Belmont Club

The Thin Blue Line

Dan Balz, writing in the Washington Post, says both parties are trying to make sense of the “racial, class and gender divisions” unexpectedly revealed by the thunder-flashes from “America’s angry year”.  Challenges are being discovered where none were anticipated.  The pundits’ surprise recalls the moment when Lt William Vereker, on a routine patrol from the British camp at Isandlwana looked down into the Ngwebeni valley to find it boiling with the hitherto unseen main Zulu Army of 20,000 men.

As in 1879 the political scouts are rushing back to inform the camp of the unanticipated development.  Shocked but still undaunted, the pundits remain confident that the threat can be stopped by the Democrat “Blue Wall” in the industrial and upper Midwest.  There, media artillery and the technologically superior liberal ground game are expected to hold the line against the angry white voter.

Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the progressive Center for American Progress, said Trump’s only path to victory lies in “a spike of white working-class support. . . . It’s trying to break apart the heartland part of the ‘blue wall,’ with less emphasis on the rest of the country.”

The “blue wall” is a term coined by journalist Ronald Brownstein of Atlantic Media and refers to the 18 states plus the District of Columbia that Democrats have won in the past six elections. Those states add up to 242 electoral votes, giving Democrats a foundation and therefore several combinations of other states to get to 270. …

Yet despite the outward Democratic confidence there are worries that the white voter impis may outflank the firing line.  “’If he drives big turnout increases with white voters, especially with white male voters, that has the potential to change the map,’ said a veteran of Obama’s campaigns, who spoke anonymously in order to share current analysis of the fall campaign.”

The more perceptive Democratic strategists are worried Hillary might be caught on the horns of a dilemma.  Jeff Spross of the Week noted that Hillary had two flanks to simultaneously defend: the Left and the Right.   If she blocked the one she could not block the other.

There are three ways to go up against Trump: option one, address the new wave of populist anger directly, and try to add as many Sanders voters, and maybe even potential Trump voters, to the Obama coalition as possible; option two, try to bring in the more cosmopolitan Republicans who would never pull the lever for Trump; or option three, do nothing and just try to pull off 2008 and 2012 again.

Since option three would increase Trump’s chances of winning, the Democrats will probably pick the first or second options. Which they choose will say a lot about what makes the Democratic Party tick.

Option one will require a sharp left turn … The problem is, option two will require the Democrats to take the exact opposite approach. … Courting these disaffected GOP votes will require Clinton to lay off high-end tax hikes, and to start stumping for thing like free trade, reductions in government spending, work requirements for welfare programs, or cuts to Social Security.

She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.  The trouble is that Hillary’s choice may already have been pre-empted by events.  They’re going left.  Activists maddened at the very idea of Trump’s candidacy “blocked a main highway leading into Fountain Hills where Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump held a campaign rally Saturday.” Acting with an unshakable sense of ideological superiority, “the protesters parked their cars in the middle of the road, unfurling banners with anti-Trump slogans and chanting ‘Trump is hate.’ The disruption caused a lengthy traffic backup, and drivers honked their horns in frustration.” Like Col. Pulleine on that fateful date in 1879, Hillary has no choice but be dragged where they go. Sanders’ troops, Hillary’s personal Colonel Durnford, are off to teach the natives a lesson in an independent and uncoordinated action.

If the Left flank collapses or supercharges Trump … well … the camp may be open. Worse, nothing Hillary does will change the most significant political fact: she is in for a fight she did not predict. The unanticipated voter insurgency is powered by a long term decline in the mobility and income of the middle class.  Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic notes that “one of the underlying themes of the tumultuous presidential election is that middle-class Americans feel like they’re stuck in a rut.” He writes:

Indeed, U.S. workers’ share of national income has been shrinking since the late 1990s (meaning that more of it than ever is going to the top 1 percent), and average annual income growth in the United States for the “bottom” 90 percent has been negative for the last two decades.

That would be news to president Obama who only this month boasted that the U.S. economy was the envy of the world and that Republican presidential candidates should stop talking down the economy.

“The facts don’t lie….America is pretty darn great right now,” Obama said in remarks to reporters ahead of a meeting of his economic team. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s motto is “Make America Great Again.”

They didn’t seriously see it coming.  Consequently everything could be out of reckoning.  If the voters feel they are losing the American dream then the Blue Wall that Hillary is counting on to stop Trump may itself be rotting from within. The deep economic roots of the unrest means that even if Hillary survives, the voter impis will be back — again and again. The RAND corporation, after studying 89 historical insurgencies noted that if they survived the “proto-stage” they were likely to continue for an average of 10 years.

In retrospect the Tea Party, whose death the media announced repeatedly and often, may have signified the start of rebellion the pundits refused to take seriously. Now having failed to strangle it in the crib, the unrest will likely outlast November, 2016. “Once an insurgency starts its third decade, the government takes longer to win it than to lose it,” says the RAND report, citing theories which hold that once an insurgency spreads to 25% of the population there is no alternative to a long and uncertain war.

By that metric the fight will be on for a long, long time.  Perhaps more disturbingly for the political elites, the insurgency seems to reflect a global trend. The idea that a dominant Federal Government and an expanding European Union represent the pre-ordained fulfillment of a Hegelian progressive arc is being challenged as never before.

If you can’t be sure of the inevitability of progressivism, what can you believe in? Conventional wisdom holds that Hillary can easily defeat a Republican challenger made ugly by “intolerance” and “bigotry”.  But given the miscalculations of the past months there must be some doubt whether Hillary may confidently shelter behind her Blue Wall.  There may be some reason to suspect that her Left Wing will not shut the savages down.

The biggest potential mistake the Democratic party can make is to imagine that “America’s angry year” was created by Trump; that by stopping him they will have won their war.  The RAND history survey suggests this is unlikely.  It is the long term trends that will be decisive.  Elites facing an insurgency often discover the need for strategic patience and solutions only long after their overconfidence has doomed them to defeat.

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