What if the (Non-Republican) Electorate Isn’t as Angry as Everyone Says It Is?

Right now, the Republican Party is in crisis, at least at the presidential level. Donald Trump’s ascendance reveals the depth and appeal of white identity politics within the GOP’s nearly 100% non-Hispanic older white Christian core of supporters. The rise of both Trump and Cruz, and the implosion of Marco Rubio, also indicates the depths of Republican primary voters’ antipathy towards the elites in their own party. Combine this unruly GOP fight with Senator Sanders’ unexpected success among young progressives, it’s easy to see Sanders and Trump as populist mirror images of each other, and to believe that the American electorate wants to throw the bums out.

But what if this entire framing is fundamentally mistaken? By all indications, most Democrats are happy with President Obama, and want to see their favorite aspects of his presidency continued. Of course there are many facets of the Obama presidency. And of course the Democratic Party includes real ideological divisions. Some Democrats tend to the neoliberal. Others are more drawn to economic populism. So Democrats will choose to weigh Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses differently. Young Democrats tend to the left, especially on foreign policy and Wall Street. Senator Clinton must respond to that reality.

In the end, though, she and Senator Sanders are competing for the title of Obama’s rightful heir. There’s every reason to believe that the Democratic race will end much less acrimoniously and much less reflective of deep differences than the horserace coverage of the moment and the heated Twitter fights would suggest. Neither Clinton nor Sanders really represents the long-term future of the Democratic Party. But both credibly promise to protect the gains of the Obama years, to restock the group of Supreme Court liberal justices, and to keep a frightening demagogue out of the White House.

I’ve always believed that Hillary Clinton will easily beat Sanders, and then will clobber whichever Republican nominee emerges from a deeply damaged primary process which seems specifically designed to alienate huge swathes of the American electorate.

2016 will be a colorful election year. It may prove a wild ride, but I believe it will produce a boringly predictable ending. Democrats shouldn’t be complacent. But there’s good reason to be confident, too.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.