The outcome of 2020 is not yet settled, obviously, but these two presidential election contests taken together already tell an amazing story.
The Democrat-Republican establishment had 2016 all planned out. According to the plan, 2016 would be another Clinton-Bush election, this time Jeb(!) versus Hillary. Hillary would win of course, and politics would return to normal. The majority party Democrats would keep pushing for bigger and more unaffordable government, the minority party Republicans would continue their project of steadily losing the fight, and the establishmentarians on both sides would continue feathering their nests.
But back to normal was not to be. Obama changed the game in ways the political establishment did not quite understand. What Obama did was the American political equivalent of walking on water; he had quite openly rejected America, and yet he was rewarded with a two-term presidency! As a result, it was not clear that politics in America was ever going to return to normal—and in any case, there was no chance 2016 was going to be a return to normal.
In 2016, the Republican party leadership looked on in disbelief as their voters stuck them with a candidate who had an excellent claim not to be a Republican. Meanwhile, the Democrats had a close call; their voters very nearly stuck them with a candidate who was not and had never been a Democrat. Republican voters rejected “their” party, and Democrat voters came close to rejecting “their” party, and they might have succeeded except for behind the scenes efforts by the party professionals to rig the system.
These were astonishing developments, but we need look no further than Barack Obama for the explanation.
For more than a century before the advent of Obama, the Left had adhered to a stealth strategy. They maintained a remarkable degree of party discipline over that long period, believing stealth was necessary and that it was the secret of their phenomenal success in overthrowing the Constitution incrementally, progressively. Instead of openly rejecting the Constitution, they had carefully installed in their voters a belief in what they called “the living Constitution.” A living Constitution is, of course, no Constitution at all; it is really a dying Constitution, a Constitution in the process of being murdered by a thousand cuts.
A few years ago, Encounter Books published a book of mine on the Constitution. Since then I have had many opportunities to be spoken to about the Constitution by Democrat voters. When they hear I have written on the Constitution, they unfailingly tell me right away that the important thing to understand is that we have “a living Constitution.” In general, that is all they “know” about the Constitution and all they want to know. The more outspoken ones insist that I agree with them that the Constitution changes constantly and must change constantly because of changing circumstances.
But Obama broke with tradition. To those paying attention on the Left, he did not hide his disdain for the Constitution, for America, or even for the flag—and the Left went wild. For the Left, Obama’s success meant the galling necessity for stealth was over, that they could let it all hang out because America was ready for a leftist revolution. Many Democrat voters agreed. They were no longer willing to put up with a Democrat candidate mouthing platitudes neither they nor the candidate believed so that candidate could be elected.
Comes the hour, comes the man. Sanders was almost completely untainted by the strategy of stealth. Not only was he not a Democrat, but he had also honeymooned in the Soviet Union. In 2011, he wrote an op-ed in which he declared that the American dream is “more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina” than in the United States. At the Democratic candidates’ forum in New Hampshire on Friday night, he said America is “a racist society from top to bottom.”
As for Trump, we can say of him what Lincoln said of Grant: “he fights.” Trump’s voters wanted a fighter, someone who would not be rolled by the biparty establishment.
Many Democrat voters were as eager to rally around a candidate from beyond their party as Republican voters were eager to rally around one from beyond their party. Sanders’ enthusiastic crowds are the perfect counterpoint to Trump’s crowds chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.” The anti-Americanism of Sanders and his voters is matched by Trump and his voters’ unabashed love for America. Sanders and Trump and their voters have this in common: they reject the old agreement according to which the majority party pretends to respect the Constitution while taking it apart and the minority party somehow never manages to mount a successful defense of it. Win or lose, we are in a new game now.
Only time will tell if the Democrat insiders will be able to stop Sanders this time around. Perhaps they will, perhaps they won’t. But in either case, it is now clear that Obama succeeded in fundamentally transforming America’s two-party system. We now have an openly anti-American party and an openly pro-American party.
Obama promised to bring about a fundamental transformation of America, and in this fundamental transformation of America’s political parties, he can legitimately claim he succeeded.