The "Managers" Versus The "Populists"

Many political pundits are remarking on the unique nature of this year’s election and especially the presence of Donald Trump.  More importantly, it is not just Trump, but other Republican candidates who “don’t fit the mold.”  Each has held the limelight for a period of time although Trump certainly steals the show.  But, this election is really not different from 2008 or 2012; the difference this year is that there are more candidates in the mix.  In one sense, the Republican Party should be proud of the diversity of the candidates who hail from different backgrounds, different geographical regions and different ideologies.  Whether it is the conservatism of Cruz or the libertarian leanings of Paul, the evangelical appeal of others, or the “moderation” of Jeb Bush, the many viewpoints within the GOP are on full display.  It is certainly more dynamic and entertaining than the coronation of Hillary Clinton on the other side of the aisle.

Thomas Jefferson stated (in a different context) that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  As far as the GOP as a party goes, “the tree of the party’s soul must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of “moderates” (or the managers) and the not-so-moderates (Tea Party, conservatives).”  The manager is generally white collar and right/center while the conservatives tend to be blue collar/evangelical.  I like to call the latter the “populists,” but in a good non-liberal sense.  Usually, the managers prevail.  That was certainly true in 2008 and 2012.

Given the number of candidates this year, no single candidate can capture that segment of the GOP.  In fact, they are falling by the wayside- people like Walker, Bush, Kasich and Christie.  At various times in this campaign, each made a claim to being “the choice.”  Their downfall was simply a rejection of them by virtue of their inclusion in the managerial class.

But if that dynamic is working on one side of the GOP, then it is also happening on the other side.  The rhetoric of Cruz and Trump and, to a lesser extent, Carson is a blue collar conservative populism.  The bottom line: no one on either side can consolidate their wing of the party.  Cruz is fighting for Trump followers and vice versa.  Hence, Trump questions whether Cruz can even be President and reintroduces “birtherism” into the political lexicon.  On the other side, one candidate attacks the Christie-Obama bromance on the beach while missed votes in the Senate become a campaign issue.  And on it goes.

While some portray this as an entertaining sideshow, it really isn’t.  This is an ongoing passion play within the Republican Party.  The managerial class essentially has no one left to rally around.  Bush, Christie and Kasich are basically dead meat if the polls are to be believed.  They may hang around to varying degrees, but none of them will be the nominee.  By default, Rubio becomes essentially the D-list selection and suffers the consequences from the other side.  The presence of Trump denies Cruz the chance to consolidate the conservative wing behind him.

For many years now, people have complained about nominating the more moderate candidate.  Those complaints are justified to a degree given the electoral results- defeats in 2008 and 2012.  Further, conservatives have been burned by those they supported in the past.  Whether it was Medicare Part D or No Child Left Behind, a string of Bush policies, not to mention the spending that accompanied them, was certainly not conservative.  Bush’s political legacy within the GOP was to make the true conservative wary of those claiming to be conservative.   Hence the demand today that a true conservative be nominated.

But, here is the beauty of this year’s election for the GOP: Unless your last name is Trump OR those managers listed earlier, the nominee will be conservative.  As it stands now, the Trump/Cruz supporters are attacking the “moderate” (term to be used in the loosest sense) Rubio primarily over his immigration Gang of Eight participation, missed votes in the Senate and his boots.  But, he has that 94% rating from Heritage Action and most analysis of his tenure in Congress clearly points in the conservative direction.  As for Cruz, he touts his conservative credentials whether in the Senate or as attorney general of Texas.  The question comes down to how conservative the nominee will be.  The wariness on the Right about Rubio is somewhat justified.  We have heard claims of conservatism before only to be hoodwinked.  Bush did it and McCain and Romney were denied the chance in the general election (and look what it got us).  We know the more conservative factions of the GOP prefer Cruz.  But, they alone cannot carry him to the White House.  For Cruz, the question is: Has he burnt too many bridges behind him?

Conversely, the managerial class alone cannot carry Rubio to the White House.  For him the question among the more conservative voter is: Can we trust him knowing what we know about 2000, 2008 and 2012?  Along the way, the vetting process is more stringent since the more conservative people show up to vote in primaries.  But, each is fighting a two-front war with Rubio likely to dispatch his “managerial” opponents quicker than Cruz will dispatch Trump.

This analysis leaves out Donald Trump who is in a strange class by himself.  To the evangelical Republican voter, his statement that there is nothing in his life he should be repentant for should be disqualification right there.  A self-professed billionaire (God knows he’s reminded us enough) attacking billionaires should be disqualification right there.  A candidate obviously devoid of knowledge of how the Constitution actually works with things like checks and balances, the definition of “natural born” or birthright citizenship should be further disqualification material (citing Laurence Tribe does not help either).

Finally, let us leave out talk of electability at this point.  National polls showing Cruz within two points of Clinton or Rubio leading or close to Clinton mean little 10 months before the general election.  They mean even less because we do not elect presidents by popular vote.  Face it: New York and California are not giving their electoral votes to Rubio or Cruz.  The importance of polls is further diminished given the string of failures by polling companies when it comes to accuracy.  Trump is a bizarre hybrid who has an appeal to both sides, but enough to carry him to the nomination either.  The question for Trump is twofold: Is he really conservative, and if so, are we to believe him in 2016 knowing what we do about his past?

Instead, we need to realize that the future of this country lies in the balance.  Do we elect Hillary Clinton who has already said she will double down on many Obama policies while leaving others in place and who takes pride in counting Republicans as her enemies?  Can we endure and survive another 4-8 years of a de facto Obama presidency?  This writer likes to look on the bright side realizing that whoever emerges from the GOP- likely Cruz or Rubio- we will be nominating a true conservative.