Welcome to Facts Only, our new column covering the 2016 presidential election, written by REVOLT TV Chief Political Correspondent Amrit Singh. This debut installment of FO is a primer for those seeking an easy point to Trump in. (Now that, should say “jump in," but you just learned lesson #1 of this election: Whenever possible, those informing you about this election will interject The Donald. Facts!) Below we look at the players in the game, where they stand, and how their rivalries will shape this country’s future. NO BIG DEAL. Let’s go!
By Amrit Singh
This already has been a political campaign season like no other. At first, it looked like these primaries and caucuses -- the processes via which the Democrats and Republicans pick their nominees for the general election -- were going to be less of a vote than a coronation, a mere formality in which each party would anoint its premier bloodline for a very special presidential edition of Clinton v. Bush Family Feud. Then came the party crashers -- a pair of New Yorkers with remarkable hairstyles, hailing from different backgrounds but speaking to a similar sort of economic unease: feeling squeezed out and left behind. And suddenly, all bets were off. Set that crown on the ground, because we have ourselves a race.
Now, you likely know the names of these men. But for those just joining the party, we'll tease out the suspense and paint a quick portrait of 2016's presidential players, their drama, and the beauty before the madness.
Let's go with the Democrats first. No matter your vantage point, 2016 seemed like Hillary Clinton's time, a sort of inevitable next act to her historic buckling, in 2008, to the winds of change that swept Barack Obama to his party’s nomination and then into the White House. A Yale Law School graduate, a First Lady, a New York Senator, Hillary had been advertised as -- and still is! -- one of the most qualified nominees for president. Ever. Her time in Obama's cabinet as Secretary Of State seemed to clinch it, allowing her to flex diplomatic chops, increase her standing in the international community, and to slapback some of the goodwill she may have dropped while getting dirty trying to block Obama from his primary destiny.
So, Hillary in 2016: Swish? Well, not quite. Because for all the lofty bona fides Hillary Clinton brings in terms of experience, accomplishment, and the promise of breaking the Oval Office’s gender wall as our first female president, she has, once again, found herself losing footing on a grassroots level: In ’08, she slipped to a young idealistic Senator who whipped the youth vote into a frenzy; in ’16, that equation is repeating itself, as a sizable bloc of impassioned young voters has once again rallied around yet another idealistic Senator. This guy’s a little less young, but with an even longer history as an ideologue. Right before their amazed eyes, the Democrats have watched an unforeseeable showdown unfold: HRC vs. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Clinton's prospects for nomination in 2016 were downgraded from "surest thing in modern political history" to "millennials aren't entirely sure about you for some reason" around the time that Bernie racked up a pair of impressive performances in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The engine that's fueled Sanders's wins is manifest in a social media hashtag -- #FeelTheBern -- symbolizing the passion with which Sanders has spread his message of taking on a "rigged economy" in which wealth continues to concentrate for the top 1% of the population; international trade agreements, which have impacted the American jobs market; college and healthcare costs, which are prohibitively high; and the "too big to fail" Wall St. banks, which are given access to politicians through campaign contributions and big fees for private speeches.
The solution to these problems, as Bernie sees them, is an active government which levies a higher tax than we have now. Bernie calls his take on government "Democratic Socialism," and all along, political pundits figured the word "socialism" would scare away his voters and his chances. Because historically, the very idea of socialism has been attached to the likes of Communists, and the Soviet Union, and Ivan Drago, and other such enemies in the Hollywood blockbusters of yesteryear. Those pundits failed to consider that a newer generation of voter doesn't really remember the Cold War or Rocky IV. But they absolutely remember their last college loan payment, and that it probably was for a not-cool amount.
For her part, Hillary Clinton calls herself a "progressive who gets things done." (This is code for "I want to make change, just somewhat less radically, because I am realistically electable.") Clinton and Sanders do fall on essentially the same side of the major issues that separate Democrats from Republicans, like immigration control, the environment, gun control, abortion legality, Social Security, health care, and on.
