COMMENTARY: Political turmoil is a fact of life because that’s what politics is at its root — a constant scrum of interests, ideals and ambitions. It has been awhile, however, since we have witnessed an insurgency in the political parties as broad and, to some, as perplexing as this year’s presidential run-up.
Party insiders and their ever-present sub-rosa advisors continue to misread the tea leaves as Donald Trump exhibits an uncanny defiance of political gravity. Negative attacks not only bounce off, but add buoyancy to his campaign, leaving the establishment’s strategy minions standing behind the curtain, wearing the classic “deer-in-the-headlights” expression.
When the other candidates try his tactics, they get weaker as he continues to gain strength. When they try to make their own cases they get lost in the noise as he takes all the oxygen from the room. When they trot their establishment icons out on stage to trash him, and attempt to line up contrived political alliances, the efforts collapse under their own weight.
Why can the party elites not drive a stake into the heart of this coarse street fighter who couldn’t be a less-likely prospect under the old norms?
For one, the news media, as well as the party apparatchiks, are consumed by the Trump phenomenon and give him so much attention and air-time he is able to run for president on less budget than that of many gubernatorial candidates. Add to that plenty of capacity, and ego, to self-fund a campaign. He acts like he doesn’t need the big money insiders, and therefore acts like he doesn’t have to listen to them. Being persona non grata among those elites is unimportant to him personally and politically, and actually adds to his aura.
There are other reasons he is a difficult target, but the most important is the mistaken notion that this whole kerfuffle is even about Donald Trump – a lesson the establishment, on both sides of the aisle, is not learning very quickly.
People – a lot of people – are angry at runaway spending adding to an already crushing debt, an economy only Baghdad Bob can defend with a straight face, no immigration policy, an inexplicably feckless foreign policy, a bullying federal administrative state, completely blurred separation of powers, and more. The lack of any substantive difference between the parties inside the Beltway, beyond sophomoric, rival-based hatred, is turning that anger into a political revolt.
Then comes Trump, a timely candidate who has the look and feel of the “un-everything” of American politics. Whether that’s who he really is seems to matter little. His image is being projected as a complete, but in-charge, outsider.
There is a large “anger caucus” in the country that seems inclusive of all standard political ideals, but common in the belief the country has been let down. Evidence of that is, on the Democratic side, an elderly socialist, with basically no record of achievement beyond staying in office a long time, making a respectable showing against what was presumed to be the textbook establishment shoo-in. On the Republican side, the polls reveal a direct correlation between the candidates’ rank-order and the perception of their respective associations, or disassociations, with the Beltway establishment.
If Trump does falter, and he might, the people will not go home, because it is not about him in the first place. It is about a determined segment of the population that has had enough and will continue to storm the gates to overturn the bipartisan failure in national politics being passed off as government.
The Democratic establishment may think they are aloof and immune, but their real political mettle is going to be severely tested after they have emerged from their own primary election ecosphere, a process which appears to be little more than an uninspired, super-delegate dominated, Kabuki dance.
Meanwhile the chase continues after a vampire that can be dispatched by a stake in the heart; but, in truth, the Democrats and Republicans alike are being stalked by a Frankenstein of their own making.
Whatever the ultimate general election match-up, the anger caucus is not going to be ignored, and it will disrupt the status quo. Gazing into a crystal for political answers seldom delivers more than a lot of broken glass, and the outcomes of this disruption cannot be predicted with much accuracy; however, it is a better-than-even bet that life in the political bubble will be different, because Hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.
This is the year of the insurgent.
In his varied career, Myles C. Culbertson has been engaged in agriculture, banking, international trade, economic and technological development, regulation and law enforcement, and specialized projects for both industry and government. His history includes service as executive director of two state agencies, under four governors, addressing numerous domestic and international economic, regulatory, and resource issues. He is currently president of Myles Culbertson Partners LLC.