If you had told me six months ago that the winners of the New Hampshire Primary would be an outspoken TV celebrity and real estate mogul (Donald Trump), and a self-described Democratic Socialist from Vermont (Bernie Sanders), I would have said you must be joking. Back then, few pundits expected that Republicans would gravitate to someone who said John McCain wasn't a war hero, who advocated banning all Muslims from entering the country, and who promised to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants. And on the Democratic side, few pundits believed that anyone would listen to a 74 year old left-leaning socialist who railed against corporate greed and expressed frequent outrage at how most politicians serve their donors rather than the voters. According to the common wisdom, Republicans wanted someone "moderate'--Jeb Bush was supposedly to be the favorite; and Democrats were going to ignore Mr. Sanders in favor of the much more electable Hillary Clinton.
But somehow, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump didn't get the memo, and neither did the voters, who gave the two men resounding victories. As it turned out, voters were really, really angry with the status quo, and they didn't want someone they considered part of the establishment. While the stereotype of the Trump voter is someone without much education, it turned out that he picked up votes from across all demographics. The same was true for the Sanders voters-- they were not comprised of old hippies, but rather, a coalition of young people and middle-class adults-- and Mr. Sanders was especially strong with female voters. Of course, there is no guarantee that going forward, the results will be the same in other states: will Republicans really pick as their nominee someone who not only has little political and governing experience but also has a tendency to bully his opponents and make outrageous remarks? And will Democrats really choose as their nominee someone who offers an idealistic (and some say impractical) vision, but who forcefully objects to the way political campaigns are conducted in this country? Or will everyone decide to gravitate towards some safer, although less interesting, alternatives?
So, now that both Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us, I do have a few observations:
(1) It seems to be a year for non-traditional candidates. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Sanders has offered the proverbial twelve-point plan, nor really provided specifics about how they will achieve their goals; but both have their own kind of charisma, and voters seem willing to trust and believe in them. Mr. Trump, as I see it, speaks to the fears and anxieties of his voters, and promises to protect them from harm. Mr. Sanders speaks to the hopes and dreams of his voters and promises to restore their faith in democracy. Both men speak with authenticity, even when delivering their stump speech-- they seem to understand what their audience wants, and they know what issues resonate with voters.
(2) I'm not surprised that Hillary Clinton's surrogates did not help her win over women voters. She had some well-respected female members of congress stumping for her, as well as former political leaders like Madeleine Albright and high-profile feminist icons like Gloria Steinem, and even some female pop stars and actresses. Yet some of her surrogates came across like they were scolding anyone who dared to support a male politician rather than supporting a woman. As a second-wave feminist who has great admiration for many of Hillary Clinton's achievements over the years, I was totally turned off by the assertion that women should vote for other women just because they are women. And I was not alone in rejecting that assertion.
(3) Marco Rubio needs to find a way to talk to the voters other than reciting the same talking points over and over. I teach Public Speaking, and I can certainly sympathize with people who are so worried about making a mistake that they memorize their entire speech; but doing that is not an effective way to win over an audience, especially if your opponents (or reporters, or even voters) are trying to get you to deviate from your planned remarks. You really do sound like a robot if all you can do is recite your speech word-for-word, or repeat your talking points. Further, Mr. Rubio's claim that Barack Obama is somehow dangerous because he is trying to change America is utter nonsense-- ALL presidents, including Reagan and Bush, have tried to change America in one way or other. And whether Mr. Rubio is right, or whether he is wrong, repeating something five times, and then doubling down on it out on the road, just makes him sound unprepared. And it may have contributed to Mr. Rubio's poor showing in New Hampshire.
(4) Contrary to what Ted Nugent just said about the Jews (note to Ted: expressing views that are both neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic makes you seem like a truly vile human being), voters in Iowa and new Hampshire had no problem casting their vote for Bernie Sanders. In fact, Mr. Sanders just became the first Jewish person in US history to win a primary. And if I'm not mistaken, when Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus for the Republicans, he became the first person of Hispanic descent to do so. For all the huffing and puffing from certain bigoted people, voters seem willing to vote for the best person, regardless of race, religion, or gender. That is a good thing, and I hope it continues.
(5) Bernie Sanders is 100% right that there is too much money in politics, and yes, studies do show that a small number of billionaires can dramatically influence our elections. Whatever party you favor, the integrity of the vote must be maintained; and to help make that a reality again, disastrous Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United need to be overturned, or we will continue to get the best congress money can buy.
To be honest, I never expected either Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders to be on top. But it's pretty obvious these two men have touched a nerve, and that's why so many voters have
responded. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to know which candidate you believe will get the nomination-- is the Trump/Sanders victory a fluke? Is either one electable? (And why do I feel like we haven't heard the last of Hillary Clinton, who seems to campaign best when she is an underdog?) To say the least, it's an interesting time to be following politics, and
I'm glad I'm not a TV pundit-- I wouldn't want to predict what will
happen next. In fact, I admit I genuinely don't know...