But much like the rest of the political establishment, Clinton wasn't prepared for Bernie's more radical positions to be so popular, and she's struggled to locate a similar sort of urgent purpose for her campaign. And so, since Bernie's to the left of her on the political spectrum -- that's the end where socialism lives -- she's slowly danced her way to the left (to the left), too. Hillary is trying to absorb Sanders's popular talking points, which is a common move for front-runners during primary debates, but her being a step off the beat is taking its toll in some communities.
Case in point: Last night, Sanders registered a "stunning" upset of Hillary in Michigan, where Bernie's economic message resonated, and where Hillary's strength with black voters was on display, but not to the degree she saw in the earlier, Southern primaries -- and not to the degree she's likely banking on moving forward. And after the crisis in Flint, where a wanton disregard for the quality of a community's publicly available water led to a case of lead poisoning at the hands of government (and a bright, though far-too-late national media spotlight), Michigan's voter turnout, and its decisions, will be analyzed with a new eye. The #JusticeForFlint movement is real, and something with which REVOLT is intimately involved.)
Now, Hillary still comes out of "Super Tuesday 2" (that's what they call last night's lineup of primaries) with a sizable lead on the prize of these contests, representatives known as "delegates," who are supposed to vote for the person that earns them (to be the Democratic nominee, you need 2383 of them). And if you factor in "superdelegates" -- a mechanism some call undemocratic because these superdelegates are in fact party insiders, who don't actually vote until the convention but have tended to suggest their support for the entrenched campaign of Hillary Clinton -- well, Bernie still has to mount a pretty severe comeback to surmount Hillary's lead. But it's still, those superdelegates can change their mind, and reflect the will of the people. So still, it's a race. So if you're looking for a good fireworks display, make sure to tune in to tonight's Democratic debate. Wednesday, March 9th. It's all on the line. It's all in the side-eye.
On the Republican side, you can look at it two ways: One would be to say, this was the most crowded field in the modern political era, with candidates on candidates on candidates. And that would be true.
But another would be: “Trump vs. Everybody.” And that would be fair and true, too. Over the course of this season, the irascible and magnetic real estate-magnate turned television personality launched his unlikely campaign with the slogan “Make America Great Again”, then upended all conventional political wisdom by seemingly freestyling his way through interviews and campaign rallies, apparently paying little mind to whether his speech might be offensive, much less prudent. And as the pundits kept thinking his latest controversial statement would be the end of his campaign, he kept coming out on top of basically every poll, all the time. He's the teflon don. It’s an absolute anomaly.
Trumpman (Trumpman Trumpman) has pulled no punches. A quick and incomplete playlist of Trump’s greatest hits: He's doled out schoolyard-styled nicknames to foes to draw out his critiques of them. (The vanquished Jeb Bush was "low energy"; Florida Senator Marco Rubio is "Lil Marco" and "sweaty"; Texas Senator Ted Cruz is "Lying Ted.") He believes deeply in American exceptionalism, and that America is less exceptional because of economic threats from Mexico (we'll build a wall, they'll pay for it!) and China (they will bring us down!), and from terroristic threats from Muslims (ban them from immigrating!). He shows his hands at debates to suggest his "size,", and he has others show theirs in a way that some people feel is a bit too fascist. People call him the national id. He calls himself handsome. And as the consummate reality TV star in a political process that's increasingly like a reality TV show, he is, without a doubt, the Republican front-runner for president.
Why has Trump been so successful? There's the aforementioned reasons, but there's also something more fundamental. Like Bernie, but in very different language, Trump is appealing to people who are feeling economically left behind. Like Bernie, he's not beholden to any big donors. (Trump's campaign is proudly "self-funded"; Bernie proudly eschews the traditional corporate campaign finance apparatus, instead drawing his support from millions of citizens making small contributions.) And like Bernie, he's viewed as an outsider to the Washington politics-as-usual class. (In fairness, Trump has been a big Capitol Hill donor for years, but never a candidate, so he's getting a pass; meanwhile Bernie's been working on Capitol Hill for years as a Senator, but outside of the political mainstream, certainly enough to be considered an outsider in 2016 in comparison to one HRC.)
