traditional frost-belt liberal: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis won just ten states in the General Election.

By 1991, the Republican Party was desperately looking for a winner. President George H.W. Bush, in the wake of his handling of the Persian Gulf War, seemed indomitable, at one point sporting a 91 percent job approval rating, and defeating the leading potential candidate, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, by a jaw dropping 62 points. One-by-one, potential Democratic contenders announced they would not seek the nomination.

The afterglow for Bush of the U.S. victory in the Gulf proved ephemeral. As the economy cratered, Clinton, who had promised Arkansas voters during his 1990 re-election campaign that he would serve out his full term, saw his chance. He went on a tour of the state, asking his constituents to release him from his campaign pledge. With a less than stellar field shaping up, and his tactical electoral antenna at its optimal height, Clinton announced his candidacy in October of 1991.

Clinton ran as a “New Democrat.” At a time of discontent among voters within the political establishment, Clinton deadpanned: “I’m against brain-dead policies in either party or both.” Clinton pledged to: “end welfare as we know it,” and wanted to establish a nationwide paramilitary “boot camp” program for non-violent first-time offenders. Moreover, he praised Bush’s handling of the War, and, like Hart, called for economic growth rather than redistribution of the wealth. The party decided that nominating a winner would trump nominating an ideologically rarified candidate. Unlike the three aforementioned centrist candidates, Clinton was in the right place at the right time, and won the nomination and the Presidency.

Contrawise, one of Clinton’s opponents in that race, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), unashamedly branded himself: “a liberal.” He exclaimed: “I’m the only real Democrat in this race.” Harkin’s message was almost a mirror image of the one Sanders is now peddling. The populist Harkin excoriated corporate leaders whose “pay increased four times faster than employees did and three time faster than profits” and called “for resourced-based economics.” Harkin exclaimed: “No more trickle down. Put it in at the bottom. Let it percolate up for a while.” However, Harkin’s’ progressive message failed to resonate with a large swath of Democratic voters as he only won his homestate primary. Harkin’s old-time liberal religion might have struck a resonate chord with Democratic voters in 1984 and in 1988, but by 1992 the message became antediluvian. Harkin’s message did not correspond to the times.

An effective Presidential candidate must strike at the right time with an image and message that resonates for that election cycle. Christie may have had had both in 2012, but failed to seize the opportunity. Harkin ran at a time when the Democratic Party was moving to the center and away from his traditional liberal message. Obama, Sanders and Clinton seized and capitalized on the moment. As the late nineteenth century British Prime Minister William Gladstone observed: “In Politics, timing is everything.”

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Some Presidential Candidates Get No Respect

July 15, 2015

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, many in the media declared he was the 14th Republican to officially declare his presidential candidacy. In actuality, over 100 Republicans have filed with the Federal Elections Commission as candidates for the GOP nomination. Most are ignored because of their lack […]

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Open Season on the Elites: Bernie Sanders Is Leading the Charge

July 9, 2015

Democratic Presidential candidate Bernard Sanders is drawing overflow crowds. He is garnering support at the grassroots level, and is raising “eye-popping” amounts of cash from small donors. Some of his enthusiastic adherents seem to believe there is no God but Bernie Sanders. Part of the reason for this insurgence is not only what Sanders is […]

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The Political Stars May Be Aligning for Another Ross Perot

June 11, 2015

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) are both running for President as antagonists to the political establishment. Though the two candidates harbor irreconcilable differences on economic policies, the two find themselves simpatico on many issues. Strangely, political ideology is a circle, not a continuum — left sometimes meets right. The […]

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Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Primary One in a Litany of Whisker-Close Elections in U.S. History

May 28, 2015

In the recent Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Primary, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin was ahead by just 83 votes out of over 214,000 votes cast. His opponent, Agricultural Secretary James Comer, requested a recanvising of the election. Kentucky voters are used to close elections. In 1998, Jim Bunning quipped: “It’s great to have a landslide victory” after […]

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Presidents and Their Political Bases Don’t Always Sing From The Same Song Sheet: Obama and His Democratic Base are a Prime Example

May 20, 2015

President Barack Obama is engaged in a feverish effort to shepherd the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a free trade treaty between the U.S. and 11 other nations) through the U.S. Congress. The preponderance of the opposition to the pact comes from the Democratic Party base. Obama is battling environmental advocacy groups, labor unions, and his own party’s […]

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Clinton’s Battle With Cultural and Financial Elitism

May 8, 2015

Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed a fortune since leaving the White House. Because of this financial windfall, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is facing charges of “elitism.” The revelation that Hillary decided to run for President at the Dominican Republic estate of fashion mogul Oscar de la Renta, and the revelation that some of […]

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The Invasion of the Party-Switchers in Presidential Politics

April 28, 2015

The 2016 Presidential election might go down in history as the year of the party-switchers. Republican Rick Perry was once a member of the Texas Democratic State Legislature. Potential Democratic Presidential candidate Jim Webb was once a Republican. Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat in 2013. He had initially been a Republican, then registered as an […]

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Unlike Father, Rand Paul Is Willing to Alter His Positions to Win

April 28, 2015

Some Libertarians who supported then U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) in his two failed quests for the Republican presidential nomination are irritated with his son, Rand Paul. Rand Paul, who recently entered the sweepstakes for the GOP presidential nomination, has moderated his positions on some key issues. For example, Rand asserted in 2007 that Iran’s […]

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