Reflections on “Defection in the 2016 Election”

Reflection on the Exodus from the Establishment 

By Pedro Enamorado

An uncommon election year awaits us. How are we to make sense of the unexpected rise of highly polarized, non-establishment candidates? This past Wednesday, the William F. Buckley Jr. Program held an event called Defection in the 2016 Election: Sanders, Trump and the Exodus from the establishment” to shed some light on this phenomenon. The panelists included Eliana Johnson, an editor for the National Review, founder of America Rising, Matt Rhoades, and Jim McLaughlin, Republican pollster and media buyer for the Romney campaign. Dr. Jacob Hacker, a Yale Professor of Political Science, moderated the panel.

Eliana spoke first, and discussed the disparity between the nationalist politics of Trump and Sanders’ socialism in their positions on three key issues: immigration, free-trade, and the role of money in politics. The prevalence of these issues in debates and public discourse reveals that both parties recognize that these issues will carry the election. She noted that a grassroots funded Sanders campaign and a self-funded Trump campaign bolster these candidates’ claims to independence from party politics and have brought them tremendous electoral success. The enemy, in the eyes of the public and these outlier candidates is the establishment.

Matt had a different reason for the Democratic electorate’s love for Sanders: their deep distrust of Clinton. His group, America Rising, had begun piling evidence of corruption in the Clinton family years ago. The evidence ranges from the dubious expenses in the Clinton Foundation’s budget (spending over 50 million in a single year to transport the Clinton family), to the promulgation of the information about her email server scandal. Matt believes the electorate wisely took notice of Clinton’s mounting record of shady activity, revealing more a distrust of Clinton than of the Democratic Party, per se. He contends that Sanders’ success in Iowa was a product of voters viewing the caucuses as a referendum on Clinton’s trustworthiness.

Jim sees a correlation between this trend towards reform and an agitated electorate that holds a disapproval rate of 77% for Congress. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, recently got as close as possible to a repeal and he takes this as evidence of voter disillusionment with unkept promises of affordability and accessibility. On the Democrats’ side, he pointed out that Clinton didn’t even do well with her base in Iowa. Jim thinks high turnout and Independent participation can give the GOP an edge this year. However, he stresses that the winner of the primary must be a more moderate, reform-minded, non-establishment candidate to compete with the Democratic candidate. Such a candidate has a better chance in the general election against a Clinton or a Sanders.

Prof. Hacker then opened the door to a Q and A session. Audience members asked questions about things such as expectations of voter turnout and the oddity of Trump’s popularity. Matt responded that voter turnout has been high but that the GOP should push for more voter registration. Hacker chimed in that voter ID laws depress turnout especially for Democrats. However, he encouraged people to consider among what demographics turnout is high. On the question of Trump, Eliana contextualized his rise and his appeal among non-traditional conservative voters. She claims that non-religious, non-free market voters are supporting Trump because Trump has formed a coalition wiling to vote Republican for his sake rather than out of a sense of political alignment with the GOP. Many agreed that Trump and Cruz will likely end in a political duel until one loses his will or his funds.

This election cycle has offered the American people fascinating storylines and has incited much debate between pundits. Many experts disagree on how to explain the rise of Sanders and Trump and the fall of Clinton and the Republican establishment. At the panel event, I enjoyed listening to three of these experts all give their own takes on the crazy state of the 2016 election.

Intellectual Diversity in the 2016 Election

By Cameron Koffman, Co-Editor

In many ways, the 2016 election has represented American politics at their worst. Voters have watched Republican candidates hurl personal insults back and forth at each other and have watched the Democratic Establishment do some questionable things to make sure that Hillary is their nominee. In one way, however, this election has represented American politics at their best. Voters in the 2016 election have seen an incredible display of the intellectual diversity of America. What I mean by this, is that voters have heard pitches from candidates who not only hold different policy positions, but who also hold different intellectual frameworks and worldviews. Although it remains to be seen which worldview will win out in November (and even in the primaries this spring), it is evident that this electoral display of intellectual diversity will benefit America in the long run.

Candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been challenging the establishment in this election cycle and have created disarray in American politics. These candidates view the core values that underpin the United States and the gravest threat facing our world radically differently than establishment candidates like Clinton or Bush. I am an establishment guy: I support Kasich and if neither he nor Jeb Bush wins the primary I will likely vote for Clinton and the Democratic establishment. However, I will concede that the resurgence of populism has benefitted America’s intellectual body politic. The establishment has needed to strengthen its own ideas because of the onslaught from the far left and the far right. Furthermore, the populists can speak for groups of the American people who feel left out of the national dialogue, especially working class Americans who see the gap between them and the Middle Class growing ever greater. In the liberal pockets of America, many people deride Trump as scary, misogynistic, homophobic, and racist. In conservative pockets people only deride Sanders as crazy and economically inept. I’m not sure I will completely agree with all those labels even though I really dislike both of them, but I wholeheartedly believe that their candidacies will come to benefit America as a whole (unless of course one of them is actually elected). In the case of Trump, he has made our national dialogue more robust by saying whatever he thinks. Many of those things he says are too controversial to be said by anyone else. I would not be happy if America were to elect Trump as its 45th president, but I am pleased that we have someone who accurately voices the frustration of some parts of working class America (even though he has never been a member of the working class) participating in our national dialogue. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has been proposing a form of socialism for America, which is an economic worldview not often given any light of day in American public discourse. I would not be happy if America were to elect a socialist President, but I am happy that we have a socialist participating in and fortifying our national dialogue.

So, when you’re watching another outrageous debate this election cycle and fume about our political system, just remember that everyone in this country deserves a role in our national political discussion. This election, more than any election prior, has delivered a role to everybody. The current state of our union may seem hopeless and polarized right now, but I believe that reason will prevail and the best candidates will come out of this grueling intellectual challenge with stronger platforms and a better understanding of America. Even as a populist wave crashes on America, it’s not too late for the Establishment to win back the general public and reform itself to face the crises of today.