I try to shy away from national politics but with the presidential campaigns beginning to heat up, I wanted to share these thoughts about Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
First, let’s start with the assumption that Hillary and Jeb are running parallel campaigns. Both are well-funded insiders with close connections to previous presidents and are viewed suspiciously by their own base for their moderate positions (Bush on Common Core and immigration, Clinton on siding with Wall Street). Both have a close inner circle of advisors and are planning elaborate campaign roll-outs with the best that staff money can buy.
On the surface, they seem to be very similar candidates. However, they will be received completely differently because of how the parties interact with their base.
In politics, the “base” is the group of people who form your most ardent supporters. They are the die-hard volunteers, the passionate doorbellers, small donors and that one guy who shares EVERY SINGLE environmental petition on his facebook page (thanks, Jerry).
A presidential candidate needs support from their base to win – without it, they can only limp along, struggling to generate enthusiasm. John Kerry was not beloved by the Democratic base. John McCain was not popular with the base until he brought on Sarah Palin, then he was able to pack arenas with cheering supporters.
However, while the people at the top need the base, they do not necessarily love them – and this is where the political parties differ. It also explains why Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and Jeb Bush will not be nominated by the Republicans.
The Democratic leadership disdains their most passionate supporters, the Republicans are actually afraid of their base.
I’m not talking about local parties, I’m talking about the upper echelons of power. The Democrats view their base as dirty, loud hippies that make unreasonable demands: “$15/hr minimum wage? Are you kidding me?” At their cocktail parties they say, “What’s next, legalizing marijuana and free housing for the homeless?” The Democratic party leadership knows that even if they ignore, insult or marginalize their supporters, they will still show up to vote for the centrist Democrat because the Republican is scarier.
On the other side of fence, the Republicans fear their base. After several prominent incumbents were defeated in the primary by Tea Party upstarts, the GOP leadership has been in a defensive crouch (see: Boehner, John), constantly afraid that the rabid hordes will storm their gates and throw them out.
This is why Hillary can remain comfortable in her centrist positions while Jeb will go through Romney-esque contortions trying to persuade his base that he is the second coming of Ted Cruz. As a result, Hillary will be seen from a position of strength because the national media always likes it when politicians stand up to their friends. Meanwhile, Jeb will be seen as caving to the Tea Party right, a position of weakness.
Does this mean that progressives are doomed to irrelevance? Absolutely not. One of the other key differences between the two parties is that the Democrats are actually interested in legislating, while the Republicans haven’t brought any serious legislative proposals to the national stage since President Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005.
As a result, the Democrats have passed some strong legislation in the last decade. While they are unable to push a truly progressive candidate to forefront, they have passed a strong financial consumer protection agency and a stimulus package which included the largest single investment in education and green energy in a generation. On the state level, they have legalized marijuana in a handful of states and passed marriage equality in all but thirteen.
There is still plenty to be done. For instance, progressives lost ground on women’s health issues nationwide, and I strongly doubt we will ever see a true progressive from the Democratic base as the presidential nominee. However, the Republicans will be able to bend their eventual nominee to their will. Will that give them electoral success in 2016? I don’t think so, but it will be revealing about the continual evolution of our political parties.