Of course, the title is a play on Bill Clinton’s line about the economy. But as someone who spent several months campaigning locally, and several months in denial about Trump’s and Sanders’s prospects, it applies to me.
I began by thinking that Trump was a passing fad. As someone who cares a lot about policy, I thought his debate performances were disasters. He didn’t seem to have any clear positions except that the U.S. is going to build a wall on its southern border and Mexico is going to pay for it.
Other than that, he seemed to be all over the map. He once was pro-abortion and now he’s anti-abortion. The economy does better under Democrats, oh wait it doesn’t. He had a plan to pay off the national debt (which would require 24% economic growth for each of eight years, the record being 19% at the start of World War II).
When Cruz beat Trump in the Iowa caucuses I figured it was over for him and the real race was Cruz and Rubio. Then Trump won New Hampshire and kept winning and winning.
In the other corner is Bernie Sanders, the irascible Vermont Senator who is a self-described Socialist and has been a member of the Democratic Party since way back in 2015. Surely he’s not going to get any traction, I thought. With over 20 state primary and caucus victories, and within striking distance of Mrs. Clinton in California, he refuses to go away.
It’s very unlikely that Sanders will get the Democratic nomination and virtually certain that Trump will get the Republican nomination. But the two of them have really hit a nerve.
Campaigning unsuccessfully for the state legislature, I was struck by the number of people who were favorable on both Trump and Sanders. People who had caucused for Sanders put up my yard signs even with me carefully explaining that I am both a social and fiscal conservative.
The short of it is that a lot of people just hate the federal government. They see the Clintons and the Bushes and even guys like Cruz — who tried to position himself as an anti-Establishment candidate but had trouble because he is a sitting Senator — as anathema. It’s 4th and 21 early in the fourth quarter and we’re down by 17 and a huge chuck of the electorate doesn’t want to punt. They want to run a fake punt, or throw long or do something other than make the “safe” play.
These disaffected voters aren’t really sure what the problem is, they aren’t really sure what the solution might be, but they know for darn sure that things aren’t going well and they don’t trust anyone from the Washington elite to fix it. The sources of anxiety are legion. Unemployment is allegedly low, but it sure doesn’t feel like a robust recovery from the Great Recession. They don’t feel safe for all sorts of reason, from the San Bernardino shootings to the bombings of nightclubs in western democracies abroad. They don’t think the long security lines at airports are really doing them any good. And in real terms, they’re paying more tax than they ever have while the national debt pushes $19 trillion.
I’ll make the following prediction. Mrs. Clinton (whom I think is virtually certain to be the Democratic nominee, scandals be darned) won’t get 50% of the popular vote. She may get elected, but it will be because the opposition to her gets divided between Trump, the Libertarians and French-fry-guy (assuming he gets on any significant number of state ballots).
I wish there were a simple answer, but there’s not one.