What others say: 2016 the people’s election

  • Thursday, March 17, 2016 5:28pm
  • Opinion

Say what you will about this presidential election through Tuesday’s hard-fought primaries in Illinois and four other populous states: It’s been volatile, messy, noisy, exhausting, ugly and sometimes even scary. But you can’t say it hasn’t been democratic with a small “d’’ and a big heart. It’s hard to remember a campaign for the White House that was so wide-open, so competitive, so galvanizing to voters.

Watching the results roll in Tuesday night you saw the Republican race roiled early and often: First, Donald Trump’s fast win in Florida. Then John Kasich’s almost as fast win in Ohio; Trump’s loss there makes it harder for him to lock up the necessary 1,237 delegates for a first-ballot win at the party’s national convention in Cleveland. And, sandwiched between those two events, Marco Rubio’s withdrawal — thus making him, yes, a potential GOP candidate for vice president. All of that within an hour of the polls closing here in Illinois, where Trump also triumphed. Whew.

Almost as swiftly, Hillary Clinton had won Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. So if you’ve been hoping for open conventions in which neither party’s candidate is predetermined: The odds that Republicans who oppose Donald Trump can survive a first convention ballot improved Tuesday night — even as the already slim odds that Bernie Sanders can make a real race of this grew a little slimmer.

There is no telling who will be inaugurated next January. But it’s clear that the familiar presidential election template has been smashed, most likely for good. American democracy, often controlled by powerful insiders, has been taken over by the people.

No one saw it coming. Ever since Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, the smart money bet that veteran insiders Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would enjoy a smooth, straight ride to their parties’ 2016 nominations. They had the names, they had the connections, they had the money and they presumably had the good opinion of most of the rank-and-file.

The grousing often heard back then was that Americans were going to be subjected to the political equivalent of a monarchical succession battle. The campaign would follow carefully staged choreography. It was going to be stale, predictable and dull.

Nothing about the Trump and Sanders campaigns has been conventional. Trump has about as much interest in conservative philosophy as he does in occupying a bungalow. Sanders has served more than two decades in Congress while disdaining the party whose nomination he seeks: He was an independent who has caucused with Democrats but kept his own counsel.

Trump rejects the GOP traditions of free trade and muscular internationalism. Sanders has criticized Bill Clinton, a Democratic icon, as an apologist for Wall Street whose welfare reform amounted to “scapegoating some of the most vulnerable people in this country.”

You don’t have to agree with either of these candidates to recognize that they have changed the way the presidential campaign game is played — by challenging assumptions and upending expectations. They have captured the interest of people who sat on the sidelines in the past.

Both have attracted huge throngs to their rallies. Republican turnout has been well above what it was four years ago and, in many states, the highest of any year going back to 1980. Democratic participation has likewise spiked from the 2012 level.

Populism is not always a positive force. Trump’s alarms about Mexicans and Muslims exploit unsavory racial and religious prejudices. Sanders’ ostentatious contempt for “Wall Street” and demand for near-confiscatory income tax rates play on class envy and economic fantasy.

But their showing in this rambunctious campaign cycle proves that the people running things up till now have failed to address the legitimate concerns of many Americans who feel left out or misused. In a democracy, when large numbers of people are unhappy, they have the option of rebelling.

In 2016, in these United States, the people rule.

—The Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2016

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