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Robert Reich: The Endgame Of 2016’s Anti-Establishment Politics – OpEd

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Will Bernie Sanders’s supporters rally behind Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination? Likewise, if Donald Trump is denied the Republican nomination, will his supporters back whoever gets the Republican nod?

If 2008 is any guide, the answer is unambiguously yes to both. About 90 percent of people who backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries that year ended up supporting Barack Obama in the general election. About the same percent of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney backers came around to supporting John McCain.

But 2008 may not be a good guide to the 2016 election, whose most conspicuous feature is furious antipathy to the political establishment.

Outsiders and mavericks are often attractive to an American electorate chronically suspicious of political insiders, but the anti-establishment sentiments unleashed this election year are far larger. The Trump and Sanders candidacies are both dramatic repudiations of politics as usual.

If Hillary Clinton is perceived to have won the Democratic primary because of insider “superdelegates” and contests closed to independents, it may confirm for hardcore Bernie supporters the systemic political corruption Sanders has been railing against.

Similarly, if the Republican Party ends up nominating someone other than Trump who hasn’t attracted nearly the votes than he has, it may be viewed as proof of Trump’s argument that the Republican Party is corrupt.

Many Sanders supporters will gravitate to Hillary Clinton nonetheless out of repulsion toward the Republican candidate, especially if it’s Donald Trump. Likewise, if Trump loses his bid for the nomination, many of his supporters will vote Republican in any event, particularly if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton.

But, unlike previous elections, a good number may simply decide to sit out the election because of their even greater repulsion toward politics as usual – and the conviction it’s rigged by the establishment for its own benefit.

That conviction wasn’t present in the 2008 election. It emerged later, starting in the 2008 financial crisis, when the government bailed out the biggest Wall Street banks while letting underwater homeowners drown.

Both the Tea Party movement and Occupy were angry responses – Tea Partiers apoplectic about government’s role, Occupiers furious with Wall Street – two sides of the same coin.

Then came the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in “Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission,” releasing a torrent of big money into American politics. By the 2012 election cycle, forty percent of all campaign contributions came from the richest 0.01 percent of American households.

That was followed by a lopsided economic recovery, most of whose gains have gone to the top. Median family income is still below 2008, adjusted for inflation. And although the official rate of unemployment has fallen dramatically, a smaller percentage of working-age people now have jobs than before the recession.

As a result of all this, many Americans have connected the dots in ways they didn’t in 2008.

They see “crony capitalism” (now a term of opprobrium on both left and the right) in special tax loopholes for the rich, government subsidies and loan guarantees for favored corporations, bankruptcy relief for the wealthy but not for distressed homeowners or student debtors, leniency toward corporations amassing market power but not for workers seeking to increase their bargaining power through unions, and trade deals protecting the intellectual property and assets of American corporations abroad but not the jobs or incomes of American workers.

Last fall, when on book tour in the nation’s heartland, I kept finding people trying to make up their minds in the upcoming election between Sanders and Trump.

They saw one or the other as their champion: Sanders the “political revolutionary” who’d reclaim power from the privileged few; Trump, the authoritarian strongman who’d wrest power back from an establishment that’s usurped it.

The people I encountered told me the moneyed interests couldn’t buy off Sanders because he wouldn’t take their money, and they couldn’t buy off Trump because he didn’t need their money.

Now, six months later, the political establishment has fought back, and Sanders’s prospects for taking the Democratic nomination are dimming. Trump may well win the Republican mantle but not without a brawl.

As I said, I expect most Sanders backers will still support Hillary Clinton if she’s the nominee. And even if Trump doesn’t get the Republican nod, most of his backers will go with whoever the Republican candidate turns out to be.

But anyone who assumes a wholesale transfer of loyalty from Sanders’s supporters to Clinton, or from Trump’s to another Republican standard-bearer, may be in for a surprise.

The anti-establishment fury in the election of 2016 may prove greater than supposed.

Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

3 thoughts on “Robert Reich: The Endgame Of 2016’s Anti-Establishment Politics – OpEd

  • Avatar
    April 25, 2016 at 1:15 am
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    I admire you Mr. Reich but I can speak for myself as a life-long Democrat and 67 years old that I will not, under any circumstance, vote for HIllary Clinton. She is totally corrupt and about to be left free of any consequences of her 4 years of arrogant “careless” and criminal behavior as Sec. of State. This is a given, if past is prologue (and I believe it is). If we actually had a functioning none corporate owned news media that would honestly cover Hillary as they would any other candidate under FBI investigation, DOJ Investigation and US State Dept. Investigation–she wouldn’t even still be in the race. But since we have a corporate owned and corrupt DNC that totally built the primary to carry her and only her to the so far multiple stolen states–she will come hell and high water–no doubt “win” her ill-gotten nomination. I will not hold my nose and pull the lever for her. My soul has a higher price than blackmail chants of “vote for the “lesser” evil”. Esp. since I’m sure she pretty much the same evil. I’ll vote Green.

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  • Avatar
    April 25, 2016 at 2:16 am
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    I am a struggling senior citizen, living on $1 a day, with brilliant young adults who are loaded with securitized college debts from a Wall Street Bank now pouring tons of $$ into Hillary’s election campaign coffers. Unlike the bailed out Wall Street elites supporting Hillary, the candidate has not uttered one single word about the predicament of my families like mine with tons of college debts and how their debts must be relieved or how she is going to handle the student debt crisis! Most of these student loan debts were fraudulently advanced before being securitized by the bankers!
    In herding people like me and my family to support Clinton with our votes, can you tell me, specifically, why voting for Hillary is advantagious for my family?

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  • Avatar
    April 25, 2016 at 2:46 am
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    I would first say I in general respect your work and have for a long time. I disagree with you on comparing the left (Occupy, and BLM, and environmentalist) with the right.
    Yes both sides have a deep distrust of government there it ends.
    Liberals have watched as the Clintons undermined the well being of the people of this country with Nafta, deregulation, private prison set up,
    Massive cuts in welfare, and of course sex with young interns and whom ever else Billy’s could get his hands on.
    We watched 911 and the beginning of endless war and privatization of our schools.
    Than we were graced by Obama the man who was going to be the adult. He brought on board all the scum form both bill and bush. The rich got richer as every banker and his buddies walked. We watch the environmental disaster in the gulf while Obama did nothing for so long.
    We saw the continuation of privatization and the continuation and growth and massive slaughter in the Middle East. For me and so many people I know I would rather not vote than vote for some one who thinks its funny to kill a leader of a country. Someone who considers war criminals her friends and confidants. I am done with the Democratic Party. I am also done with anyone who is part of the DLC gang. My 2 senators and congressmen will not receive my vote.
    So I actually think you are wrong, but I also think as much as I like a lot of what you say, you have been in the Washington bubble to long.

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