But also, Trump has an undeniable knack for tapping into something that is very real in the American public this election cycle: A certain portion of the country is experiencing a clear and present anger, and a fear that things — like jobs, and control, and this country — are being taken from them. These people are hungry for unscripted authenticity, and immunity from moneyed interests, and to that end, a freewheeling billionaire appears to be the ticket. If there's a "mantle of anger," Trump will gladly take it.
He's not alone in wanting that mantle. In fact, the Republican field this season has been so historically deep with well qualified "establishment" candidates, that while they preyed on each other, Trump shot to the top. And now, most of those many well-heeled candidates are gone. A partial list of notables for whom we will pour one out: Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; NJ Governor Chris Christie; former Florida Governor and perennial son-and-brother-of-presidents Jeb Bush; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee; former Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; and the list goes on, and on, and on.
With all of those departures, the non-Trump field has narrowed to this: Ted Cruz, a Harvard-educated attorney and conservative Texan Senator who's won the most states and delegates in the field aside from Trump; Marco Rubio, the literally well-heeled young Florida Senator who is hailed as a gifted politician and also a malfunctioning robot; and Ohio Governor John Kasich, running as a compassionate conservative who claims to have balanced the federal budget as former Chairman of the House Budget committee, and who possesses a strong standing in his very important home (and battleground) state.
They're all talented, but their paths aren't as clear as Donald's and so the Republican Party is freaking out about whether their party will survive if Trump actually wins the nomination. In response to that deep anxiety, some Republicans are working on a "Never Trump" movement -- or as I like to call it, "Trump Or Jump?" -- actively trying to deny Donald the nomination at any cost. What might "any cost" be?
In short, that means that people like fellow-billionaire and 2012 presidential runner-up Mitt Romney are making speeches and phone calls to voters urging them that Trump is a scourge, and endorsing no one particular opponent, but rather the candidate who is in best position to beat Trump on a state-by-state basis. (Per Romney, that means voting for Rubio in his home state of Florida, Kasich in his home of Ohio, and on.) It's a complicated plan, but it's part of the broader scheme to precipitate a "contested convention," which would come about if Donald is prevented from getting the 1237 delegates needed for the nomination, which would then put the decision in the hands of the party officials at the convention itself.
We'll have a strong sense if it comes to that on March 15th, when Ohio and Florida vote. Those states are rich forever in delegates, and as the homestates of Kasich and Rubio, they are the last great chance the party has to jump Trump. If Trump loses one -- and at this point, it's Ohio that's more in play -- there's a chance he doesn't get the majority of delegates, and that the RNC in Cleveland becomes a mission by party insiders ("the establishment") to wrest the nomination from him on the Convention floor. But if Trump wins both, he's in good shape to lock this thing up. And based on polling after his mighty performance in last night's Super Tuesday 2, he's looking good to win both.
So, either Trump doesn't get the majority of delegates, and we have a contested convention (which hasn't happened since 1948), or he does get the majority of delegates, and the Republican party might just fall apart in protest.
So, breathe deep. Things are getting exciting. And important. And real.
Moving forward, I intend to trace the movements of the race, but also to create a space for deeper thought about the issues that move our lives. To that end: I’d love to know what issues you think are most important this season! The more you tell us, the more those issues can be reflected in the focus of these columns, and in REVOLT 2 Vote.
There are a few ways to get involved. Use the hashtag #REVOLT2Vote on social media. Write me at email@example.com. Hit me on Twitter @amritsingh. And for assorted notes, articles, and other bits related to the election, and this column, follow the Twitter account I’ve set up specifically for this. That handle is @factsonly. Because, that’s all we’re interested in.