The 2016 U.S. presidential election was a bizarre and emotionally-charged affair. Not only did two highly disliked politicians face each other but the Republican and Democratic parties used very different paths to electing their ultimate candidate. That history set the course for the subsequent elections which we are seeing played out in 2020.
The Republican establishment and media scorned Donald Trump. Not only did he spend most of his life as a Democrat and outside of politics, but his personality and temperament accosted the party’s sensibilities. Sen. Ted Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar,” Sen. Marco Rubio said he was a “con artist” and Sen. Lindsay Graham said Trump hasn’t “displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.”
The list went on and on.
The media acted much the same with conservative publications refusing to endorse Trump during the primaries, hoping someone would save the election and the Republican party.
Republicans ignored their leaders and nominated someone from the outside of their party and politics who ultimately secured both the nomination and the presidency.
Democrats came close to electing an outsider as well.
The incredible run of Sen. Bernie Sanders to almost win the Democratic nomination mirrored the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. The Vermont Independent rarely caucused with Democrats during his time in the Senate and had virtually no impact on passing legislation over his entire tenure. However, he attracted the attention of the far-left public who rallied to his cause and nearly secured his position at the top of the ticket. He did so without the help of the Democratic machine and press which heavily favored Hillary Clinton.
The long-time political insider’s loss to a brash novice like Trump was too much for the left-wing to bear and they decided to remake the Democratic Party much the way Trump had done to the GOP.
A new far left-wing group called the Justice Democrats formed and took aim at moderate Democrats in primaries in an effort to shift the party far to the left. It secured victories in 2018 with Democratic-Socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib getting into congress. In 2020, they succeeded again with wins including Jamaal Bowman defeating long-time Democratic congressman Eliot Engel as well as other victories.
By all accounts, the insurgents would never have found a home inside the established Democratic Party in the past, and would have run on the Green Party or Working Family Party tickets. But the treatment of Sanders in 2016 and ultimate defeat of Hillary Clinton made them take up arms against the Democratic machine and are now effectively reshaping the party in their extremist image. The establishment is cow-towing to the fringe with its leaders saying that AOC is the “future of the party” and backing Ilhan Omar’s reelection.
Meanwhile the Republicans are not so sure that winning is everything and are contemplating their current situation of letting their party get hijacked by an outsider.
Many Republicans in the media and politics initially chose to look away from Trump’s statements in 2016 and back the new president in the hope of influencing Trump’s policies and securing gains for their constituents. But four years later many cannot look away from Trump’s acerbic personality. Sen. Mitt Romney and former-Secretary of State Collin Powell have said they will not support Trump’s re-election and former Ohio Republican governor and congressman John Kasich has accepted an invitation to speak at the Democratic National Convention against Trump.
In a curious situation, the loser is seeking to emulate the winner while the winner is debating the cost of the win.
A two-party democracy works best when the choice before voters is center-right versus center-left. Should society seek to have a voice for radicals, a parliamentary system would be most efficient in which those sentiments would be heard, but in whispers at the edges. But America is moving in a dangerous direction with its two-party system tacking to the fringes, destroying moderate politicians and the mainstream media which has pivoted in kind.
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