WASHINGTON, D.C. - It seems so obvious now.
The entire global commentariat, as far as I can tell, has completely missed a fundamental dynamic in both parties’ nomination campaigns.
The 2016 campaigns have been understood and portrayed as conventional, modern contests, unusual only because of the success of two highly abnormal candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. There were other unique twists: high levels of unpredicted voting behavior, a much-altered media cosmos and fresh forms of mega-donor clout. But all campaign cycles have their idiosyncrasies.
There was, however, a wholly unnoticed elephant in the arena: both Trump and Sanders are third party or independent party candidates running inside the two big parties. They were actual enemies of the parties in which they ran.
Sanders and Trump overtly infiltrated the Republican and Democratic parties but their missions were subversive. They were not just party mavericks or outliers, though that is exactly how they were perceived. They should have been marked as sappers who penetrated enemy lines and donned enemy uniforms.
Openly and officially, Sanders is not a member of the Democratic Party. Period. But somehow he has run in the party’s primaries without disqualification and without taking any pledge of allegiance or loyalty oath. It seems awfully dumb of the Dems to have coddled him in hindsight.
Now Democrats want Sanders to end his campaign, help unite the party and inspire his legions to love Hillary Clinton. He is not going to do this for the simplest of reasons: He is not a Democrat.
Sanders doesn’t care if Clinton wins or if Trump wins. Neither respects his monocular adherence to the 1960’s democratic socialism that was influential in several small racially homogeneous, wealthy northern European countries with herring-based cuisines.
Asking Sanders to go all in for Hillary for the good of the party is like asking the Red Sox after they’ve been eliminated to trade their best pitcher to the Yankees for the good of the American League. If Sanders eventually throws Clinton a few delegates, he’ll do it for his covert cause, not for her and not for a party he doesn’t belong to.
Sanders, at least, truly and honestly has a cause, a philosophy, and a lifetime commitment to it.
Trump has The Solution — the right answer to all the great problems facing America. The Solution is Donald Trump — his historically great brain, his beautiful heart, his charisma and his destiny as a winner. He’s a political ubermensch who transcends the strictures of any dinky political party or civic traditions.
Trump pretends to be a Republican, sometimes. Sometimes he doesn’t bother. But he always flaunts his blazing contempt for Republican “elites,” heroes, tradition, etiquette, philosophy, policies and quest for unity. Trump is a zeitgeist savant. He knows that hordes of voters see his daredevil, vigilante rampage as proof that he’s a leader with giblets, no toady for the system.
In no meaningful, functional or concrete way is Trump a Republican. He has no loyalty, few compatible beliefs (to the degree he has beliefs that last longer than one conversation), no history and no sense of duty to the institution or its members. His attacks on the GOP have been funnier, meaner and more lethal than any since Will Rogers. He mocks Republicans as much as Democrats or Vietnam POWs.
Trump is his own party; he is running for the Republican nomination for a wily, pragmatic reason. A real third party candidate cannot win in the current system.
Even though they’re running in parties nearly all voters mistrust, vast numbers are now certain their guy, Trump or Sanders, is a genuine outsider, and a real rebel.
How can that be? Easy. Both guys really are outsiders and rebels. They embodied and proved it in an ingenious way: They ran in parties they don’t belong to and that they don’t respect or give a hoot about.
Every day of the campaign, they have been fearless delinquents; they have tortured teachers and principals, teased goodie-goodies, refused to sell-out and delighted the kids who sat in the back of the classroom. They have had not one iota of fear of being expelled, because they hate the place.
Trump obviously has been far better at this than Sanders – more reckless, more aggressive, more ruthless, more outrageous, more craven, crueler, funnier, richer and impervious to embarrassment or shame. That’s why Trump will get the Republican nomination and why Sanders is not going to get the Democratic nomination.
For all the talk about how “authentic” they seem to voters, Sanders as a Democratic and Trump as a Republican are phonies, liars and, I would say, traitors. But they have a rare criminal genius for crowd-pleasing. Sanders has made a good run of it. Trump has pulled off perhaps the greatest political caper of all time and he isn’t done yet.
This really is a bold new model. If the parties, pundits and political scientists had identified this radical caper earlier, maybe nothing much would have changed. Possibly the parties themselves would have had the guts, insights and tactics to protect themselves effectively, especially Republicans against Herr Trump.
From now on, I will look at the general election as a contest between a Democrat, Hillary Clinton, and the founder of a Third Party, Donald Trump. Finally, I think I understand the structure of an election that has seemed surreal till now.
To listen to DecodeDC podcasts, watch edgy videos and read more blog posts about politics, politicians and policy, go to DecodeDC.com.