For almost a century the United States political system has been basically dominated by the two major parties. People have aligned themselves as either Democrats or Republicans. Within each party, there were different degrees of liberalism and conservatism but in the end, they would rally around the party nominee and support the choice. Primaries were the means to attain that choice and unity within the party was called for and normally attained.
The past few elections cycles have seen the system breaking down and we are now at a point where both parties are in a form of crisis. Prior to the 2016 elections, the political pundits predicted chaos within the Republican party while the Democrats would once again unify themselves around their candidate. In the post-election analysis, those same pundits were saying the opposite as Republicans won a sweeping victory and they described the Democrats in total disarray. They were wrong before the election and they are wrong after the election.
In 2016, we saw two candidates running against the party regulars. On the Republican side, we had Donald Trump and in the beginning, nobody gave him much of a chance. I remember having dinner with a Democrat member of Congress in late 2015 and he asked me about Donald Trump. I sort of laughed him off and said that I did not think he would have the legs to go the distance and after a couple of primaries he would disappear. I viewed Trump at that time as someone that entered the race with the sole purpose of pumping up his name identification for his celebrity status. For the Democrats, a little-known Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, had the temerity to jump into the fray and challenge the anointed candidate, Hillary Clinton. He was technically not even a Democrats and openly described himself as a Socialist. Most experts gave him little chance and thought his campaign would fizzle out very quickly.
But as the campaign moved forward it became apparent that both of these outsiders were striking a chord with voters. Donald Trump was preaching his own form of populism on the conservative side and used outlandish attack style politics to go after his primary opponents. He was very personal and shocked the political world with his “candor” when describing those in the race against him. The media ate this up as good copy and good TV ratings and were only too eager to follow every story he created and broadcast every attack he made. One by one his opponents bit the dust and in the end, only Trump was left standing.
On the Democrat side, Bernie Sanders was not going away either. His message of taxing the wealthy and redistributing the nation’s wealth was resonating with millions of Democrat voters who felt left out of the system or left behind by the changing economics of the world. The irony was this 70-year-old man was running especially strong with the young voters. They were the idealists and when he said things like college should be free to everyone and student debt should be forgiven it was music to their ears. He became the pied piper of a new economic message and they followed along gleefully without any thought to how this could actually be achieved. In the end, this was not enough and Hillary Clinton won the Democrat nomination but nobody within the party seemed to realize how much damage Sanders had done to the nominee.
So now we are almost a year into the Donald Trump presidency and the dynamics of politics have only become more roiled. Democrats were striving to bring their party together but the recent book by Donna Brazile has only torn the scab on that wound. Hillary Clinton was already barnstorming around the country hawking her book on what went wrong in her campaign and now a second book basically claiming that the primary was either rigged or definitely skewed to allow Clinton to win has everyone talking. Ms. Clinton, for her part, refuses to go quietly into the night and acknowledge that she has run for the Presidency twice and lost twice. Democrats want to move on but she refuses to give up the stage. In my opinion, as I have said before, she would like to run again but needs a groundswell of her supporters to urge her to run and in the end, she would reluctantly acquiesce to their demands.
Younger Democrats are trying to fill the void but the elder politicians will not step aside. Bernie Sanders still harbors a desire to run again and his cadre of supporters will back him without hesitation. Joe Biden is certainly making noise that he would make a run and apparently regrets not taking the chance in the last election. I believe if he had shown the fortitude to challenge the Clinton machine he would have defeated Donald Trump. The problem is he would not have been the candidate. Brazile realized this early in the campaign and in her book, she alludes to a thought she had of replacing Clinton with Biden. Elizabeth Warren is making sounds like she would run and hitting the talk circuit very hard. She stumbled a bit when she quickly bought the Brazile line about the primary being rigged and has since had to walk it back.
So what is the common denominator of all these candidates? They will all be over 70 when the next Presidential campaign begins. This is the party of the young people but it is totally dominated by the geriatric set. Take a look at the leadership in the House on the Democrat side. The average age of the Democrat leadership in the House is 72 and the average age of their top committee members (Ranking Members) is 68. By comparison, the average age of Republican leadership is 48 and the Committee Chairman on the Republican side is 58.
We should not pretend that things are going well in the Republican party. They are not! President Trump has continued this attack dog style of political leadership and has turned his guns on members of his own party. Anyone that does not toe the line with his is considered the enemy. The elections this week were a setback for Republicans and Trump remained tone deaf by blaming the losses on everyone but himself. Yet every poll shows his popularity sinking to new lows and Democrats using him to energize their base.
What you now have in the American political arena are the two major parties being dominated and held hostage by the fringes of both parties. The far left is demanding that the Democrats tack to the left in policies and in the Republican Party the far right is enacting the same tactics. Social issues seem to have taken center stage in both parties as they battle over things that only serve to polarize us even more as a society. That leaves the vast middle ground that is comprised of moderate Democrats and Republicans having very little voice in how to shape this country. Eventually, they might look around and say that they have more in common with each other than the fringe groups dominating their own party discussions. Maybe they could sit down and find out that issues like the growing national debt, the path to a real immigration reform bill, a tax reform bill that actually works for the average American and the economy, in general, are common denominators for them. Then they might do the unthinkable and break away and form a new party, one that would clearly have a majority of Americans believing it better served their needs. Certainly, there would be vigorous debate on some issues but on most, they would find solutions.