If pundits were paid for accurately capturing the true nature of voter sentiment or correctly predicting the outcomes of presidential primary races this election season, no one would get a payday.
That’s because no one anticipated that well into the thick of primary season Donald Trump would be still in the race, let alone as the GOP front-runner.
But here we are, the day before the second-in-the-nation South Carolina primary and most national polls still give the real estate mogul a commanding lead over his rivals.
Indeed, nothing about this election cycle is typical.
That the Democratic Party may possibly select democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders as its general election candidate is as bizarre and troubling as the notion that Trump, an egomaniacal reality TV star, may crown the GOP ticket.
Political observers have been positing all sorts of theories regarding Trump’s rise, many asserting that Trump is simply the beneficiary of an anger that has long been brewing among a sizable faction of the populace.
Political scientist Charles Murray put it this way: “If you are dismayed by Trumpism, don’t kid yourself that it will fade away if Donald Trump fails to win the Republican nomination.
“Trumpism is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.”
Indeed, many conservatives in America are mad at their leadership for abandoning what they believe are not merely conservative but core American principles.
Their anger at the rise of progressivism is palpable, but it stems from a loathing in their own ranks.
The tea party’s emergence was at first a rebuke of Republican leadership for allowing the government to expand its authority under President George W. Bush.
But the Republican Party sealed its fate when it failed to stand up to and even repeatedly caved to the will and progressive leadership of President Barack Obama.
That sentiment rings true when I think about the only unabashed Trump supporter I know. A white man, about age 50, his anger at the government seems equally divided between the parties, which seems to defy the convention that in politics you don’t eat your own.
But in many ways, people no longer distinguish one party from the other — they just see the government as an out-of-control leviathan in which every participant bears equal blame.
And Americans aren’t just complaining for sport; many now see a troubling partnership between big government and big business designed to scratch each other’s backs while leaving the average American out in the cold. In this arrangement, many feel that both parties have been complicit.
Trump for sure, but Sanders too, speak to this problem. Sanders claims he’ll keep the big government part (even grow it further) but cut out big business, and Trump assures the people he’ll make “better deals” that will benefit the middle class.
Furthermore, the economy remains sluggish. Incomes are down, especially for workers just entering the job market, and workforce participation is at record lows.
Conservative Americans don’t see government as the solution.
Many see the complicity of Washington as the cause of their pain.
They want a leader who has absolutely no association with that bureaucracy to storm in and tear it down.
Even if that leader is wholly unprincipled and not even moderately conservative.
Apparently the conservative proletariat has also abandoned its core values.
For some time, I believed that Trump’s rise was due to his celebrity.
But I now tend to think his popularity has less to do with who he is and more to do with what he is not.
Writer Mark Steyn has it about right when he notes: “The Republican base loathes the Republican leadership far more than they love the vessel they’ve chosen to express their loathing.”
But when it comes to selecting the next American president, the vessel matters.
It’s still early in primary season, and Republicans still have the opportunity to restore their values.
If Trump ends up as the nominee, they will have failed.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.