Good News Bernie or Bust: Hillary Clinton is the New Center of American Politics
Hillary Clinton is courting the Right. In part, this is just elections as usual. The primaries pull candidates to their base’s extremes and then the general election forces them back towards the center, always at the risk of losing the movement’s fundamentalists. It’s a calculated risk that generally pays off because by the very definition, hardliners in any party are going to be outliers. Political persuasion falls on a bell curve.
This election is, as we keep hearing, different. When most people say that, they’re referring to the Donald Trump Three Ring Circus that has dominated the news with outrageous statements and the absolute abandonment of even a hint of political decorum. While Trump is absorbing headline space like a black hole, though, another massive change is getting less attention. It’s becoming more apparent that Clinton is in a position to win over a significant portion of establishment Republicans and conservatives.
On the surface, this could be construed as Clinton uniting the two parties. In the sense that the party establishments have a common enemy, there is a sheen of truth to that notion, but it’s a superficial rationalization. When the election ends, no matter who wins, the party divide will reemerge. Disagreement between the parties, as the well-worn saying goes, isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
If the Never Trump forces can keep the alleged billionaire out of the White House, they’ll be left with a president whose policies essentially continue those of Obama. The thing is, many conservatives would prefer an enemy they know than a friend they don’t. It’s impossible to know what will happen to the GOP in the wake of Trump’s candidacy, especially not until we know if he will lose, and by how much. A time of reflection and self-recrimination is surely in order, though it may never come, but this election all but guarantees business as usual is no longer an option.
It’s easy to ignore, in the midst of the GOP meltdown, that party division is not just a problem for the Republicans. Yes, most Bernie Sanders supporters (by no means, all) will get behind Clinton. Some will do it because they recognize the two Democratic candidates have more in common than they do differences; some will do it because they just can’t stand Trump; and some will do it because the third party candidates are genuinely terrible. Whatever their reasons, it’ll hardly count as a ringing endorsement of Clinton.
As the primaries showed, there are a lot of left-leaning voters who would prefer Sanders’ rabble-rousing, socialist politics to Clinton’s centrist maneuvering; almost as many as who voted for Trump.
Trump likes to repeat the line that he received the most votes of any Republican in a primary in history, which is true. He received 14,013,998, compared to the just-shy-of 8 million votes that his next closest competitor, Ted Cruz, received. That’s impressive, until you focus on that important qualifier: Republican. Clinton received 16,912,545 votes, and she isn’t even touting that as the most Democratic votes ever. Meanwhile, Sanders received 13,205,839 votes in the primary, roughly 800,000 less votes than Trump.
Comparing votes in the Democratic and Republican primaries is comparing apples and oranges since the parties have different primary processes. However you figure it, though, Clinton had more people come out for her than Trump did, and her base wasn’t nearly as motivated or vocal. Time after time, polls show a perpetual left-lean in the American electorate. The degree of that lean fluctuates, but with the nation’s demographics shifting towards greater diversity, we can expect that trend to only strengthen.
As that shift occurs, the former political “center” will drift rightward. The Clintons, once the standard-bearers of the Left, have lost their 90s clout. Yes, Clinton won the nomination, but only just so, and against a guy who was basically unknown a year ago. It’s one thing to lose to the charismatic, young, first black president, but almost losing to a man who is decidedly none of those things points to a considerable shift leftward in the party.
Now, some will balk at the assertion that America is left-leaning and will point to Trump’s bigoted, anti-science, isolationist candidacy as proof that the Right is still going strong. The facts, though, suggest otherwise. Consider: While Trump absolutely did ignite a passionate base in the primaries, that base hasn’t grown in the general election. If anything, it’s shrinking with each new public appearance. Also, in polls of people who are voting Trump, more people say they are voting against Clinton than for Trump. Clinton is incredibly unpopular, too, but she still has more people voting for her than against him. Yes, 14 million is a lot of people, but it’s not even 5% of the nation’s ever diversifying population.
Currently, the demographic shifts have benefited Clinton. She beat Sanders handedly among so-called minorities across the board. On the other hand, she lost young voters by a considerable margin. To state the obvious, young voters are the future of the Democratic party, and that future is left of Clinton. Even if we correctly assume that most liberals grow moderate with age, a tempered Sanders voter would still be more liberal than Clinton.
As Clinton reaches out to bring dejected Republicans into her tent, she is revealing the inevitable truth: Establishment Democrats are becoming the Conservative party. People who associate conservatism with Trump and the current spineless Republicans who won’t resist him will surely reject that notion. Trump isn’t a genuine conservative, though. He’s an opportunist taking whatever stance will please his base. Some would say the same of Clinton, but at least she has a political record to stand on. Clinton is a hawkish, fiscal centrist in an age where the Left is growing more anti-interventionist and socialist.
Even where Clinton can be seen as leftist — on social issues — she’s really just falling in line with mainstream liberalism, which is, by default of shifting demographics, becoming more of a centrist view. Most of America is fine with gay marriage, doesn’t want to abolish abortion completely, and believes women should make an equal wage. In a decade, the idea that opposition to those stances was ever strong enough to warrant a real challenge will seem baffling and embarrassing.
If Clinton takes the White House, it will mean at least 12 straight years of a Democratic president. By 2020, most Millennials will have lived longer with a Clinton in office than a Republican of any surname. The party in power naturally wants to preserve the circumstances that brought about their victory, which means resisting seismic changes, especially within its own party. Maintaining the status quo is the very definition of a conservative.
For those wanting to move the nation further to the left, though, having Obama/Clinton represent the status quo is a pretty good starting position.
Nobody can predict what is in store for American politics, but I envision a very plausible future: In ten, twenty, maybe thirty years, Democrats will be the party of the Right, Republicans will be a fringe party, or just non-existent, and an emergent Leftist movement will be what the Democrats of the 70s and 80s were. Such a dramatic shift in political party affiliation is certainly not unprecedented. The GOP, after all, could still unironically call itself the Party of Lincoln up until the 60s.
This does not mean the Left has won. In fact, the Left will continue losing at the state level so long as liberals don’t vote in local elections. Also, because the Left is generally the movement of the aggrieved and underrepresented, every new battle will continue to be uphill.
The good news, though, for the predominantly young Sanders supporters of the Far Left movement is that by the time your grandchildren are voting, you’ll be the new political center. Skeptics should take note that this was a year in which a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist was on a major party ticket and a major party platform specifically mentioned Transgender Rights. That might seem like a minor concession, but ask a Democrat from the 80s if they ever expected to see this in their lifetime. We’ve made huge strides.
I’m sure some will misconstrue my message as a call to complacency or a declaration that all the battles have been won. Not at all. I simply want to remind the young and disenfranchised liberals out there who either refuse to vote for Clinton or will do it with nose plugged that the future you want isn’t out of reach. Putting Clinton in office leaves the door open for an Elizabeth Warren down the line without risking the loss of rights and civil liberties that a Trump presidency would bring about.
Let me put it this way: Hillary Clinton is the new status quo. Imagine how unthinkable that sentence would have been just 24 years ago.