By Alex Knepper
Punditry contains an element of competition. There are thousands of prophesying scribblers out there, and political observers trying to make sense of what’s going on can only be expected to keep up with the thoughts of a handful. As relative newcomers to the arena, one must reasonably ask: Why read the New American Perspective rather than some other website?
Needless to say, this election season has humbled many pundits, including some marquee names. The New American Perspective is one of the only publications whose predictions about the Republican primary season were almost entirely correct — living up to our promise of clear-minded analysis, free of wishful thinking. Although it’s probably not possible to eliminate the elements of gloating or bragging from reviewing the ways in which one was correct — well, let us review:
* Before the voting started, I declared that Trump has put Reaganism on death-watch and that the rank-and-file Republican voter is far less devoted to conservative ideology than the DC-NYC set believes.
* After Marco Rubio’s strong third-place showing in Iowa and the betting markets pegged him as the likely nominee, I called him overrated, said the edge is still with Trump, and claimed that New Hampshire tends to enjoy rebuking Iowa; Cinzia Croce concurred and suggested we skip the Iowa caucuses altogether next time
* After Trump’s strong first-place showing in New Hampshire and Rubio’s humiliating fifth-place finish, I said that the race was “effectively over,” that Rubio blew his opportunity, and that Ted Cruz would meet the same electoral fate as Rick Santorum
* After Rubio’s strong second-place showing in South Carolina and Bush’s withdrawal, I said Rubio’s standing in the race is an illusion — “Here we go with another fake Rubio surge!” — and reiterated that Cruz has no path to the nomination and will continue to meet the same fate as past Iowa winners
* After Super Tuesday, I called Trump’s triumph ‘staggering‘ and pointed out that he was building a non-traditional North-South coalition. I also argued that Rubio was not going to win Florida and ought to drop out immediately if he wanted to give conservatives enough time to coalesce around an alternative to Trump
Now, a forecast this accurate invariably involves some degree of pure luck. But, with the exception of predicting Jeb Bush would turn in a respectable showing in South Carolina, I correctly predicted the ultimate fate of all of the major candidates — Trump, Cruz, and Rubio — after only Iowa and New Hampshire had voted — against the betting markets, statistical models, and marquee-name pundits. Why did I insist, against all conventional wisdom, that Trump was likely to win the nomination?
First of all: I have always rejected the manufactured ‘in-vogue’ theory among we Political Science graduates that ‘the party decides’; that party elites and their major donors essentially ‘select’ a party’s nominee, who is then marketed to the voters, who largely don’t pay attention to the details of nominating contests. I see it a different way: parties ‘select’ one candidate — or a handful of candidates — as their top choice — but the voters always had the power to reject this choice, should they choose to exercise it. As long as the economy is doing reasonably well and people feel reasonably confident about the future, most people really do not (and should not) pay attention to politics — and really will sign off on the party leadership’s decisions, due to a certain level of trust in their judgment.
But the party elite — largely DC- and NYC-based, in areas that voted for Rubio or Kasich — how telling it is that Arlington, Alexandria, and Manhattan voted radically unlike the communities surrounding them! — lost that trust, and didn’t realize it. Elites have ignored warning sign after warning sign during the Obama era — from the 2010 Tea Party revolts in Senate nominating races in Nevada, Delaware, Alaska, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Florida — to the primary electorate’s flirtations with increasingly weird presidential candidates, like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul — to the shocking rejection of Eric Cantor as Majority Leader. As we have said: when times are good and the voters trust the party’s judgment, these things simply do not happen. When voters are paying close attention to politics, it’s not because they want to — it’s because they feel they have to. These people reliably have voted Republican in election cycle after election cycle, and the march of progressivism seems to have not even been halted. This is not entirely fair: liberal democracy has an intrinsic logic inclining our society toward ever-increasing openness, and conservative leaders have actually at times performed commendable services in moderating progressive excesses. But then — Republican leaders should not have made promises they could not deliver, as Trump himself noted in his Art of the Deal.
Speaking as one who has one foot in each world: the elites really do live in a bubble. They do not know anyone who has been working for ten years without receiving a serious wage increase. They do not know anyone addicted to heroin. They do not know anyone whose job has been shipped to Mexico or China. Their children did not have to go into crushing debt to graduate from a decent college. Many everyday people see their communities disintegrating, vote and volunteer for Republicans in the hopes of reversing the trend, and then see — for instance, in early 2013 — that their leaders are actually more concerned with the fate of illegal immigrants than with creating good jobs in their communities, and that their votes are considered disposable.
But here is the crucial part: These are not people who are necessarily instinctively hostile to government. They do not want a government ‘so small it can be drowned in a bathtub.’ They do not look at the state and say ‘Our enemy!’ — They are not pining for another round of tax breaks for the upper-class. They are not eager for another free-trade agreement in such a short span of time. They are skeptical that more diversity means greater harmony rather than greater tension. They aren’t diehard Reaganites; they want government to work well, and on behalf of people they see as deserving — rather than wanting government to simply be small. And they look at Trump, ponder his shortcomings, but ultimately shrug their shoulders and say ‘At least he’ll shake things up. At least he’s not one of them.’
The party elite simply became addicted to their comfortable positions, too assured that their positions were not under threat — even as warning sign after warning sign appeared to them. These were anomalies, they thought — it couldn’t happen to them, they thought — they at least were secure at the presidential level, they thought — but no: the GOP has been open for years to a hostile takeover. Trump saw his opportunity and took it — and from people who were so utterly self-assured that they didn’t even bother to take him seriously until it was far too late.