GOP: Cleveland, July 18-21
DNC: Philadelphia, July 25-28
A notably dramatic and unpredictable primary season is approaching the finish line as both the Republicans and Democrats look to officially select their presidential candidate — and, as optimistic representatives from both sides will tell us, begin unifying the party — at their respective National Conventions.
“Unity,” however, has not exactly been a quality exhibited by the frontrunners themselves with fracture, antagonism, and uncertainty reigning supreme.
The Republican race epitomizes this volatility, as Donald Trump steers the party bus into uncharted terrain while dozens of befuddled GOP elite hang on for dear life. Listen closely and you can hear the murmurs of mystified passengers asking one another, “Who gave him the keys?” Indeed, party infighting took center stage during the primaries. The Republican debates quickly devolved into WWE-style petulant name-calling that featured more than a few genital-related barbs.
The obvious bewilderment of Republican hardliners and analysts notwithstanding, Trump has tapped into a conservative power base that has grown increasingly fidgety with politics as usual. A central theme of the 2016 election year — epitomized by surprisingly successful candidates on both sides of the aisle — has been the rise of the “outsider.”
Trump is outsider-personified, a seventy-year-old career businessman who has never held elected office and gleefully berates the stagnation of the Washington “system” from his position firmly beyond the reach of its grinding mechanism. This, coupled with his self-professed disregard for “political correctness,” has struck a chord with a sect of disgruntled voters, leading to his unlikely presumptive presidential candidacy.
The Democratic race on the other hand, while not as explosive or capricious as its rival’s, has accentuated a burgeoning schism between the party’s traditional moderate wing and the restless liberals flanking their left.
President Obama’s heir-apparent as the face of the Democratic party since she ran against him in 2008, Hillary Clinton emerges eight years later on the threshold of officially securing the nomination. Bernie Sanders has, however, given the former Secretary of State an implausible run for her money. The Independent senator from Vermont — running, obviously, in 2016 as a Democrat — has galvanized voters who are agitated with the money-driven, millionaire-catering political structure.
Throughout the campaign Clinton has espoused her intent to sustain and advance the legacy of moderate, pragmatic progressivism forged by Obama including the Affordable Care Act; Sanders, rather, advocates “revolution,” a complete philosophical overhaul that includes free college tuition and strict taxation of Wall Street speculation.
In the end, despite the enthusiastic groundswell of support that allowed dissident Bernie Sanders to continue his campaign — which, by the way, was improbably funded mostly by small, private donations — months after most prognosticators predicted, it appears Clinton will indeed fulfill her destiny and become the DNC’s selection for the 2016 presidency.
The chief question facing the Democrats as they approach their convention then becomes: Can Clinton convince disillusioned Sanders followers that she is a true “liberal”? Among the fundamental affronts leveled against Clinton by the Sanders camp has been the Secretary’s proclivity to cave to big-money interests, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars, for instance, from Wall Street sources for speaking engagements. Clinton’s chances in November hinge or her campaign’s ability to woo this crestfallen cadre of lefties and persuade them not to stay home or, worse yet, vote for Trump on election night.
There is also the possibility that Clinton’s pledged superdelegates — elite party representatives unbound to any specific candidate or state primary results — could shift allegiances and secure the nomination for Sanders. But, despite Sander-supporter straw-clutching, this appears extremely unlikely.
An equally pressing — if perhaps more imposing and opaque — question looms over the Republican convention: Will the traditional party foundation, both officials and voters, fall in line behind Donald Trump? The New Yorker has received public devotedness from very few key figures and precious little time remains to charm them. The catch-22, of course, is that Trump has garnished so much attention and notoriety by snubbing the “system,” that to now kowtow and attempt to woo the very same conformists on whose backs he climbed to the top might injure his outsider credibility.
The GOP is also, reportedly, exhausting its own rulebook — with the prospect of adding new, advantageous regulations — to steal the nomination away from Trump, whom they fear is a rogue agitator with little chance to win a general election. This, much like the Democratic superdelegate scheme, however, is doubtful to come to fruition.
When the dust settles, and there may indeed be a whirlwind of scattered debris, look for both Trump and Clinton to accept their party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential election.
By Jacob Westlin