In 1752, Londoners rioted over the Whig government’s decision to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Tory voters had been convinced that the one-time elimination of eleven days required by the reconciliation of the two calendars would shorten their life spans.
“Give us back our eleven days!” became the rallying cry of the 1754 election.
Not much has changed in the world of politics. Hoodwinking the uninformed has always loomed large in elections, and today is no exception. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have emerged as frontrunners in their respective parties, and both are enthusiastically supported by undereducated voters – those without college degrees.
Many of those turning out for Trump have a high-school education and have never participated in politics before because no one had ever spoken to their concerns. For that, he should be celebrated. This makes this election unusual, since such voters typically vote for Democrats.
This is why neither Ted Cruz nor Jeb Bush, who have attacked Trump most enthusiastically, have been able to dull Trump’s momentum. Ted Cruz is forever reminding caucus and primary participants that Trump is not a “real” conservative. He imagines Trump followers sitting at home scoring the developer’s statements against an ideological true north. Ex-Im Bank? Check. TPP? Check. Abortion? Check twice.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, a nice man but a dreadful candidate who has now thankfully left the race, was convinced that if only he could get more air-time to expound his intelligent views on income tax reform or trade policy, his ranks would swell. He actually thought people would rally to his moderate, achievable program, not recognizing that as seriously as the folks in Iowa take their first-in-the-country status and New Hampshirites pride themselves on their turnout, too many of those people are swept up this year in instinct and emotion. And, he faced too many rivals going after the same voters.
Neither Bush nor Cruz nor anyone else in the race has recognized that some defined portion of the electorate has rallied to Trump based entirely on their gut. The billionaire developer makes people feel good by vowing to Make America Great Again and to build a wall on the southern border. Most people probably realize that Trump has literally no chance of delivering on his promises; they don’t care. Trump’s one-liners are good enough.
But, they are not good enough for the country. A Hillary Clinton win in November would make permanent many of the policies put in place by President Obama over the past seven years, weakening our country both domestically and overseas. It is hard to overestimate the potential cost, and it is hard to convince voters of just how damaging to our economy many of Obama’s dictates will be. Many are visible and much discussed, such as his war on coal; others – like the creative use of disparate impact to extort billions of dollars from lenders – much less so. But, there are plenty of red flags to alarm voters.
For the first time in 35 years, more companies are going under than are being formed. Or, the continued low level of workforce participation, and huge number of people on disability. Or, the stagnation of wages and declining competitiveness in key sectors. And, the miserable state of our public education, and the consequent decline in upward mobility.
There are so many warning signs. Americans sense that something is wrong. Gallup surveys show that only 19 percent of Americans have confidence in government, one of the lowest readings in the past several decades. Polls say that nearly two-thirds of the country thinks the Unites States is heading in the wrong direction.
Perhaps the biggest warning sign is the popularity of Donald Trump, a candidate who blusters, threatens, and breaks all the rules. As the field narrows and the race becomes more serious, voters must ask, is Donald Trump the right man to solve our nation’s problems? Will he dig in and work to bring about much-needed shifts in education or tax policy? Can he help shrink the size of government and restore common sense? Can he buttress US alliances overseas? Appoint outstanding Supreme Court justices; rework the Affordable Care Act, effect needed entitlement reform?
Doubtful. Donald Trump has opinions, not policies. He wants to repeal Obamacare but likes the individual mandate, the bulwark of the unpopular law. He favors higher taxes and is okay with Planned Parenthood, but reverses course when challenged by right-wing voters. His vague wanderings through the issues of our day will eventually catch up with him – maybe in the next few weeks. There are some signs his polling if weakening; given more time, the contradictions will begin to eat into his lead.
Time, however, is running out. For those serious about defeating Hillary in November, the trick is to find and support a candidate capable of beating the Democratic front-runner, while keeping some of the Trump supporters engaged. Many think the best shot for the GOP is Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz is not liked and has cleaved too closely to Trump’s vision, in hopes of scooping up his supporters when and if the developer fades. Rubio has perhaps ventured too far right for many moderate Republicans in order to succeed in the primaries, but his favorables still augur well for success in November.
Rubio has been reluctant to challenge Trump mano-a-mano, an intelligent read of the New Yorker’s ability to eviscerate his rivals.
Now, however, is the time. Rubio does not have to attack Trump’s unreasonable promise to deport 11 million undocumented people living in the US. He does not have to challenge the real estate magnate’s improbable plan to slap onerous tariffs on Chinese goods.
Instead, as the field narrows, Rubio can appeal to Republicans who know better. Those who hope for sensible governing, who are keen for the intelligent educational reforms Rubio has promised, who see the popular young senator as the best hope of beating Hillary Clinton -- who are not blinded by Trump’s bluster. For those undereducated voters streaming to Trump, Rubio can offer an agenda of opportunity – that great and enduring promise of America.
He’s good at that. Unlike Mr. Trump, Marco Rubio has walked in their shoes. And, look at him now.