America’s major political parties recently held highly watched, media-friendly conventions; all the while, political history was changing and electoral coalitions were realigning. In Cleveland, the Republicans pointedly critiqued the current administration with scarcely hidden motifs of anxiety and fear. Conversely, the Democrats nostalgically sought to show the appeals of continuity and present a new way forward. In their own ways, both parties continued down their centuries-long trajectory while simultaneously radically diverging from their recent forms.
The “Grand Old Party” has been dominated by neoconservatives for well over two decades. However, the party of Lincoln has been drastically transformed from its recent past. Paleoconservatives have dissented since the 1990s as well, and only with the Tea Party’s rise was the party elite ready to embrace their views. Mere years later, a plurality of the Republican electorate has voted to nominate Mr. Trump and all that he has come to represent.
What’s more, the Republican National Convention exhibited a stark contrast from conventions past. Routine praise of the country’s greatness, unabashed patriotism, and declarations of American exceptionalism were all notably absent from this convention. In fact, much of these (including General John Allen) were actually included in the Democratic National Convention, in a clear attempt to win over independents and moderates. Instead, the Republican’s affair was filled with calls for the imprisonment of Mr. Trump’s opponent.
He himself insisted, well beyond the usual candidate, that he is the man to fix the country’s problems. However, after a convention and year-long campaign mired in controversy, only time will tell if the people believe him. The dedicated voters who emerged to nominate Mr. Trump are an addition to the Republican base, but that will mean nothing if the nominee alienates too many independents or moderate Republicans.
The Democratic Party that Secretary Clinton knew during her husband’s tenure was a party of centrism – New Democrats, as they were called, advocated a moderate “third way.” After the President built a more liberal coalition which included the centrists, it was clear where the party’s future lie. With the rise of Senator Sanders and his voters, there was much discontent within the Democratic Party between the leftists and centrists. This strife was difficult to conceal on national broadcast in the convention.
With the powerhouse series of primetime speakers, the party made a concerted effort to win over leftists who were suspicious of party machinery and establishment politics. While it has yet to be seen, it appeared that many delegates were won over as voters might have been. Despite the party’s efforts, it is clear that there is much more to be done if they hope to convince Senator Sanders’ voters to cast their votes for the Secretary.
As for Secretary Clinton herself: it is clear that she has tied both her fate, and her husband’s legacy as President, to the progressive platform put forward by the much-changed Democratic Party. Secretary Clinton must succeed in bringing leftists into the fold while at once appealing to independents, moderates, and disaffected Republicans, including perhaps even the recently overthrown neoconservatives. Regardless of distrust, the Clintons more than anyone would logically want a second Clinton administration to successfully carry out their goals. Indeed, both candidates have tricky paths to follow and clearly this election represents a decision as to which direction we will take our country.