Saturday, July 4, 2015

Presidential candidates are measures of their parties' values and priorities

The perfect examples are Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Here is an essay by Paul Waldman at the Washington Post/Plum Line.

GOP voters embrace Trump

Two developments today force us to consider the place of the more unusual candidates in the presidential race, the ones who probably won’t end up being their party’s nominee but whose support tells us something meaningful about where the Democratic and Republican parties are and where they might be going. The first is that, according to the Huffington Post Pollster poll average, Donald Trump now sits atop the GOP field with an average of 13.6 percent support, nosing out Jeb Bush at 13.3. Yes, that difference is essentially meaningless, and yes, those are very small numbers to begin with. But it’s still alarming to see Trump’s name at the top of the list, to say the least.

Sanders gaining ground

The second development is the undeniable and growing support for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Yesterday Sanders held a rally in Madison, Wis., that drew approximately 10,000 supporters, the biggest crowd any candidate has had for any event in the campaign so far. This follows on other rallies that have drawn thousands to hear Sanders, at a time when Republican candidates are speaking before audiences that often number in the dozens (not to mention that time Rick Santorum held an event that drew exactly one attendee).

Neither of these candidates is likely to take their party's nomination. But both will influence and then reflect the values and priorities of their party.

So perhaps the best way to deal with that question is to say that right now, whether Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump is eventually going to be his party’s nominee doesn’t matter all that much. We’re seven months from the first ballots being cast. At this stage of the race, we should spend our time thinking about what all the candidates are proposing, who they are and what they represent.

It’s becoming obvious that Sanders is tapping into an important segment of the Democratic electorate, a group that wishes President Obama had proved more liberal than he did and been able to accomplish more. Because Sanders is attracting enough support to make Clinton at least a bit worried, it’s becoming more likely that she’ll move to incorporate those voters’ concerns in her proposals and her actions. That doesn’t mean she’ll be making radical changes in policy positions — don’t expect her to start advocating a single-payer health-care system, as Sanders does — but it does mean that the somewhat more liberal Clinton that we’ve seen in the past few months could become even more so, in small but meaningful ways.

And what about Trump? His story is a bit more complicated, because it’s hard to say that he represents some kind of coherent Republican constituency. I can’t say I understand who a Trump voter is or what he or she might be thinking. But if nothing else, Trump’s popularity, limited and probably temporary though it might be, offers a lesson in the political power of celebrity — even the most ridiculous celebrity. And it may be that the ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric that is leading one corporation after another to cut ties with Trump (the latest is Serta — did you know you could buy a Trump mattress?) is meeting an enthusiastic reception in some quarters.

The Trump candidacy will grow more idiotic by the moment. "Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is filing a lawsuit against Univision for $500 million after the Spanish language broadcaster canceled its screening of the Miss USA pageant. (Reuters)." And he plans a suit against NBC as well. The video report is here. Univision dismissed Trump's lawsuit as groundless. And the Hispanic backlash is growing.

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