Here are three big takeaways from the Indiana presidential primaries, in which Donald Trump won on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.
There is bad news for diehard Republicans and Democrats, but there's absolutely phenomenal news for libertarians and independents who have been looking for an exit from the political status quo for decades now.
1. Donald Trump has always been very popular with Republicans and will only get more so. However divisive a character he is nationally (and he is, with two-thirds of Americans holding an unfavorable opinion of him), Trump has always been extremely popular among regular Republicans and voters who lean Republican. In fact, his favorability rating with them has never dipped below 50 percent. From Gallup:
Hardcore ideological conservatives dislike and distrust Trump despite his general adherence to the litany of programs, policies, and postures that define them. Sure, he's appallingly anti-immigrant, he's anti-abortion, he's in favor of having a gigantic military. His campaign slogan—"Make America Great Again"—and his contempt for political correctness also square perfectly with conservative mind-sets. Yet it's clear that Trump isn't a philosophical or "principled" conservative sprung fully formed from the pages of National Review or The Weekly Standard. His crudeness and lack of basic knowledge of government functions (at one point, he said that judges sign laws) is an issue, too.
Similarly, party elders (folks at the Republican National Committee and the upper reaches of Congress) hate the fact they effectively had no say or influence in or on Trump's candidacy. FFS, we're the national-security party and this guy walked right through out front door! No billionaire anywhere has ever really been an outsider, but the Donald actually comes kind of close in this context, especially since he flouted all sorts of etiquette and protocols.
Some #NeverTrumpers will stay that way—Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted his continuing boycott of Trump last night despite sharing the candidate's awful anti-immigration and pro-military views—but many more will ultimately come around to #BetterTrump for the same reasons Trump has always been popular with Republican voters. Despite the lack of ritual incantations of William F. Buckley or the Founding Fathers, Trump is in fact an excellent (and, from a libertarian perspective, appalling) representative of what the GOP has long said it was all about. Or are the 59 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who view him favorably (a figure that will only climb) just that dumb?
[Article continues after video, "6 Ways Conservatives & The GOP CREATED Donald Trump"]
2. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are in deep disarray. Hillary Clinton is starting to resemble the Chicago Cubs, one of the baseball teams she once unconvincingly lied about liking. She couldn't close out against Barack Obama in 2008 and now she's stretching things out uncomfortably against a wheezing-and-huffing old man who is actually preaching Democratic Party redistributionism circa 1969.
Sanders' appeal has two basic thrusts. First, he's not Hillary Clinton, who wore out her welcome first as a faux-feminist, long-suffering first lady; then as a senator from New York who was reliably pro-Wall Street, pro-war, anti-civil liberties, and tough on crime; and then as an ineffective secretary of state who was a towel girl for a suprisingly interventionist president (who, let us never forget, has generally been worse for civil liberties than George W. Bush). Second, though an independent, Sanders unapologetically pushes what most liberals and certainly all progressives take as gospel truth: The government owes you free health care, free college, free everything. All we need to do is expropriate the banksters' money before putting them in jail and giving everyone good manufacturing jobs right here at home and then taxing the hell out of them. In the early debates, Clinton would literally roll her eyes when Sanders laid out his basic platform, assuming the crowd was with her. It wasn't.
Despite decades of being misidentified by the right as a "leftist" or "socialist," Clinton (like her husband) was generally a centrist Democrat (hence, the hawkish foreign policy and her willingness to pass AMT patches every year to help out relatively wealthy constituents in the New York metro area). In order to fend off Sanders, she's been tacking left all primary season, dissing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that she pushed hard as Secretary of State, calling for a higher minimum wage, coming out against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and what have you. The fact that she, the presumptive Democratic nominee since Obama won re-election, has had to run to her own left and is still breaking a sweat to put Sanders down for good is a sign that the Democratic Party leadership is every bit as out of touch with their constituents as are the Republicans.
This is (hopefully) the last election of the "long" 20th century. Political parties are not generally philosophically consistent organizations that build outward from a common core of beliefs. Rather, they are collections of special-interest groups who then create an ideology that makes it all seem logical and coherent. What exactly is the philosophical continuity between, say, being against abortion and higher marginal tax rates while favoring interventionism and amendments against flag burning? Or being pro-union and pro-choice?
The groups comprising the current versions of the Democratic and Republican Parties are changing, dying, morphing, or simply recognizing that there's little or nothing left to bind them to one another (Was that Bill Clinton, the first black president, telling Black Lives Matter protesters to screw off?). The result are fractious intra-party fights and less and less appeal to large groups of people. This is the main reason why party identification is at or near historic lows for both Democrats and Republicans: These worn-out old coalitions are less relevant and representative than they were 40 or 50 years ago.
3. This is an incredible time to be a libertarian and an independent. A few weeks ago, a Monmouth University poll found that 11 percent of respondents would pick the 2012 Libertarian Party (LP) candidate, Gary Johnson, in a three-way race with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The former two-term (Republican) governor of New Mexico, Johnson is a socially liberal and fiscally conservative character who supports more-open borders, free-er trade, pot legalization, a non-interventionist foreign policy, balanced budgets, abortion rights, and marriage equality. Which is to say, more than either Clinton or Trump (not to mention Sanders or Cruz), Johnson represents where most Americans are on most issues.
The LP picks its nominee at the end of the month. If it's Johnson, who has more executive experience than Hillary Clinton and who built several successful private-sector businesses (though not at the scale of Trump), expect all sorts of weird things to start happening. First will come panic from the solons in both parties, who will castigate Johnson as an admitted pot smoker (he is!) and claim that winning election twice as a Republican in a Democratic-majority state doesn't mean anything (it does!). Naysayers will also yammer that New Mexico is a place of no significance, so who cares that he ran the joint successfully!
Then will come the attacks on Johnson's policies and positions themselves: How dare a presidential candidate suggest allowing people to just come to America and, assuming they don't have a criminal record or a communicable disease, work legally! What is this, America in the 19th century? How will we ever bring peace to the Middle East if we're not constantly sending troops there? If we don't bail out student loan debtors how will we be able to bail out Wall Street with a straight face? And on and on.
Johnson isn't perfect by any stretch (I've detailed some of my issues with him here). But he is different from either Clinton or Trump, just as the basic LP platform presents a different ideological matrix than the ones presented by the foundering Republican and Democratic Parties. The LP is small enough that, unlike the major parties, it has no special-interest groups that it's trying to lasso into a single, large voting bloc. At this stage, all it's got are some basic principles by which it might attract more and more people sick and tired of the same-old same-old in every election. IMO, there's no plausible way that Johnson or the LP pulls more than the low double digits at best in this election, but there's every reason to believe that a strong articulation of a socially liberal and fiscally conservative political philosophy will allow the most motivated independents somewhere to go and start a long-delayed reboot of major-party politics. Again and again, polls show that we want a government that does less and cost less, at least in the abstract. This could well be the moment when those ideas start to get fleshed out in a national election and jump-start a shift away from a 20th-century model of a massive and unsustainable welfare and warfare state to something more suited to 21st-century realities.
If longstanding political affiliations are fraying—and they are, as evidenced by declines in voter identification, "enthusiasm gaps" up the yin-yang for major party candidates, and more—that's because Americans are tired of picking between choices that were created in the mid to late-20th century. Nobody's first pick for a car is a 1974 Plymouth Duster or even an early '90s Oldsmobile, right? Why shouldn't our politics actually upgrade to something at least made in this century?