Putting Their Parties Back Together

2016 Overview - With big wins in New York last week fueling them now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on track to win their Party’s nomination this July. The central story in US politics these next few months will be how each of them puts their parties back together after what has been a contentious primary season. The challenges for Trump and Clinton are different, and perhaps can best be summed up by the national polling aggregate graphs from the Huffington Post below.

Today, Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in delegates and has essentially won her nomination, but Democratic voters remain remarkably split between her and Bernie Sanders. For Clinton, putting her party back together will revolve heavily on the perception of how Sanders and his followers are treated, both at a national level and in every state. Given the success of the Sanders campaign against overwhelming odds, and his very high standing in the polls, many Sanders backers will be expecting to play a meaningful role in the emerging post Obama Democratic Party. Accommodating the Senator, his many delegates and his followers, will be a fundamentally difference process than the successful Obama Clinton rapprochement in 2008. The defeated Senator then was a professional politician with future ambitions, and the Clinton world knew how to fall in line and get on board. We simply cannot expect the same from Sanders and Sandernistas across the country.  Many are new to politics, and come at the process with a degree of contempt for the system.  For Clinton 2008 was a "loss."  For Sanders 2016 will be seen by him and his supporters as a "win." Additionally, that there is such a wide held perception that the DNC and “the Party” improperly intervened on Clinton’s behalf in the primary renders the Party, its Chair and the Convention itself a far less effective tool for reconciliation than is usual.

The team around Clinton is a sophisticated bunch, and I am confident they will be able to make all this work. But the constant references to one finds on social media to “we got on board in 2008, your turn,” while perhaps comforting to Clinton supporters, is not now, and will not be a compelling argument to the very different sensibility of the Sanders world. 

Trump, on the other hand, is in a less advantageous delegate position today than Clinton but does not face the kind of popular alternative Sanders has come to represent. It is possible that if a more attractive and less extreme alternative to Trump had emerged in the primaries than Cruz, Trump could have been beaten. But it didn’t happen, and as one can see from the graph above, recent polling has Trump gaining and his two opponents losing ground. In some ways he enters this next phase in a more dominant position than Clinton, as he has doesn’t have a real opponent any more. Yet, his party is far more deeply fractured than the Democratic Party, and putting it back together would be an extraordinary challenge for any nominee, let alone one without political experience. What will make Trump’s job a bit easier is that he is not really at odds with his party on the big issues, arguing for big tax cuts, an interventionist foreign policy, a hard line immigration agenda, climate denial and rolling back Obamacare. He is perhaps louder, more boorish and less experienced than more establishment Republicans, but the ideological distance between him and Paul Ryan may be closer than the one between Clinton and Sanders today and thus easier to bridge than many realize.

The Pick of Vice President - The choice of Vice President will be an important step in this process of putting the party back together for both Clinton and Trump. I still think Senator Tim Kaine has the edge on the Democratic side – swing state, Spanish speaker, Catholic, former Party Chair, good guy, principled thoughtful national leader. He will help reinforce the “steady hand on the rudder” narrative that will contrast well with Trump this fall. But given my analysis above, will also be interesting to see if a nod to the next generation would be appropriate this time, with folks like Cory Booker and Julian Castro getting an extended look. Regardless of who Clinton picks, it would be wise for her to make a group of emerging, compelling Democrats – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Kennedy, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom for example – co-chairs of the Democratic Convention this summer. Something significant will have to be done to excite and engage younger Sanders supporters. Celebrating our inspiring next generation of leaders, the ones who will inherit the party after the age of Clinton, Reid and Pelosi, would be one savvy step in this effort.

For Trump, there is one pick that seems to make so much sense that I have to believe it will happen soon – Ohio’s John Kasich. He brings delegates to help wrap up the nomination. He brings unparalleled government experience to complement Trump’s inexperience. He hails from the swingiest of general election states, and the site of the GOP convention. He will be an effective bridge to the “GOP establishment.” Given the events of recent days the cost of this deal clearly has gone up for Trump, but assume these talks are already well underway. There is just no one else who brings more to the ticket now than Kasich, and getting him to come on board will be of the most important tests of whether the Trump makeover has any chance of succeeding.

Further Reading - Two good reads from the last few days on this next phase of the process - The New York Times's Adam Nagourney "Can Clinton Feel the Bern?" and Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti's "Sanders Caught in a Political Trap." 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.