A picture of America’s modern presidential campaign model. Candidates seek to:
- • Segment the electorate into as many groups as practical, particularly at the state level,
• Empathize with sympathetic groups to create the illusion of a supportive coalition,
• Ignore conflicting interests within their coalition, speaking only of common goals,
• Hurry to the primary/caucus before tensions in the coalition become unmanageable,
• Repeat, in each state, adding/deleting groups as necessary to secure enough delegates,
• Discard nationally unappealing or “extreme” groups at the convention, and
• Craft a party message that:
– Slights true believers,
– Dupes fence-sitters,
– Placates the disaffected, and
– Appeals to voters not in the party.
Call it a “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” strategy, a key feature of which is, no matter the general election result, the nominee has a reasonable answer for those offended by his campaign positions: “Compromise”.
Winners laud compromise positions, even dishonest ones, as a key to victory, reminding tweaked supporters that winning is more important than “getting everything our way”. Victory soothes wounded supporters with ignored interests, and winning serves to keep all party supporters in line for the next run.
Losers curse compromise positions for their defeat. Instead of cooling supporter anger, they flagellate themselves for not listening to their “base”, and pledge greater ideological purity in future campaigns if supporters will “hang in there” with them.
And, no matter which “compromise” justification they receive, voters return to their places and further segment themselves, with each group seeking golden tickets – which do not exist – for their political concerns at the next quadrennial kabuki dance.
Rinse and repeat…every four years.
“Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” trails only the National Football League in popularity, and is now so lucrative that partisan “journalists” enjoy a celebrity that eluded the Walter Cronkites and David Brinkleys, who earned respect by their unbiased – or at least less biased – reporting. It created television networks of highly paid talking heads, possessed of little to no journalistic ability or integrity, building their following and influence through with bias and air time. They, along with officeholders, candidates, and party officials work together to keep the nation divided and controlled by “conventional political wisdom”.
Consequently, parties and voters never quite align, making for increasingly dysfunctional federal governance. This creates greater political volatility, giving the talking heads more items about which to craft and apply their (in-) famous “talking points”. Government grows, individual liberties shrink, and almost everyone who helps Divide the nation, Destroy the nation, and then Cobble Together enough of the nation for an another round of division and destruction, manages to get paid.
Then the ground shifted. It began after the 2008 election.
A nation at war saw too little return on more than 7 years of blood and treasure invested abroad. Fiscal responsibility gave way to deficits, the resumption of unsustainable debt growth, and an economy in acute distress. Jobs were lost, homes foreclosed upon, and moneyed institutions that mismanaged funds received billions from the federal treasury. The nation needed a change.
And “Change” was promised, using the “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” strategy. An unknown candidate told voters what they wanted to hear and, protectively cloaked in the historical significance of skin color, rode into the White House. Yet, this time, this president could not Cobble Together enough goodwill to compensate for the lies he did, and would, tell an already divided nation.
In its first midterm electoral opportunity, voters removed the president’s party from the majority in the House of Representatives, seeking balance. But the new majority were no more truthful than the president voters elected them to oppose; they failed to do the voters’ will. Then, in the next presidential election, “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” gave voters a presidential challenger who varied from the distrusted president in little more than complexion; it failed to produce a distinction between presidential candidates that voters saw as a difference.
In the 2014 midterm election, despite the president successfully blaming his opposition for a government shutdown a year earlier, voters gave his opposition its largest House majority since the 1920’s and a Senate majority. Still, federal governance did not change. In fact, the more numerous the voters made the president’s opposition, the less they actually opposed the president. Another “change” was needed; GOP voters had exposed, and begun to reject, the “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” strategy.
So, enter a man who fancied himself presidential material for decades and who, in 2011, polled ahead of the eventual 2012 GOP nominee, to seek a major party nomination. The practitioners and protectors of “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” were incredulous. Among their assertions:
- • Trump won’t run,
• Trump will drop out,
• Trump can only get 35% of the vote, and
• Trump can’t win the GOP nomination.
They were incorrect, and not just about the GOP race.
Before the Democrat primaries started, most gave socialist Bernie Sanders no chance to win Democrat nomination. Yet he’s won 19 of 45 primary contests, including 9 of the last 14. Now, the pundits appear befuddled about Sanders, as many Democrats reject Hillary Clinton; Democrat voters also exposed and rejected the “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” strategy.
So, what took the finger of parties and pundits off the electorate’s pulse? Simply put, voters have a different heartbeat now, and stopped accepting the candidates that parties and pundits pushed upon them. So, a longtime Democrat party member cannot easily defeat a non-Democrat, and GOP voters reject GOP 8 governors (3 current), and GOP 5 Senators (4 current) to favor a real estate developer who’s never held public office. And the change impacts more than the current nominating campaign.
Since 2009, Democrats have hemorrhaged officeholders, at the federal (net 69 House, and 13 Senate, seats lost) and state (net 9 governor’s mansions lost, net 900+ state legislative seats, and 28 legislative majorities lost) levels. The nation is purging Democrats from power, and the party’s national footprint is shrinking.
Republicans undergo a different purge – a forced leadership change. Eric Cantor became the first sitting House Majority leader to lose a primary election; John Boehner the first House Speaker to resign because his party preferred him gone. Now Boehner’s successor wears the “sellout” label for his stances on immigration, trade, and the recent budget. He opposes voters, and an increasing number of party officeholders, by not supporting Trump, even as he faces a primary challenge at home. Ryan could go the way of Cantor.
Voter rejection of “Divide, Destroy, then Cobble Together” challenges both parties. Democrats face an existential threat; they must stop the bleeding. In addition to the Obama era losses, Democrats are switching parties during the primaries: 20,000 in Massachusetts, 60,000 in Virginia, smaller numbers in other states, and 1 in 5 Democrats say they would vote Trump in November. If they cannot revise their message, and especially if they fail in November, they risk marginalization and political insignificance.
The Republican challenge is simpler: they must either find the courage to complete their ideological purge, or yield to being a right-leaning national party with left-leaning D.C. leaders. If the leadership purge fails, the party will splinter, with each faction having less influence during the turmoil of transition.
However, should voters recognize how supportive the current major political parties are of the corruption that is the current federal government, they may decide not to take on party challenges, and instead #AlterOrAbolish the monster that resides on the Potomac River.