Over the next eight months we’ll endorse a candidate for president on this page, but as a community newspaper, national party primaries usually escape our attention. Our emotional and intellectual investment generally lies with one party but not the other, and editorial symmetry is difficult, and the general election so many months away seems too distant to allow a fully considered endorsement, in any event.
But before decisions made by others settle the question of 2016 candidacies and wash over us in a tsunami of polls and nonstop media hype, we urge you to take the time to participate in next Tuesday’s primaries. The importance of the choices we need to make in bringing two national candidates forward haven’t seemed as stark, nor the consequences as important, in a very long time.
This year’s primary campaign season has been an unexpectedly interesting and provocative one on the Democratic side and a bizarre and scary one on the Republican side. Both national party organizations, whose only important public purpose is to bring forth the best possible candidates to lead our country, have been overwhelmed, routed by unexpectedly effective outsider candidates and enthusiastic, emotional primary voters egged on by tent-show-style rallies, ceaseless polling, and media attention, which is in turn lubricated by bottomless piles of PAC money.
On the Democratic side the surprise has been all to the good, because two legitimate candidates are engaging in an important debate about social change and policy purity. On the Republican side, though, the ultimate payback for years of party pandering to parochialism, prejudice, and paranoia at the local level and undiluted obstructionism on the national level has brought us an array of pretenders not even the party faithful should abide.
Hillary Clinton’s early inevitability as the Democratic presidential candidate has turned into a very close struggle with Bernie Sanders. As many personality and narrative differences between the two candidates as there may be to divert us, something much more substantive is going on here. Senator Sanders has ridden a message of liberal idealism to the forefront of this year’s primary contests, rallying a new and energetic constituency with whom to join and challenge Democratic governance orthodoxy.
Secretary Clinton, while bringing 25 years of national and international experience at the highest possible elected and appointed levels short of the presidency itself to bolster a claim to effective, practiced leadership, has had difficulty convincing the full breadth of Democrats that her style of give-and-take diplomacy and negotiation hasn’t caused her to lose sight of bedrock social and political ideals, nor caused her to become co-opted by traditional interest groups.
For his part, Senator Sanders’ message is simple; it has heroes and villains, and it promises to fairly and progressively channel the fruits of a greatly expanded economy into funding a long list of important and worthy goals devoted to social equity. His personal career on the fringe of American governance projects appealing, uncompromising independence. But while he has impressively tapped into ardor and frustration with the slow pace of political change in this unsettled political season, Senator Sanders still has a long way to go to show Democrats that his proposals are remotely economically feasible and that he can overcome his scant record of legislative accomplishment and find broad enough support among both parties to reach beyond backbench rhetoric.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump — whose gifts are those of a carnival charlatan rather than a thoughtful political leader — has used practiced showmanship and the impressive power to read and feed on what selected audiences want to hear and believe in order to capture the nominating process and turn it into another Trumpian reality show. After his withering takedowns, in the style of the professional wrestlers he so admires, victimizing those who question or even try to simply measure him, all who remain for us to choose among are the archconservative, evangelical, and broadly reviled first-term Senator Ted Cruz to Trump’s right, and the opportunistic, callow first-term Senator Marco Rubio to perhaps the maybe-not-quite-so-far right. Only Governor John Kasich, still in the race as of this moment, seems remotely moderate enough to make a claim on national office.
For Democrats, holding on to the presidency as a bulwark against Republican control of the Senate and House, and the prospect of rebalancing the Supreme Court, couldn’t be more critical; they need to field a candidate with broad enough appeal to get elected. For Republicans, their obsession with eradicating all memory of the Obama presidency while mobilizing racists, xenophobes, science deniers, and misogynists has brought them to the abyss of national irrelevance. In a two-party system, both parties need to be functional, or healthy democracy starves.
Many of us have scant ongoing interest in the wellbeing of the two national parties, but we all have a stake in the hugely important 2016 presidential election. There are five months ahead of us until the parties hold their nominating conventions, and there are as yet no clear winners in sight. While there is still some time and some wriggle room in the nomination process, we urge you to use the vehicle of the primaries to register your opinions. Keep the Democratic Party debate about social and economic justice alive, and keep the Republican Party out of the hands of con men, ideologues, and bigots.