The rise of candidates hailing from outside the class of professional politicians has led observers to accurately assess that the mood among average Republican voters is a rather dark one. Republicans who profess to pollsters their support for candidates like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are surely less fatalistic about the present state of affairs or the country’s future than are Donald Trump’s backers. The fact, however, that those who back these candidates make up a majority of the GOP electorate communicates clearly that Republican voters have adopted a semi-revolutionary disposition. Those political analysts who can so easily recognize a Republican revolt when they see one seem incapable of identifying a similar sense of restlessness on the Democratic side until it hits them in the face. The tipping point, at which it will no longer be possible to ignore the growing disquiet among Democratic primary voters, might be upon us.
To glance at polls at this stage in the race — and their serial inaccuracy merits them only a glance — is to leave with the impression that Republicans are set for another rollercoaster primary season. The GOP has held two presidential debates, and both have yielded substantial momentum for the field’s non-professional candidates. By contrast, the Democratic race has been equally volatile even in the absence of debates. According to the Real Clear Politics polling averages, Hillary Clinton is now trailing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire and the two candidates are tied in Iowa.
Clinton’s dip in the polls is unfortunate for the Democratic Party in particular. The Democrats had done so much to shield Clinton from public scrutiny until she had secured her party’s presidential nomination, an effort that culminated in the decision to limit the number of intramural debates to just six. Only four of those contests were scheduled to occur before the first nominating contest in Iowa was conducted in February.
“I sort of feel for my counterpart Reince Priebus because it’s pretty clear why they did everything they could to shrink the number of debates and shrink the exposure,” quipped Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz this summer. Her triumphalism was imprudent and shortsighted. The ensuing weeks that were characterized by the ascension of Donald Trump have concomitantly seen the rise of an unabashed socialist who threatens to topple the anointed and glass-jawed Clinton from her perch.
It was due comeuppance for Wasserman Schultz that her party’s efforts to protect Barack Obama’s heir apparent from Democratic primary voters backfired so spectacularly on Saturday. The DNC chair took the stage at a Democratic Party convention in New Hampshire over the weekend to jeers and heckles from a substantial crowd of party faithful calling for more debates. “We want debates,” they chanted. “More debates.” Though Wasserman Schultz tried to ignore the swelling mutiny in her organization’s ranks, she could not. “What’s more important, drawing a contrast with Republicans, or arguing about debates?” the defiant Democratic Party head shouted back at her party’s unruly voters. “Let’s focus on our mission at hand. Let’s focus on our task at hand.”
It is no accident that this display of insubordination occurred in the Granite State, where Sanders’ voters are most prominent and well organized. It would be a mistake, however, to attribute this display of dissatisfaction to New Hampshire’s proximity to the home state of Clinton’s chief challenger. This raucous crowd reflected an increasing apprehension among liberals with the coronation process. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week, no less a figure than Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi joined those clamoring for more debates.
“Hillary does well — I think they all do well on them — and we should have more debates,” Pelosi said. Those who remember how Chris Dodd defenestrated the former New York senator in 2007 when Clinton indulged in a little blatant flip-flopping on the issue of allowing illegal immigrants to have access to drivers’ licenses would take issue with Pelosi’s assessment of her debating prowess. The Hillary Clinton of 2007 seems a paragon of righteous conviction when compared to the Hillary Clinton of 2015. For Democrats who had hoped to protect Clinton from herself this cycle, there is every reason to fear that she will wither on the debate stage when confronted by the avatar of an angry and increasingly left-leaning liberal electorate.
The pundit class’s commitment to the conventional wisdom allowed them to miss the conditions on the right that led to the Trump surge over the summer – a dynamism that is evolving into an uprising among a healthy plurality or even a majority of Republican primary voters against professional politicians. The expert political observer is equally committed to subordinating empiricism to their understanding of how things should work when they survey the Democratic race. Clinton should have the nomination locked up. The Democrats should be committed to her campaign. If Clinton were to somehow fail to win both Iowa and New Hampshire’s early contests, her prohibitive organizational strength in the South should prove an insurmountable firewall. Amid all of these shoulds, pundits have ignored or overlooked the 2016 election cycle’s myriad coulds.
A Democratic revolt is well underway. If it snowballs, only those who should know better will have been caught by surprise.