“There was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us.” – Sir Austin Chamberlain British politician 1936.
There is one fact of life that everybody involved in American politics must learn to accept: centrism is dead. The center is no longer a factor in American politics and candidates that pander to it are likely to lose.
2016 can be safely called the year that the political center in the United States died, and Hillary Clinton (D-New York) is the person who killed it. Before the debacle of the 2016 Presidential election moderates had a home in the Democratic Party. After 2016, neither party is safe for them.
Hillary killed centrism by running as a moderate and losing to a terrible candidate; Donald J. Trump (R-New York) a mushy centrist masquerading as a populist or conservative depending on which audience he was speaking to. Trump won by pandering to the Right and ignoring the Center and the Left.
How Hillary Killed Centrism
Clinton lost by overestimating the size and strength of the center and forgetting about the importance of passion in political debate.
Ultimately, Hillary failed because her people lacked the passion to get out and vote. Trump figured out how to mobilize portions of the population with a lot of passion.
Hillary did not lose because the Left lacks passion; she was defeated for failing to tap into the passion on the Left. One of Clinton’s greatest mistakes was to let U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) emerge as the passionate crusader candidate. This drew support away from her and to Sanders.
By refusing to take hard-left stands, and opposing Sanders, Hillary ended up looking like a vicious reactionary trying to crush the true believers. She made herself into the villain in the eyes of a lot of Democrats and turned Bernie into a hero.
Polling data indicates that a large percentage of Bernie supporters; perhaps as many as 12%, may have voted for Trump. University of Massachusetts-Amherst political science Professor Brian F. Schaffner thinks up to 51,317 Sanders supporters voted for the Donald in Wisconsin, National Public Radio reported in August 2017. Trump carried Wisconsin by just 22,748 votes.
The lesson Hillary is teaching politicians is that centrism is a good way to lose an election in America today. Taking a moderate stand will not get enough people out to make a difference at the polls for you, but it can shift just enough votes to the other side make the difference on Election Day.
Centrism rarely pays off in US elections because we have winner take all; or “first past the post,” electoral system. In such a system, all a candidate needs to win is slightly more than half of the vote. This means elections are often decided by very small percentages of voters.
Welcome to Post Centrist America
The results of the 2016 Clinton debacle are predictable yet disconcerting. Democrats are now trying to repackage themselves as uncompromising Leftists.
So-called “moderate” Democrat Conor Lamb won a House of Representatives special election in Pennsylvania by attacking Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), emphasizing his support of single-payer healthcare, and advocating legalization of marijuana and gun control. Lamb actually won a district; Pennsylvania 18, that Trump carried by 19.6 points in 2016.
Andrew Yang, a presumptive Democratic presidential candidate is going even further. His major issue is a $1,000 a month basic income for all Americans. Yang’s website promotes a British style single-payer healthcare system with all doctors reduced to the status of salaried government employees.
Just a few years ago, such positions would have unthinkable for Democrats. Hillary has admitted she was afraid to talk about basic income in 2016. Now there is a basic income plank in the California Democratic Party’s official platform.
Nor is it just basic income, gun control is gaining steam fast. In Texas, Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) has made his opposition to the National Rifle Association (NRA) a key facet of his campaign. O’Rourke won the Democratic primary with 61.8% of the vote.
Where will the Moderates Go?
Moderates will hate this political environment because Republicans seem to be even more extreme.
Moderate Republican President Trump; a lifelong-proponent of gun control, wants armed teachers in the schools, and opposes almost all gun restrictions. Trump is also demanding the death penalty for drug dealers. Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana) is giving speeches demanding immediate construction of the border wall.
Moderates are frustrated because they were expelled from the Grand Old Party decades ago. Now they are fast losing the home they had in the Democratic Party. One of the fascinating aspects of American political history is that in the mid-20th Century the Republicans were the moderate party – the home of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet by the 1980s, they had evolved, or devolved into an ideologically conservative party with libertarian leanings.
Democrats capitalized on this by making room for moderates in the big tent; a strategy that paid off with four presidential wins in the last two decades but backfired in other races. Yet won that backfired badly in other races, Democrats lost around 910 state legislature seats during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.
Moderates only vote in big elections like those for president. Passionate political partisans almost always turn out for every election. This is why we had a Democratic President for eight of the last 10 years, but Republican control of Congress for the last seven years. They also commit themselves to lousy candidates as Republican support for Trump shows.
An interesting development here will be where will the moderates go? Will they return to the GOP, or swallow their pride and support a leftist Democrat. The answer is unknown because neither party is doing much to attract centrists these days. One has to wonder if both parties will simply write them off as the Republicans have.
Why Centrism has failed in America
A question moderates need to ask themselves is why has Centrism failed in America? Why are American voters unwilling to support moderate candidates
Some possible reasons include:
- Voters are simply sick of do nothing politicians. Centrists are widely viewed as do nothings.
- The country is in an anti-establishment mood and there is a widespread belief on both sides of the aisle that Centrists are the establishment.
- Many voters simply distrust Centrists because they think they are the establishment or on Wall Street’s payroll.
- Centrists have refused to discuss many of the country’s basic problems including income inequality, wage stagnation, immigration, a dysfunctional foreign policy, racism, crumbling infrastructures a looming retirement crisis, student loans, defective education, and the broken healthcare system.
- Centrist solutions like Obamacare and “welfare reform” have failed miserably and often hurt the very people they were intended to help.
- Centrists are boring. People like interesting candidates and elections. For all his faults President Donald J. Trump is not boring.
- Centrists simply lack the commitment and passion needed to win elections in today’s America.
Centrism has died in America and it probably will not be back in our lifetime. Our politics are going to be far more passionate and more interesting for the foreseeable future.