Voters in presidential elections always seem to grouse about the mainstream candidates, dysfunctional government and the direction the country is going. But what’s different and shocking in 2016 is that this disgust with politics actually is translating into support for candidates who would be described as fringe or even outlandish in any other year.
The Democratic establishment is mortified by the rise of Bernie Sanders and doesn’t believe he can win a general election.
The Republican establishment is mortified by the rise of Donald Trump and doesn’t believe he can win a general election.
Voters and caucus goers don’t give a fig. They enjoy seeing the party establishment, with their highly paid train of consultants and pollsters, twist in the wind.
And you know what? That’s not a bad sentiment in itself — even though we’re convinced that either Sanders or Trump would likely be a terrible president. Up to a point, it’s even refreshing to see voters assert themselves as they did Tuesday in New Hampshire. They made an emphatic statement that they’re tired of the political status quo, concerned about their future and not prepared to meekly accept candidates supported by the same class of donors, insiders and interest groups that always seem to have their way.
Unfortunately, in Sanders and Trump, voters placed bets on men whose policies really are on the fringe and whose temperaments, particularly in Trump’s case, are simply unsuited for the White House.
Sanders preaches class resentment and seeks a huge expansion of government spending and a correspondingly large spike in taxes — although he hasn’t specified where all the taxes would be imposed. Naturally he hasn’t. That would mean he’d have to drop the fiction that only the rich will end up paying them.
This nation hasn’t been willing to pay for the entitlement programs we have (hence the $19 trillion national debt that Trump railed against Tuesday) and yet Sanders wants to double down with the same damaging formula of spending lots now and maybe paying for it later.
Readers of these columns are well aware of our attitude toward Trump — of his nasty claims regarding Mexicans, his police-state-like promise to deport 11 million immigrants, his demagogic statements on Muslims, trade and other topics, as well as his vulgarity. Earlier this week, in the latest incident, Trump repeated in mock horror an insult he’d heard a woman in his audience say about Ted Cruz: “She said he’s a p—-!” he declared, relishing the phrase.
This is vintage Trump, the same man whose indifference to facts was on display in his victory speech when he said the true unemployment figure is not 5 percent but “probably 28 percent, 29 percent, as high as 35 percent; in fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
Now, the official unemployment rate does indeed exclude several categories of people who might give a fuller picture of employment. But even when the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes them, the rate of “labor underutilization” clocks in at around 10 percent. Give Trump the benefit of the doubt and make it 15 percent. He’s still grotesquely off base.
Democracy is a beautiful thing. When the public is disgusted, though, it doesn’t always produce beautiful results.