Trump, Hillary Will Have Major Impact On Their Parties

| by Nik Bonopartis
Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton

It used to be easier for conservative thought leaders and money men to keep the plebs in line.

For the better part of three decades, Reaganism and trickle-down economics were sacrosanct concepts in American conservatism and Republicanism. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the movement's Bible. Blue-collar workers and Evangelicals could be relied upon to vote for mainstream Republicans. They could be relied upon to place indignant calls to right wing radio whenever someone had the temerity to suggest what's good for the billionaires isn't necessarily what's good for the average American.

Not any more.

It's difficult to get people to toe the line when the gap between the nation's rich and everyone else has been widening for decades. It's difficult to paint billionaire bigwigs as "just like us" when they play the stock market without risk and hide their money in tax havens. The illusion of aligned interests shatters when headlines about things like the Panama Papers remind people the ultra-wealthy have a thousand ways to cheat the system. It becomes pretty much impossible to glue that illusory mirror back together when a political movement's powerful leaders openly conspire to take from regular Americans the one thing they have left -- the vote.

"Those who see the nationalist populism of Mr. Trump as an aberration in a party that will soon return to free-market, limited government orthodoxy are mistaken," New American Foundation fellow Michael Lind writes in the New York Times, arguing that Trumpism and Clintonism are the future of a re-aligned American party system.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump didn't invent the populism that's taken hold of America's right -- he simply harnessed it for his political purposes, tapping into the anger and frustration of regular Americans who see the success of their much more well-heeled political allies and ask, "Where's the prosperity you've been promising us?"

Others have struck similar populist chords, Lind notes. Political figures like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Pat Buchanan leveraged the political strength of those on the religious right, pandering to them on social issues like abortion and gay marriage in exchange for for their support on fiscal issues like tax cuts for the rich.

But Trump is a different animal. He's not interested in selling himself as an aw-shucks, good old American values type of guy, nor does he even bother to perpetuate the illusion that Republicans will address social issues at some nebulous point in the future.

The fact that he's been successful despite abandoning the tried-and-true carrots of social issues means Trump has left an indelible mark on the Republican Party, even if he doesn't become the party's nominee.

In other words, the game has changed.

"Whatever becomes of his bid for the presidency, Mr. Trump exposed the gap between what orthodox conservative Republicans offer and what today’s dominant Republican voters actually want," Lind writes.

Could the same thing be said of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton? Lind thinks so.

Former President Bill Clinton played a calculated, politically shrewd game. He successfully courted liberals, despite moving to the center to win two general elections, and despite maintaining decidedly conservative stances on issues like crime, punishment, gay rights and military intervention.

Bill's presidency was marked by half-measures like the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that kept gay service members closeted for the better part of two decades. He signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and mollified conservatives with draconian criminal justice reforms.

A New Clintonism, Lind argues, will require Hillary to repudiate most of her husband's positions.

"This realignment within the Democratic Party requires Hillary Clinton to distance herself from many of the policies of her husband’s administration and to adopt policies favored by her party’s core constituencies," Lind argues. "On issues from criminal justice to immigration enforcement, that is precisely what she has done."

A more cynical read of the situation is that Hillary doesn't adopt any new position without polling data and advisors telling her it's "safe" to evolve. Clinton's political record bears that out -- she was a hawkish supporter of the war in Iraq when statues of Saddam Hussein were being toppled by jubilant Iraqis on live TV, but became a vocal critic when the situation there worsened and the public's mood changed. She championed her husband's criminal justice reform program and continued to defend it until recently when it made her look out of touch.

Hillary was perfectly willing to force gay service members to remain in the closet, and endorsed civil unions instead of gay marriage, until the massive cultural shift of the last half decade ushered in a renaissance for the gay rights movement. Even the way she justifies her earlier stances is carefully calculated, like her insistence that "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act were "defensive actions" against conservatives, as she told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

Lind is correct -- Trumpism and Clintonism have already left their respective marks on Republicans and Democrats, and the 2016 campaigns will shape the future of both parties regardless of the eventual fates of the candidates. But Clintonism isn't so much an ideology or a strategy as it is a cynical policy of playing safe. In that sense, Clinton's legacy within her party might be more accurately termed safe-ism, or poll-ism, especially if that pessimistic approach beats out the honesty of her chief rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The New York Times, RawStory / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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