Now that some of the dust has settled on Election 2016 and that the world begins to reconcile with the fact that Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States, many wonder what became the American people to elect such an unorthodox candidate. Mired in scandal, racist rhetoric and numerous claims of sexual abuse, many had the impression that a man such as Donald Trump could never be elected to the White House by a majority of electoral colleges. The issue here however, does not reside in what Trump has done and how the Republican Party backing him has acted, but in how the Democrats and their candidate Hilary Clinton have reacted over the past 20 years. Looking at raw voting numbers, Donald Trump fostered less support than Mitt Romney did in 2012 and even less than John McCain in 2008, years in which Barack Obama captured the nation with his grandiose speeches and messages of change and hope. Ultimately, the issue is not that people chose Donald Trump, but that they rejected the DNC and Hilary Clinton. A phenomenon over 20 years in the making, the ‘third way’ democrats that the Clintons embody have ultimately destroyed the Democratic Party, the recent Presidential and Congressional elections simply symbolize the zenith of its dysfunction.
When he came into power in 1993, Bill Clinton aimed to change the Democratic Party. He promised to bring it back from 3 consecutive terms on the executive sideline following Reagan and GHW Bush presidencies, and to reconcile the left and right wing elements of the Party to create a new ‘electable’ standard. By adopting centrist, fiscal conservatism, Bill Clinton succeeded everywhere Ronald Reagan and GHW Bush had failed: he cut social security, weakened unions and signed NAFTA. This precedent created a new mold of Democrats in Congress that seldom resembled FDR’s New Deal vision of an interventionist government that worked for the average American worker. It is in this coalition of economic fiscal, social liberal Democrats that Bill Clinton cut the Democratic ties to its traditional base; the middle class, blue collar worker who benefited from FDR’s New Deal was now slowly being cut away from the vision of the Democratic Party. The Trump Presidency is the consequence of abandoning this traditional base.
Following Hilary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy, it quickly became apparent that she perfectly fit this ‘third way Democrat’ mold. Her aggressive pro-trade stance, muscular foreign policy and fiscal conservatism made her the darling of the Democratic establishment and a formidable opponent in the DNC primary. Having already been rejected by the Democratic voter base in favour of a more progressive Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton created a beefy base of key figures in the Democratic Party apparatus that would aid her in quickly becoming the nominee and vaulting her to the top of the presidency. The grave mistake the DNC made however, was in ignoring the advice of the electorate. By favouring Barack Obama over Hilary Clinton in 2008, the democratic base demonstrated that they wanted a more progressive candidate, one that is sensitive to their views on free trade and could hear their grievances regarding Wall Street regulation and campaign finance reform. Unfettered, Clinton pushed on, advocating for aggressive foreign policy as Secretary of State and becoming a favourite of Wall Street and a major sponsor of TPP during negotiations while she was in office. This further alienated the traditional voter base and whoever was left over from the beginning of the Clinton years melted away. This point is further elucidated when you consider Clinton neglected to campaign in both Wisconsin and Michigan prior to the election. This is a perfect reflection of the attitude the Democratic Party had to their traditional base of blue collar manufacturing workers, which they took for granted and ignored throughout the electoral process.
The final and most prominent signal to the Democratic Party involved the rejection of Bernie Sanders as the outside challenger to Hilary Clinton for the nomination. Having created this enormous party apparatus to support her, Clinton assumed that she would easily coast to the nomination. The fact that Sanders, an Independent in the Senate who echoed New Deal ideals, was capable of busting through the hard media shell Clinton had created for herself to become a viable candidate indicates that there was a disjunction between the will of the traditional electoral base of the Democrats and their favoured candidate. When Clinton finally resorted to underhanded tactics to defeat Sanders, the leaking of debate questions, dismissal in the media and thumbing of the scale by DNC leadership, this circle closed. The new Democratic leadership proved to be out of touch with the average American worker that had made up its base for so long and furthermore ignored its pleas for representation. Sander’s strong showing in the rust belt during the primary and Clinton’s failure to capture it during the general election shows how the dismantling of traditional Democrat values had come home to roost for the party establishment.
Donald Trump’s election is more of an indictment of the Democratic Party than it is of the politics of the Republican Party. Having run the Southern Strategy and dog whistle politics to consolidate its Southern base for over 50 years, the Republicans cozying up to white supremacist sympathies and evangelical social conservatives is nothing new. What changed this election was the rejection of Hilary Clinton and the ‘third way’ democratic base her legacy had created. You don’t get to offer a false choice to Democratic voters and then blame the American people for not electing you by default. The results of the presidential election fall squarely on the Democratic leadership and their reluctance to consider the plight of their traditional blue collar base. By being more concerned with becoming a fundraising machine and by becoming less of a voice for their constituents, the DNC alienated the voters that made them perennial champions in Congress for over 30 years. In essence, ‘third way’ Democrats destroyed the party, turning it from a legislative and executive powerhouse to minority status in the 90s and onwards. If the Party cannot find its way and form a new coalition of voters, many of which echoed their enthusiasm during Sanders primary run, then perhaps it will be up to a third party to replace it entirely before the next election.
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