Friday, July 15, 2022


In his column today, David Brooks looks to the future:
I’d like you to consider the possibility that the political changes that have rocked this country over the past six years will be nothing compared with the changes that will rock it over the next six. I’d like you to consider the possibility that we’re in some sort of prerevolutionary period — the kind of moment that often gives birth to something shocking and new.
I basically agree with the first sentence. More radical changes over the next six years? Sure -- I think it's quite likely that America will be a one-party pseudo-democracy by 2028, after the Supreme Court has empowered gerrymandered, permanently Republican state legislatures to overrule the popular vote in presidential elections. That's not at all what Brooks means by "prerevolutionary" in the second sentence, as you'll see.
Look at the conditions all around us:

First, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going. Only 13 percent of voters say the country is on the right track, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll published this week.

Second, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the leaders of both parties.
Well, that's obvious. This week the Fox News website tried to do some Republican spin of a Politico/Morning Consult poll, running a story with the headline "More Americans Are Opposed to Joe Biden Running for President in 2024 Than Trump, Poll Finds." According to the poll, 61% of respondents don't want Trump to run and 64% don't want Biden to run. My thought when I read this was: You're a Republican TV channel and you're proud of this? Yopu're proud that your guy is disliked by only 61% of the public? And yet Trump and Biden are favorites for the nominations.

Back to Brooks:
... Third, inflation is soaring....

Fourth, the generational turnover is coming....

Fifth, Americans are detaching from the two political parties. Far more Americans consider themselves independents than consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans....

Sixth, disgust with the current system is high....
So what does Brooks conclude?
If these conditions persist, the 2024 presidential primaries could be wild. Sure, conventional candidates like the Republican Ron DeSantis or the Democrat Gavin Newsom may run for the nominations. But if the hunger for change is as strong as it is now, the climate will favor unconventional outsiders, the further outside the better. These sorts of oddball or unexpected candidates could set off a series of swings and disequilibriums that will make the existing party systems unstable.
But Democrats never nominate risky candidates -- it's not their style. Republicans did it in 2016, but there's no evidence of a Republican itch that can't be scratched in 2024 by either Trump or Ron DeSantis.

And so we come to this part of the Brooks column, which, at least for a couple of sentences, seems plausible:
Furthermore, if ever there was a moment ripe for a Ross Perot-like third candidate in the 2024 general election, this is that moment. There are efforts underway to prepare the way for a third candidate, and in this environment an outsider, with no ties to the status quo, who runs against the establishment and on the idea that we need to fundamentally fix the system — well, that person could wind up winning the presidency.
If a renomination of the two unpopular front-runners seems inevitable, as it does now, I expect there to be a lot of talk about third-party candidates. A well-financed one might even be a serious contender.

However, the third-party candidate Brooks imagines is not the candidate we'll get, if we get one:
... If I were a cynical political operative who wanted to construct a presidential candidate perfectly suited for this moment, I’d start by making this candidate culturally conservative. I’d want the candidate to show by dress, speech and style that he or she is not part of the coastal educated establishment. I’d want the candidate to connect with middle- and working-class voters on values and to be full-throatedly patriotic.

Then I’d make the candidate economically center-left. I’d want to fuse the economic anxieties of the working-class Republicans with the economic anxieties of the Bernie Sanders young into one big riled populist package. College debt forgiveness. An aggressive home-building project to bring down prices. Whatever it took.

Then I’d have that candidate deliver one nonpartisan message: Everything is broken. Then he or she would offer a slew of institutional reforms to match the comprehensive institutional reforms the Progressive movement offered more than a century ago.

I guess I’m looking for a sort of modern Theodore Roosevelt. But heck, I don’t know. What’s coming down the pike is probably so unforeseeable that I don’t even have categories for it yet.
I'll tell you what's not coming down the pike: a viable third-party candidate who's an economic populist.

If we have a viable candidate from outside the two major parties, it will be because some part of the mass media gives that candidate credence. The right-wing media won't give an economic populist credence -- even a culturally conservative one -- because the right doesn't want ordinary people to do better economically than they're doing now, relative to the rich. The right-wing media wants permanent GOP rule, period, because that ensures a permanent state of massive economic inequality, just the way elite right-wingers like it.

But in that way, the right-wing media is not very different from the mainstream press, which also wants little or no tinkering with the economic pecking order. The mainstream press accepted Bill Clinton in 1992, Barack Obama in 2008, and Joe Biden in 2020 on the assumption that they wouldn't preside over any serious transfers of wealth. A third-party candidate running in 2024 will have to seem similarly "centrist" on economics. The press would cheer on a Mike Bloomberg or Mark Cuban third-party run, or maybe another run by Andrew Yang (who, I should warn you, has been setting up a new political party), much more than a run by someone like Sherrod Brown or John Fetterman, both of whom are un-slick, patriotic, and economically populist -- just what Brooks asks for.

We really might have a serious third-party candidate in 2024 -- but it won't be someone who promises real economic change. That wouldn't go over well in the Morning Joe green room.

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