A: Right now, they are, for the most part, people who are unattached, emotionally or ideologically, to either of the two major parties. The Obama administration has abandoned altogether what used to be called moderate, Reagan Democrats. Some of these people, left in the lurch by progressives, have crossed over to vote for Trump. He is running very strong among Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated white males. Within the narrower category of alienated moderate Republicans and Democrats, there are numerous sub-groups: resentment Republicans and Democrats, people who have, in one way or another, been slighted by what they refer to, disdainfully, as the party establishment. An influential sub-group is party critics who command the political airways and the commentary barricades on both sides. Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, who is truly idiosyncratic, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and others have become leading voices in the Republican Party anti-establishment establishment. There is a countervailing anti-establishment establishment on the Democratic side that has gravitated to Bernie Sanders, the socialist. Our own Bill Curry, who once ran for governor of Connecticut and now writes a column for Salon Magazine, has become an ardent Sandersista.
Q: You have been suspicious of the term “establishment Republicans.”
A: Yeah, it’s too broad a category. That term has little or no meaning. If, as seems possible at this point, Donald Trump receives the Republican Party nomination for President and goes on to defeat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Party nominee, he will become an “establishment Republican” seconds after he places his hand on the bible and swears to uphold the Constitution, which has become, I hasten to add, a mere formality: No one takes public oaths seriously any more. President Barack Obama, for instance, swore to defend the Constitution and once he had assumed office rapidly proceeded to extricate himself from its coils. If both Marco Rubio and John Boehner are establishment Republicans, in what sense is Rubio, wafted into office by the Tea Party, different than Boehner? The differences are crucial, but they disappear as soon as the term “Republican Party establishment,” as it is presently being misused, enters the room.
Q: But you do acknowledge that there is a Republican Party.
A: Well, there is a rump Republican Party for sure, but it has lost its mass. And when a body loses mass, it loses its gravitational pull. Both parties ain’t what they used to be, largely owing to political reforms. Do you remember George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Hall boss active in New York City from the post-Civil War period through the first half decade of the 1900’s?
Q: Who could ever forget Plunkett?
A: He said he thought the Civil Service would destroy political parties. And, of course, he was half right, because the Civil Service detached service from political parties. During the great post-Civil War Irish and Italian migrations, it was political parties that brought coal to freezing immigrants in New York City -- in return for votes and assistance in rounding up ward votes. And not only that: The parties would find you a job and an apartment when you stepped off the boat. In the absence of a Civil Service, the parties were a political party civil service. In our time, parties have become little more than the handmaidens of special interests. Primaries have had the same disintegrative effect on parties as did the Civil Service. But I don’t want to crowd out your question, because it is an important one. Let me ask you: Assuming Trump receives the Republican Party presidential nomination, will the present Republican Party machine – that is, the insider deciders, the shakers and movers of the Republican Party – support him?
Q: There are some who say that an insurrectionist convention will turn to someone else…
A: Not likely. The contest, at the moment, appears to be a Cruz-Trump cage-match. But forget the convention and assume Trump emerges as the nominee. Will Republican Party regulars support him?
Q: Some will, some won’t.
A: The “wills,” I betcha will be in the majority. This already is happening. Ted Cruz, an undoubted conservative who is a dangerous Republican Party reformer with a pre-existing conservative platform, is the bane of Republican Party regulars right now. He has little support among establishment politicians; and, of course, here in Connecticut, the Republican political establishment would not touch him with a ten-foot pole. Nor does he have much support among grey-head Republican Party anti-establishmentarians such as the above mentioned Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, et al. Newt Gingrich, for instance, is not exactly in Trump’s corner, but one emerges from his political analysis thinking that Trump is certainly a manageable quiddity, while Cruz is less amenable to political manipulation. Only 6 of 540 lawmakers and delegates in the House and the Senate have endorsed Cruz, hardly the mark of a Beltway insider. Cruz may, the deciders are on the point of deciding, make a serious effort to change both the country and the Republican Party, perhaps for the next half century. The number of people who see themselves – their political programs and ambitions – in a Trump presidency is growing larger all the time. That is not the case in the Democratic Party, which is why Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders’ support among Democratic Party regulars is falling away. The center in the Democratic Party has moved far to the left but, even within this configuration, Clinton is the preferred Democratic presidential nominee, barring a messy criminal prosecution by the FBI.
Q: Will Clinton best Sanders at the Democratic nominating convention?
A: That seems likely. Sanders has a few damning marks against him. The delegate math is not favorable. A fairly recent Daily News interview exposed his weaknesses. Like Trump, he has not ventured far outside his own campaign box. The interview drew Sanders out of his safe corner, and he did not handle well the questions put to him by the paper’s editorial board. Once Sanders stops fulminating against Wall Street, always an easy target for progressives, he hasn’t much worthwhile to say about Israel, for instance – which is odd, even for a “secular Jew,” as he styles himself. I’m not sure what a secular Jew is. Would any Catholic call himself a secular Catholic? News people used to be impatient with such oxymoronic silliness. People after a while become inpatient with political Babbitry. The great fear among thoughtful Americans during elections is that they might be taken in.
Q: Both Trump and Sanders are very popular among the shut-outs.
A: Yes. That is probably the most important note in the Trump-Sanders insurgency. When Republican regulars look at Trump, they see hordes of people, the politically disengaged, bubbling around his heels. And the same is true in the Sanders campaign. For party regulars, politics is not at all a matter of ideology, and a campaign is not a theater of political action in which rival ideologies are at strife – may the best ideology win. Politics is wholly a matter of putting together a basket of programs that appeal to the masses – the great unwashed. Politics is addition, not calculus. That is why Clinton, like some giant boa constrictor, is aiming to engorge herself on Sanders’ popularity; once she is in the oval office, she can edit the ideology. And the same is true on the Republican side – which is why party regulars, in their heart of hearts, prefer Trump to Cruz, who is a hard edit.
Q: So, you see a Clinton-Trump general election campaign. And – just to get this straight – you think that if Trump emerges as the Republican Convention presidential nominee, he will be supported by what some people are pleased to call the Republican Party establishment?
A: That’s the way it looks at the moment. But American politics is very much like Mark Twain’s weather: If you don’t like the weather in New England, he said, wait a moment and it will change. The really good thing about moments is that they are momentary. The most important unanswered questions on the table so far are: a) What kind of a president will Trump be? and b) What kind of a president will Clinton be? Everything else is political foreplay.