guest commentary by Dr. Williams Yamkam
Editor’s note: Dr. Williams Yamkam is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. He is a graduate of American University’s Campaign Management Institute in Washington, D.C. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics or the UAFS administration.
Countless news stories have been written about the anger and frustration many voters harbor against the establishment of the two major political parties.
For most of the ongoing presidential primaries season, the main story lines have been about the contrast between the early success of insurgent candidates and the lackluster performance of establishment-backed candidates.
As increasing numbers of Democratic voters were said to be “feeling the bern,” the majority of Republican voters threw their support behind candidates such as Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, and other anti-establishment candidates. Now that the primary and/or Caucus results from four states (IA, NH, NV, and SC) are in, a preliminary reading of the presidential contest shows some resiliency on the part of establishment-backed candidates.
In Iowa, despite the very good fight that Sanders put up against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (he got 49.6% of the votes), Clinton – the quintessential establishment-backed candidate – still managed to eke out a very narrow victory by garnering 49.9% of the votes.
On the Republican side, despite Cruz’s victory in the Iowa caucuses with 27.6% of the votes and despite the fact that anti-establishment candidates garnered the majority of the votes, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who appears to be consolidating the Republican establishment’s support, strongly finished in third position with 23.1% of the votes.
In New Hampshire, though Clinton got walloped by Sanders (38% vs. 60.4% of the votes) and though Rubio finished in a very distant fifth position with 10.6% of the votes, they both bounced back in the next electoral context this past Saturday.
As Clinton narrowly won the Nevada Democratic caucus, Rubio finished second in the Republican primaries in South Carolina behind Trump. Despite the fact that Rubio had the support of most of South Carolina’s Republican Party’s establishment and thus could have been expected to win the South Carolina primaries, his second place finish began to set him up as the de facto establishment-backed candidate to ultimately take on Trump for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
By convincingly winning the Nevada Republican caucuses on Tuesday night, Trump consolidated his status as the front-runner; while Rubio’s second place finish confirms this latter as the main alternative to Trump.
As the presidential primaries continue, the battle line would likely be more forcefully drawn between the establishment-backed candidates and the anti-establishment candidates. While establishment-backed candidates seem to be focusing primarily on mathematical calculations, anti-establishment candidates seem to primarily seek to sustain an emotional connection with voters.
The mathematical calculations of establishment-backed candidates such as Clinton and Rubio are based on a triad of rational arguments that are quite appealing to both political parties whose ultimate goal is to gain and/or keep political power:
• They promote their candidacies on the assumption that only they would be able to add enough constituent groups to their respective party’s political coalition to not only win the presidential nomination, but more importantly win the presidency.
• They contend that only they can win enough states and add up those states’ electoral votes to ultimately reach the minimum of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
• They assume that by being the standard bearers of their respective political parties, they would likely provide enough coattails for their parties’ candidates down the ballot to get (re-) elected.
As for the anti-establishment candidates, the driving force behind their respective candidacies is their ability to emotionally connect with voters whose confidence in established institutions is quite low. Anti-establishment candidates such as Trump, Sanders, and Cruz hope that by ginning up the emotions and passions of voters, scores of apathetic voters and other new voters would show up at the polls and upend any established rules of presidential campaigns.
Besides tapping into the voters’ anger and frustration, Trump and Sanders do have the key ingredients essential for an organic political campaign to thrive: a message that is catchy and simple enough for the voters to get; a candid and trustworthy messenger to carry the message; and the passion of many diehard supporters. This could explain why Trump and Sanders have suffered no electoral backlash despite making grandiose promises that are less likely to materialize in the short term. For example, how does Trump intend to ‘build a wall and make Mexico pay for it’? Can Sanders really make free college tuition for all a reality?
The presidential nomination contest is now steadily turning into a full-fledge war of attrition between the remaining candidates. The ultimate goal for the remaining five Republican candidates is to garner the minimum of 1,237 delegates needed to become the Republican nominee; while the ultimate goal for Clinton or Sanders is to garner a minimum of 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. So far, Trump is the Republican candidate with the most delegates (79) and Clinton is the Democratic candidate with the most delegates (502 delegates including 451 Super delegates). As of now, no candidate is close to clinching his/her party’s presidential nomination.
Despite the relative success of anti-establishment candidates, it is to be expected that the establishment of both political parties would fight tooth and nail to help establishment-backed candidates prevail. After all, it’s all about political power. And the establishment of each political party would not willingly accept defeat without a strong fight. In light of this, Rubio and Clinton are likely to get a lot of subtle assists from the establishment of their respective political parties.
Should Clinton, the establishment-backed candidate, win the Democratic nomination as the polls suggest, she would have to pick a running mate who can excite the liberal base of the Democratic Party and give her a better chance of winning the presidency. Should Trump win the Republican nomination as the polls suggest, he would have to somehow placate the Republican establishment to avoid the stealth sabotaging actions of national Republican insiders.
The establishment of both political parties may suffer setbacks, but always finds a way to bounce back. The establishment of both political parties is less like a Democratic donkey or a Republican elephant, and more like a mythical cat that has many lives.