Politics & Policy

The Politics Two Unpopular Nominees Hath Wrought

Clinton speaks at a campaign stp in Portland, Maine, in September 2015. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
The electoral map is changing, and new fissures in both parties are opening.

In last week’s third and (thank goodness) final presidential debate, each candidate did an excellent job of presenting convincing arguments for why people shouldn’t vote for the other.

Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a felon, and Clinton called Trump a traitor. Unfortunately for America, there is plenty of basis for the former charge and less but still disturbing evidence for the latter.

These two may not be the most unpopular pair of major-party presidential nominees in history. James Buchanan and John C. Fremont in 1856 may have been worse, at least judging from their later feckless careers.

But of all the nominee pairs since random-sampling polling was invented in 1935, Trump and Clinton certainly win the prize. Majorities of voters look negatively on both and consider each dishonest and untrustworthy. It’s not hard to see why.

How did we end up with such nominees? It’s easy to blame the presidential nominating process, which is widely and correctly regarded as the weakest part of our political system. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is the only part not addressed by the Framers.

The problem is that there’s no way to construct an entirely satisfactory system in a nation with 50 sovereign states and a long history of economic and cultural diversity. Both parties’ earnest efforts over the past four decades, aimed at repairing previous flaws, have only created new ones.

What gave us these two nominees this year was a combination of dynastic politics and celebrity politics. The Clinton candidacy foreclosed serious opposition — and revealed the increasing strength of the Democratic Left. The Bush family provided a huge supply of money for a worthy candidate for whom there was insufficient demand.

Much of the $100 million raised for Jeb Bush’s super PAC was spent on deconstructing Marco Rubio, who might have been a stronger Trump opponent than Ted Cruz and would have been a stronger Clinton opponent than Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump’s celebrity gave him some $2 billion worth of free media, leaving little room for exposure of other Republicans. Until Trump clinched the Republican nomination, mainstream media had as little interest in digging up dirt on him as they have now in airing the scandals swirling around Clinton.

The majority of voters who yearn to see Trump lose can take comfort in the national polling that currently shows him six points behind Clinton, compared with his being one point behind before the first debate. Almost all target-state polling confirms that picture.

The smaller majority of voters who yearn to see Clinton lose may take what comfort they can from the three national polls (Los Angeles Times, Rasmussen Reports, Investor’s Business Daily) that show an even race, even though the New York Times’ Nate Cohn has demonstrated the unreliability of the LA Times poll’s sample.

They might take comfort, as well, from the fact that voters in Britain and Colombia voted, contrary to polls, against an overwhelming tide of respectable opinion in referendums on June 23 and October 2. But the British polls weren’t far off, and candidates’ character wasn’t a factor in those contests.

There remains uncertainty about what pollsters have trouble projecting: turnout. Clinton struggles to enthuse blacks, Hispanics, and young people. Trump’s talk about rigging elections may discourage conservative turnout.

The choice of these nominees may result in two significant shifts. One is a recoloring of the familiar political map. When Trump was running close to even, he was threatening to win previously safe Democratic states. Clinton is now threatening to win previously safe Republican states. The static polarized partisan lines may be shifting.

The other is the opening of new fissures in both parties. Trump enthusiasts and Never Trump critics are already embarked on a civil war. Bernie Sanders enthusiasts are understandably furious about what WikiLeaks has revealed that Clinton and top aides have said in e-mails and speeches.

A Bloomberg poll asked Republicans and Democrats which of several figures should be the face of their party nationally if their nominee loses. A plurality of Democrats, 32 percent, said Hillary Clinton, and 6 percent said Tim Kaine. But 31 percent said Bernie Sanders, and 23 percent said Elizabeth Warren.

Among Republicans, 24 percent said Donald Trump, far below the percentage supporting him against Clinton. But a total of 71 percent picked the more conventional conservative alternatives Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and John Kasich.

That’s a crude measure, but it provides an interesting hint of the politics that are just a couple of weeks ahead.

— Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2016 Creators.com

Michael Barone — Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular


Four No Trump

I went to see Book Club, a multi-pronged romantic comedy that provides a vehicle for four veteran actresses (Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen), and it's not bad if you accept it for what it is. The set-up is that four women who formed a book club in the 1970s have been meeting ... Read More

Are Americans Too Attached to Their Pets?

Like many Americans, I’m a big fan of dogs. As my wife and I prepare to become empty-nesters, I’ve noticed that we’re spending more time obsessing over our family pooch, perhaps because he actually still wants to hang out with us. In recent years, however, our society’s relationship with pets appears to ... Read More
White House

Trump the Outsider

Yesterday morning, President Donald Trump offered a series of tweets complaining about what he considers the disparate treatment of his presidential campaign compared with Hillary ... Read More

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Wins, America Loses

Derek Scissors of AEI has a sour take on the latest turn in U.S.–China trade talks: If there’s good news, it’s that the Trump administration has fallen silent on whether the U.S. will bend our law for China in the ZTE case, which got so much attention last week. That would be a big step backward. But even ... Read More

Jonathan Swift in a White Suit

In 1965 Tom Wolfe visited Princeton University for a panel discussion of "the style of the Sixties." The author of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, published that year, was scheduled to appear alongside Günter Grass, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Krassner. Grass spoke first. The German novelist's ... Read More

Comedians Are Catching On

The comedians are beginning to catch on. Over the weekend -- just one week after featuring a bevy of top-line Hollywood stars impersonating members of the Trump administration, as well as a cameo by a vengeful Stormy Daniels asking for President Trump’s resignation -- Saturday Night Live finally acknowledged ... Read More
PC Culture

The Nature of Progressive Insensitivity

Former vice president Joe Biden is back in the news yet again. For a second time, he seems surprised that poor residents of the inner city are capable of doing sophisticated jobs: We don't think ordinary people can do things like program, code. It's not rocket science, guys. So, we went and we hired some folks ... Read More

The Feminization of Everything Fails Our Boys

Let me share with you two troubling — and, I believe, closely linked — news reports. The first, from this weekend, comes courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry. In one chart, he highlights the dramatic and growing gender gap in higher education. In short, women are dominating: ... Read More