Republicans concluded another presidential nomination debate before tens of millions of American viewers. Pundits routinely, and rightly, note that the wide field of candidates represent the best the party has ever presented. Amidst the conversations about tactics, temperaments, and policy, lies another debate about insiders and outsiders–The Establishment and the grassroots–populists and elitists. While elements of this latter debate exist in nearly every primary election, the Tea Party movement intensified the rift. The beneficial aspect of the populist focus is an engaged and empowered electorate: conservatives pay closer attention to their elected officials, and those officials pay attention to their constituents. The worst aspect of this focus has been an irrational disdain for powerless politicians, and a ravenous appetite for the immediate gratification gained from futile grandstanding gestures. While liberals enjoy lampooning our process, the Republican nomination race will serve to strike the right balance between these two passions.
Compare the reality on the right, with that on the left.
Governor Martin O’Malley leads an angry throng of liberals against DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to encourage the party to add more debates. The current schedule, in his view, rigs the nomination so that it favors Hillary Clinton–The Queen of the Democrat Establishment.
“This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before,” O’Malley said in a fiery speech to the DNC. “Whose decree is it exactly? Where did it come from? To what end? For what purpose?”
Most Americans have no idea that Martin O’Malley is a Democrat candidate for president, and know even less about Jim Webb’s campaign.
Looming in the background is Bernie Sanders, one of the most populist Democrats to run for the nomination in decades. Drawing record crowds, attention, and donations, the 74 year old’s unapologetic liberalism emboldens supporters frustrated that conservatism precluded Barack Obama’s presidency from ushering in the liberal reawakening pundits promised in 2008 and 2009. Sanders is honest, consistent and is a true man of the people (in their view). But, the Democrat establishment detests him.
“The politicians, plutocrats and pundits of the Democratic Party establishment have no answer to Bernie Sanders’ blistering critique of their failure to defend the interests of the voters who have kept them in power,” writes Jeff Faux. “Neither have they a substantive case against his policy agenda…They have one argument: he can’t win.”
Writing in The Upshot, Nate Cohn echoes the argument about Sanders’ electability and assures Democrats that Clinton will easily secure the nomination. This assurance spawns anxiety.
Dogged by scandal and secrecy, Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers frighten supporters. A group of party activists and Obama campaign bundlers (major donors) penned a letter urging a different establishment candidate to enter the race–Vice President Joe Biden. Though Biden appeals better to populist Democrats than Hillary Clinton, his establishment ties prove strong enough to allay fears among party leaders about his electability. Still, though, this leaves the Democrat grassroots on the sidelines.
Denied an Elizabeth Warren run, barred by the DNC from choosing a candidate after a vigorous debate cycle, and shamed for supporting Bernie Sanders, what is a liberal activist to do?
Of course, the Democrat party desperately needs a populist uprising–a Tea Party. Insofar as Ralph Nader took votes from Al Gore in the 2000 election, Nader did so by appealing to grassroots liberals. Groups like Code Pink only focused on a single issue–war. Occupy Wall Street lacked the focus to successfully transform into a political vehicle for liberal change. When the varied messages were pinned down long enough to be distilled into something intelligible, what occupiers wanted was what Bernie Sanders offers–a dream that will not be delivered (at least in 2016).
As it stands, liberals may always be politically frustrated because liberalism (and the Democrat Party) functions on a top-down model. Therefore, the establishment candidates will always be wealthy elites, even the populist ones, because liberalism believes in remanding political power to the elites.
As the left mocks conservatives for our crowded stages of candidates, our bickering over ideas and tactics, we should rest assured that our problem is a good one to have. Our process will produce the most polished candidate that the elites and the grassroots can accept.
The left will be stuck with Hillary Clinton.