Well, it’s officially 2016. Welcome to hell! The presidential election is still nearly a year away, which means there’s plenty more time to build on the surreal and debased politicking that marked the last six months of 2015. But the holiday season and the New Year are usually a time for hope and optimism, so in that spirit, I’ll lay out a few semi-irrational hopes that I’d like to see realized in 2016.
That Donald Trump Will Win the Republican Nomination
Last year around this time I posted my list of irrational hopes for 2015 and, in retrospect, perhaps that wasn’t the best idea. At the time, I was absolutely convinced that Trump would not run for president, and I stuck with that belief long after it became clear that he actually was running, which resulted in some crow-eating and embarrassment on my part. But now that Trump is in the race and, as he’s fond of pointing out, leading all the polls, I’d like to wish him the best of luck in capturing the GOP nomination.
Trump obviously would be an awful president and it feels irresponsible to hope that he comes within a dangerously close distance of holding that office, but at this juncture he is the candidate the Republican Party deserves, and the GOP should be forced to confront the fact that it created the toxic political environment in which Trumpism thrives. Trump’s nativism and anti-immigrant rhetoric is only a half-step removed from what influential Republicans on Capitol Hill say regularly. His proposal to forcibly remove every undocumented immigrant from the country is right in line with what the Republican-controlled Congress has endorsed.
More broadly speaking, the party’s utter failure to prove itself a competent governing authority has left it vulnerable to the sort of extremism that Trump embodies. Republicans won power with extravagant and unrealistic promises to use whatever means necessary to roll back the Obama agenda. Failure to make good on those promises has carved a massive gulf between the GOP and its own base of voters, into which Trump has sauntered with promises of “winning” and the pledge that he’ll get things done through sheer force of will.
Trump has Republicans panicked because he expertly exploits the divide between the GOP establishment and the voters who feel betrayed by the party. If a Trump nomination helps bring about the crippling and existential crisis that the Republicans have been inviting over the last seven or eight years, then I say let it happen.
That Bernie Sanders Will Go the Distance with Hillary Clinton
The Democratic race for the presidency has garnered far less attention than the sensational hysterics that have gripped the Republican race, but whoever wins the nomination will face a massive test of history and demography. Winning a third presidential term is difficult for a ruling party, but the Democrats have demographic winds blowing at their backs. Much will depend on whether the Obama coalition of young, minority and educated voters can be replicated in 2016.
And that, of course, depends on the nominee. It’s a shame the last weeks of 2015 were consumed by a stupid fight over Bernie Sanders staffers inappropriately accessing data belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, because the two candidates have stark ideological differences when it comes to the role of government. Sanders is pushing aggressively and unapologetically for programs like single-payer healthcare and tuition-free public colleges. Clinton is swatting back at Sanders for wanting to raise taxes on the middle class and criticizing the costs of his policies: “I think we’ve got to be really thoughtful about how we’re going to afford what we proposed,” she said at the last debate.
Clinton is seen as the more electable of the two and is pitching a more middle-of-the-road progressive vision, but Bernie is undoubtedly more in touch with the increasingly vocal and influential left flank of the party. Even if Clinton is on a slow march to the nomination, she’s going to need those Bernie voters and have something to offer them. A close finish in Iowa and a Sanders win in New Hampshire would keep the pressure on Hillary to not pivot too hard and too fast into general election mode.
That the National Security Debate Won’t Be Consumed by Tough-Guy Posturing
A spate of high-profile terrorist attacks and the slow, steady escalation of the undeclared, U.S.-led war on the Islamic State has all but guaranteed that the 2016 election will be a fight over national security policy. Republicans succeeded in turning the trumped up Syrian refugee panic into a wedge issue, dividing Democrats in Congress who were concerned about looking weak in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It was a return of the Bush-era national security politics, in which the looming specter of terrorism was invoked to cow Democrats into backing “tough on terror” Republican policies.
We’re seeing a return to this chest-thumping form of politics in the presidential race, with candidates defending the use of torture tactics, threatening to provoke a war with Russia, bragging that they’ll “carpet bomb” the Islamic State, and promising to rip up the nuclear agreement with Iran on “day one.” The instinct among reporters and commentators is to describe this sort of rhetoric as “tough,” and the people who deploy it as “serious.” It’s not. It’s alarmist and ridiculous, and designed to exploit public anxiety over terrorism. National security is an issue area that is uniquely vulnerable to hysterical overreaction (remember the ebola panic?) and a candidate who advocates a disastrous foreign policy should not be given points for sounding “tough.”