More often than not, political pundits and commentators are quick to describe any given presidential election season as being somehow “game-changing” or “paradigm-shifting.” Yet, the forces and figures at work in the presidential election of 2016 have already reshaped the American political landscape in ways that are irreversible, much more so than in previous election seasons. In many ways, this election has already defied conventional political norms in the United States, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the weakening of the two major parties in America. The presidential election of 2016 may test the limits of tolerance in the United States, but it has already tested the limits of American politicians’ loyalty to the two parties.
The 2016 presidential election season has been filled with surprises, many of them unpleasant. Countless pundits and commentators have declared their shock at real estate mogul Donald Trump’s sudden rise to the Republican nomination, even in the midst of what used to be the most crowded partisan primary in recent memory. However, even as one can hardly escape coverage of Trump’s candidacy, the endless and impassioned attempts to interpret the so-called “Trump phenomenon” can actually distract us from recognizing what was probably an equally surprising development of the 2016 race: the severe (and, in one case, politically fatal) difficulties experienced by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. In fact, as Donald Trump continues to bring the Republican rank-and-file even closer within his orbit, the failure of the latter might prove to be instructive for understanding the potential threat to the former.
When John Nance Garner, an American vice president in the 1930’s, described that office as “not worth a bucket of warm spit,” he had little idea of just how important the job would be today. From a policy perspective, the vice presidency is undoubtedly significant. Writing for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics blog, Joel K. Goldstein argued that “the modern vice presidency has grown into a robust political office. It has its unique frustrations, but…those who have served in the second office have had extraordinary opportunities to contribute to the making and implementation of public policy on a national and international level.”
In addition to the influence that vice presidents have on policy in America, the aspect more commonly associated with the office isn’t even the office itself; it is the role of candidates for the office. Many times, the choice of a vice presidential running mate has helped a nominee for the Oval Office secure electoral victory, as an article by NPR‘s Ken Rudin demonstrates. And the vice presidency, even the nomination for the office, often serves as a political stepping stone to the top job. Since 1976, four vice presidential candidates have gone on to become nominees for the presidency. So, from both a policy perspective and an electoral perspective, the office of vice president is quite significant.
Over the past half-century, politics in the United States has experienced a variety of shifts and realignments, all of which tend to involve only one political party. Think of how the Vietnam War fundamentally altered the atmosphere in the Democratic Party, how Reagan’s conservative insurgency reshaped the Republican Party of the 1980’s, and how Bill Clinton’s brand of centrism changed the culture of the Democratic Party in the 1990’s. Yes, these intra-party movements had influence beyond their party of origin, but their impact was always limited. However, more recently, we have seen a new, or, rather, old, political movement eroding traditional boundaries on the political landscape: American populism, reborn. Continue reading American Populism and the New Political Landscape