Populism Is Back, on Both Left and Right

Both now and then, populists spoke about the “Eastern elites” who used government power to serve themselves and fleece the people. Bryan managed to do well in the national election in the West and the South, but failed to score in the industrial centers of the nation. The result was that the Republican William McKinley won the election by 600,000 votes.

It is not surprising that Karl Rove’s forthcoming book is titled The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. The book jacket summary features Rove’s comparison of our situation today with that in our past:

The 1896 political environment resembles that of today: A rapidly changing electorate affected by a growing immigrant population, an uncertain economy disrupted by new technologies, growing income inequality, and contentious issues the two parties could not resolve. McKinley found ways to address these challenges and win, which is why his campaign is so relevant to our politics now.

Rove’s insight leads us back to our present day. Will the nominees of both major parties incorporate the populist demands of both the left and right, or will they adhere to traditional policies which bypass or ignore the thousands who are now supporting Trump and Sanders? On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is already making statements against Wall Street greed, echoing Sanders. And many Republicans have shifted positions in favor of immigration reform to supporting new measures of immigration restriction.

I don’t think there is any chance that Sanders will capture the Democratic nomination. Trump seems like he might become the Republican nominee, but at the same point in the 2012 election, the front-runners included Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum, and we know what happened to them.