Published on TheHill.com on May 17, 2016
Donald Trump is not only changing the Republican Party; he is causing an overall partisan realignment in America — one that impacts Democrats as well.
Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign shows how far from its populist roots the Democratic Party has strayed. Trump’s victory over the GOP field shows the same thing about the Republican Party.
The New York billionaire is stealing the base out from under both political parties.
Trump’s candidacy and its challenge to the economic and social establishments of America highlights how close Hillary Clinton is to both. She is the candidate of the status quo in a country seething with a craving for political change.
Trump is the sole provider of change in this election. Clinton may trot out her little bitty programs of incremental change, creeping forward from the Obama agenda, but it doesn’t come close to the full-scale assault on income inequality, crony capitalism, free trade giveaways, rampant illegal immigration and political correctness gone berserk that the populists of both parties want.
But Trump is doing more than driving populist Democrats into Republican arms. He is separating the establishment left of the Democratic Party from its populist base. His candidacy separates the blue-collar social populists from their partisan moorings even as his economic populism appeals to the Sanders left.
A new Democratic Party is emerging from the wreckage.
The moderate and conservative Democrat is coming back from his days of extinction. President Obama’s transgender bathrooms, release of convicted felons, opposition to photo IDs, amnesty for illegals, rising healthcare premiums and obstinate refusal to call Islamic terrorism by its real name have so alienated them that they are now rising in protest. And Trump is giving them an outlet and a forum.
At the same time, Trump’s attacks on crony capitalism, trade deals that cost jobs and Wall Street money are loosening the partisan allegiances of the Sanders left. Embittered by the primary, these Democrats now see how closely allied the party is with Wall Street and how its submissiveness drives its policy agenda. And when they see Trump echoing parts of their own agenda, they may be willing to give him a second look.
They may express their outrage at Obama by voting for Trump now. But that won’t be the end. They will likely return to the Democratic Party and oust the establishment liberals who rule it.
Trump is combining social and economic populism in a way other politicians before him have failed to do. In his 1995 work “Populist Persuasion,” Michael Kazin separates these two varieties of populism — economic and social — and traces their evolution. He discusses how the economic populism of President Andrew Jackson’s opposition to a national bank evolved into the farmer rebellions of the 1890s through the development of organized labor and the 1960s new left. And, in consecutive chapters, he traces the evolution of social populism from religious fundamentalism through prohibition into McCarthyism, the white backlash and finally to modern-day social conservatism.
Trump is the first politician who combines both strands of populism. By his advocacy of trade protectionism and opposition to big banks, he reaches the Democratic Party’s base of economic populists. And by attacking illegal immigration and warning of terrorists disguised as refugees, he reaches social populists in both parties as well.
Increasingly it will become clear that Clinton is not the vehicle for any kind of change but rather the embodiment of a special interest status quo. And, more and more, Trump will ambidextrously drown her, from the left and the right, beneath the waves of a political Red Sea.
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