After four days of the Republican National Convention and two days of the Democrats, one thing is clear: Regardless of who wins in November, it’s been a lot better year for liberals than it’s been for conservatives.
For traditional conservatives, in fact, this election season has been tough, and a bit of an awakening.
The Republican Party has long been thought to be dominated by two factions – pro-business/less government types, and social conservatives. To maintain power, the party has had to appeal to Wall Streeters in New York and pro-lifers in Arkansas.
But it turns out that Donald Trump understood something that the data-driven party establishment didn’t: who really votes for Republicans, and why.
In recent years, the Republican Party has attracted more and more support from two very important groups who don’t fit neatly into the pro-business or social conservative wings: white working people without a college degree, and senior citizens.
At the same time, Republican Party policies have not always aligned with those voters. The party has supported trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, teaming with President Clinton and President Obama to overcome the opposition of Democrats in Congress. Who’s been hurt the most by free trade? Working people without a college degree. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have supported significant changes to Social Security and Medicare that their senior citizen voters generally don’t support.
Then came Donald Trump.
During the campaign, he’s pledged repeatedly not to touch Social Security and Medicare, saying his policies will make the country so rich that no changes are needed. And during his speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump railed against a system rigged in favor of those rich Wall Streeters and blasted those free trade deals. He also repeated his plan to stop illegal immigration, which also has cost working people without a college degree the most.
Trump’s ascendancy is forcing the Republican Party to come to grips with the disconnect between some of its conservative policies and its voters. That’s difficult. Last week, some conservatives stayed home from the Republican National Convention, while others whooped and hollered or at least held their nose and golf-clapped for a candidate who, at times, sounded a lot like a Democrat.
For liberals, Hillary Clinton may have won the nomination, but Sen. Bernie Sanders won the battle of ideas. Thanks to him, the party has taken a giant step to the left, including promising a tuition-free college education to students with a family income of up to $125,000. During his speech to the rowdy convention Monday, Sanders railed against income inequality caused in part by … the same trade deals Donald Trump criticized.
As for social issues, Democrats at the national level no longer are even pretending to straddle the middle. During Sanders’ speech, the person sitting next to President Clinton was Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.
Every election is described as “the most important election of our lifetime.” This one actually does rank up there. We are watching the realignment of both parties. The Republicans, for three decades the party of Reagan conservatism, are becoming the party of Donald Trump. To some degree, they must in order to appeal to their own voters. The Democrats are becoming more liberal – so liberal that President Obama is now one of the party’s moderates, and the Bill Clinton of the 1990s wouldn’t even fit in the party today.
So for liberals, the Democrats, and in some ways the Republicans, have moved in their direction if not past them.
Conservatives, meanwhile, will have some tough questions to ask about their own philosophy. Maybe the best they can hope for is to be both the party of Reagan and the party of Trump.
As for the Wall Streeters who both nominees say they’re mad at? I’m pretty sure they’ll do OK, regardless of who wins or loses.