Last night we had dinner with a group of friends whose politics spanned the political spectrum from progressive to conservative, from card-carrying D to card-carrying R. When the talk turned to politics — talk that was, incidentally, respectful and reasonable in tone, despite the different perspectives — the uniform reaction to the upcoming election and the national polls was one of wonder and astonishment.
On the Republican side, the continued success of Donald Trump has become something of a phenomenon. On the Democratic side, the extraordinary spectre of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, struggling and locked in hand-to-hand combat with a would-be Socialist is only slightly less stunning. We decided it would be interesting to have everyone at the party predict who would win each party’s nomination and ultimately the general election — and throw $10 into the pool for the winner — and I’m sure the guesses reflected radically different views of what will happen. When was the last time that the nominees for both parties were so unpredictable?
Another interesting dynamic was that everybody seemed genuinely interested in what other people where thinking about why this is happening. This is an election where the conventional wisdom and inside-the-Beltway punditry have utterly failed to capture the mood of the voters, so why not ask your friends what they think and hear what they have to say? But it’s hard to understand — in fact, it’s mind-boggling — how Donald Trump continues to avoid the consequences of his (many) stupid statements and the fact that he has changed his position on virtually every position, and it’s equally hard to understand how the well-heeled Clinton campaign could be so inept and politically tone-deaf that Bernie Sanders, of all people, could mount a significant challenge.
If there was a consensus reached last night, it is that there is a deep wellspring of unhappiness and disappointment bubbling below the surface of the American populace that both Trump and Sanders have tapped. These are people who have tried to vote for change in recent elections — including for the professed “Hope and Change” candidate in 2008 and 2012 — but the change hasn’t happened and now they have lost hope. They think things are going to hell, they are afraid of losing their jobs and their livelihoods, they are fed up with the establishment candidates and the conventional power structures and they want things to change, no matter what. They are confident that Donald Trump will shake things up, no matter whatever else he may do, and they think that Hillary Clinton, the ultimate insider candidate, will just bring more of the same.
If our consensus has accurately identified the mood that is supporting Trump and Sanders, it’s a mood that isn’t going to change in the next few weeks or even months. Batten down the hatches!