Lessons For Democrats From Trump's Success? Not Many

Does the rise of Donald Trump to the top of the Republican presidential primary hold any lessons for Democrats?  

Many commentators have argued it does -- that Trump's rise, for example, corresponds with growing middle-class anger at the Washington establishment in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and at the anemic economic recovery which has yet to lift many Americans from where they are now.  

And there is certainly something to be said for this: Trump is pushing all the right buttons when he appeals to his supporters' sense of anger and grievance at the political system. The populist rhetoric of his campaign -- even though no one is quite certain how sincere it is -- could not have credibly been carried by a candidate like, say, Jeb Bush or Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

But the larger lesson for the Democrats -- how to prevent a Trump-like candidate from taking over their party in the future -- is a lesson the party does not need. Through the superdelegate system, the Democrats have a more-or-less built-in mechanism to prevent candidates like Trump from receiving the party's nomination.

Although the superdelegate system is fundamentally undemocratic, it has arguably helped the Democrats assimilate ideas from different wings of the party in a much less contentious manner than has been the case on the Republican side, especially recently. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont's campaign is evidence of this: Without his campaign pushing Clinton to the left, it is unclear if issues like the minimum wage, student debt and the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have come up as key issues for many Democratic voters this election cycle.  

Although some "centrist" Democrats see Sanders as their own party's version of Trump, he is not playing nearly the same role that Trump is within the GOP.  Sanders has agreed with many of Clinton's policies over the course of the primary and has repeatedly indicated he will support her in the general election against a candidate like Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The one true political lesson which Trump's campaign does show for the Democrats, as the New York Times' Editorial Board notes, is that the Democrats need to make far more serious efforts at reaching out to lower-income white Americans, a voter bloc that has largely taken to the billionaire's tirades against bad trade deals and what it sees as a lax immigration enforcement regime.

The Democratic Party needs to worry, of course, about intellectual capture by corporate interests, but no more than the GOP needs to. But for the time being, the Trump phenomenon should indicate to Democrats that the superdelegate system should be kept, and that challenges to orthodoxy should be heard and vigorously debated rather than ignored.

Otherwise, Trump has nothing to teach the Democrats.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Source: The New York Times / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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