Predictably enough, the Republican National Convention had turned into a legendary shitshow even before it had officially begun; after that, it got even crazier. A few more days like this and we might start approaching UK politics levels of shambolic incompetence.
It’s easy, and understandable, for liberals to look at the spectacle in Cleveland with schadenfreude. But the forces tearing the Republican Party apart are by no means unique to Republicans, and the current situation in the UK proves that it’s entirely possible for both major parties to fall apart at the seams simultaneously.
I now officially have a bet with Matt Yglesias, of Vox, about whether Hillary Clinton will be president on January 22, 2021. He says she will be, I say she won’t be, and the loser will donate $100 to Give Directly.
Matt’s logic, in this argument, is a little bit squirrelly, not least because it relies in large part on the idea that “most presidents are re-elected”. Which is true!
But Hillary isn’t going to be “most presidents." She’s going to be one of the most unpopular presidents of all time. She’s already the most unpopular major-party presidential nominee of all time, except for Donald Trump. And with the steadily increasing polarization between Republicans and Democrats, each Democratic president is less popular among Republicans than the last. So demonization from the Republican side is a given, while the lack of enthusiasm on the Democratic side can be seen in every poll.
More importantly, if she wins in November, Clinton is going to be president during the third consecutive term that a Democrat has held the White House. And the fact is that in the modern era, no party has ever held the presidency for any longer than that.
Here’s the list of the 11 U.S. presidents since the Civil War who succeeded a member of their own party: Rutherford B. Hayes; James Garfield; Chester Arthur; Theodore Roosevelt; William Howard Taft; Calvin Coolidge; Herbert Hoover; Harry S. Truman; Lyndon B. Johnson; Gerald Ford; George H. W. Bush. Of those 11, not one was ever re-elected to a second term.
So if you’re looking backward, you’d sensibly conclude that Clinton will do no better than her 11 predecessors in terms of getting re-elected. And if you’re looking forward, things look even worse for her.
The current turmoil in the Republican party was foreseen four years ago by The Onion, and the forces of chaos are both stronger and more national than they were then. Anti-establishment fervor is by no means a uniquely Republican phenomenon, as millions of Bernie Sanders supporters will be very eager to tell you. It’s growing stronger every year, and it’s not the kind of phenomenon that can be defused by simply governing in an effective and competent manner.
The most interesting Twitter account to follow during these conventions is probably that of Chris Arnade, a financier turned photographer who has been doing an amazing job both of documenting and understanding the anger and frustration of the non-elite, and of explaining it in terms the elite is likely to understand. He writes:
Frustrated with broken promises, [Trump voters] gave up on the knowable and went with the unknowable. They chose Trump, because he comes with a very high distribution. A high volatility. (He also signals in ugly ways, that he might just move them, and only them and their friends, higher with his stated policies).
As any trader will tell you, if you are stuck lower, you want volatility, uncertainty. No matter how it comes. Put another way. Your downside is flat, your upside isn’t. Break the system.
I met up with Chris last week, before the conventions, and our conversation really drove home for me the degree to which current U.S. politics reflects stubborn demographic realities, whether the elites like it or not.
That’s why Hillary is doomed in 2020. If Republicans “don’t want to fight,” says Yglesias, she’ll be able to do things like sign new trade deals, repatriate corporate balance sheets, and change the inflation index used to calculate tax brackets.
That kind of technocratic agenda may or may not be a good idea, but it’s not going to resonate with the angry and downtrodden people who see inequality constantly rising and who have nothing to lose by revolting, simply because they have nothing to lose. Those Americans are not all old, and they’re not all white, and they’re not all Republicans.
Donald Trump has reinvented the Republican Party as the party of the angry and the righteous; his successor will be able to harness that anger to kick Hillary Clinton out of the White House. The Republicans might be a mess right now, but they will be much more powerful, and just as angry, in four years’ time. And there’s nothing the Democrats can do to stop them.