Upcoming presidential election divides nation beyond party lines

Brett Klein


Our country is divided. If there’s nothing else about which to be certain in politics, be certain about that. The chiseled ideologies of our two major political parties divide it in two. 

No matter who becomes America’s 45th president, about half of the population will be outraged, ostracized, disappointed or indifferent, at the very least. So what if our nation’s highest elected office stays with the Democrats? What if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wins the general election? 

Since Barack Obama took office seven years ago, Republicans have shaken the political establishment with their booming voices expressing outrage and incredulousness toward his administration. Failing to reclaim the White House in 2016 could be disastrous for the identity and the already-wavering cohesiveness of the Republican Party. A Democratic President could continue to govern the country with the progressive ideology that fostered the Iran deal and the Affordable Care Act, and which favors sensible gun safety legislation. 

However, that scenario could also push the Republicans further away from the negotiating table while the party looks itself in the mirror asking how to break its streak of three lost presidential elections in a row. Hostility between the parties manifests itself in Congress and in everyday life, but it helps no one. It brings to mind the old adage—together we stand, divided we fall.  

In recent decades, members of the Democratic and Republican parties have taken turns occupying the Oval Office. Republican George H.W. Bush turned the position over to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993. George W. Bush, a Republican like his father, then became Commander in Chief in 2001 and Democrat Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2009. 

It’s unlikely that this back and forth is a coincidence. Over the course of an eight-year span, public opinion of and patience with government have tended to wane and swing voters are willing to try a different approach come election time. 

The final two years of Obama’s presidency have arguably been overshadowed by the hysteria and pageantry of the 2016 presidential campaign, mostly on the Republican side.

It is no secret that Obama has an army of critics—in the media and in government—most of whom reside across the aisle. The Iran Nuclear Deal is a disaster, his executive orders on immigration are illegal and he is incapable of protecting us from the Islamic State, they say, often less politely. And based on Obama’s perpetually low approval rating, many people agree. 

As 2016 began to draw near, Republicans started to see their opportunity to take the country back from progressivism. They’re seeking someone—anyone—to undo the mounting damage they believe has been inflicted during Obama’s two terms.

Nearly 20 Republican presidential candidates emerged—a group that has since shrunk—each claiming to be the antidote to Obama’s poison. 

Some of the candidates’ anti-Democrat rhetoric is played up for the cameras and for the sound bites because that is how campaigning must be done. What a candidate says to sway voters in his or her own party, like denouncing the opposition and shouting applause lines, often is not representative of that person’s eventual actions as president. Still, there is real animosity between the parties because of their competing visions of the nation’s future. 

Donald Trump’s widespread popularity, based on the polls that he references ad nauseam, reveals much about the state of the Republican Party. The Trump phenomenon shows that a growing group of Republicans is not only fed up with Democratic rule, but also with traditional government all together. There is no consensus within the party on the best conservative way forward, even as primary season gets underway. 

The official word of the 2016 presidential election has to be “establishment.” It has become taboo to be an establishment politician because the establishment has become the enemy of everyday Americans. Talking heads have endlessly debated why political outsiders have continued to galvanize voters and why people have begun to revolt against traditional government. 

Trump, Cruz, Sanders and even Clinton have tried to brand themselves as outsiders and not as career politicians, a category of people that has come to be resented. Cruz advertises himself as an outsider because of his penchant for creating enemies in Congress, Sanders because he’s a Socialist, Clinton because she’s woman and Trump because, well, you know. Cruz won the Iowa caucuses and Trump leads many national polls. 

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, who can’t avoid his family’s name, Chris Christie and John Kasich—all relatively moderate, traditional governors—have struggled mightily to garner any significant support. 

Now, 44-year-old Marco Rubio has been pegged as the Republican establishment’s last chance to retain power. The irony, though, is that Rubio stands further to the right on the political spectrum than most people realize, and yet by comparison to Trump and Cruz, he is seen as someone who won’t upset the status quo. 

Those who believe in the establishment are relying on Rubio to win the nomination—despite his near breakdown in last Saturday’s debate—behind support from less extreme Republicans once Bush, Christie and Kasich suspend their campaigns. 

A Democratic president in 2016 will not unify the opposition, though. Instead, the resentment towards Democrats and others within the party will fester for at least four more years. The Republican Party is rightfully concerned that it might be about to squander its best chance to take back the presidency with a hodgepodge of inadequate candidates.  

In the event of a Clinton or Sanders presidency, Republicans will have to realize that their attempts to bring conservatives together are clearly failing, and the masses of candidates didn’t help bring the voters together. If Republicans can’t beat Clinton or Sanders, whom can they beat?

Sanders is a self-professed Democratic Socialist. Regardless of the realities of his economic plans, socialism is a term that simply has no place in our capitalist society. Clinton, on the other hand, has issues of her own. Her email scandal is a demerit and she woefully lacks the charisma that helped Obama defeat her in 2008 and is allowing Sanders to keep pace with her now. 

It’s unclear how sharp an indictment of the Republican Party it would be for a democrat to take office next January. It could represent a shift in our history—a sign that conservative social values are losing their appeal and that a majority of the country is ready to move forward. For now, though, whether a G.O.P. loss would be indicative of a shift in the populace’s mindset or merely a result of circumstances specific to this election cycle should not be the focus. 

Make no mistake, this presidential election is crucial for the Republican Party’s future. The momentum that has been building within the party—with a new house speaker and agreement over detesting Obama—would be wasted, and there is no guarantee it could be recharged any time soon. 

In other words, for the Republicans, this election is “yuge.”