There is a civil war in the Republican Party between the intellectual conservatives and the populists. The intellectuals highlighted by the National Review and its cadre of conservative writers and staff articulate the constitutional heritage and the banner of free-market capitalism. The populists are more focused on the dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Democratic Party and the failure of the GOP to effectively use its power. Populists need a demon more than they need a better idea.
Populists do not debate ideas; they select saviors to fight demons.
The Republicans have so far failed to find a leader who can articulate their ideas to appeal to the voters. They are drowned out by populist outrage.
The Democrats are far more united. They have their populists as well. Their demons are different – they fear Wall Street and billionaires. But their model is the same: a savior to fight the demons. They also avoid ideas. Their math does not work, but they don’t care.
Margaret Thatcher famously noted that the problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. Bernie Sanders runs out before he starts.
Hillary refuses to distinguish herself from the proclaimed socialism of Sanders. She just picks a different description, Progressive Democrat, but refuses or is unable to disguise this idea from Bernie’s Socialism. This difference, it appears, is only one of degree. The ideology of progressivism and the welfare state lacks the clarity and intellectual development of conservatism.
Populists from either party think they can legislate a better reality. Neither can. There are tradeoffs and decisions that must be made. These choices do not disappear if we hand them off to a Santa Claus or a demagogue; we just subjugate our own input.
The extremes of Sanders and Trump serve only to make Obama and Hillary look centrist. Obama cannot run, and Hillary is so plagued by a long sordid history of lies and ethical compromise that she may well waste the opportunity handed her.
One of possible outcomes may be a contest between two populists. This may not be so bad. The result may be to return control of the legislative process to the Congress, assuming they would be forced to address the abuse of executive power in a way that they have refused thus far.
Historically, populists do not win, but they often set the agenda. Usually, however, only one populist is running. William Jennings Bryan made currency the topic with his famous "Cross of Gold" speech, but he was soundly defeated by William McKinley in the election of 1896. McKinley had to change tactics to address the Free Silver movement, but he also had a much larger and better focused political machine that outspent Bryan tenfold.
We cannot assure that McKinley’s advantages would hold today, and it would be irrelevant if both candidates are populists.
Henry Oliner blogs at www.rebelyid.com.