I’ve been fond of the red pill-blue pill formulation to describe what is happening with non-liberals in America. It’s popular with the hobbits of the Dark Enlightenment so I never use the terminology, but it is a good way to describe what is happening. It’s not disillusionment. That’s just a precursor to a healthy cynicism. What we’re seeing today is more of an awakening, where people suddenly confront a truth they used to think was nonsense.
It’s popular to compare the Trump surge with the Perot surge, blaming it on populist anger, which is another way of saying the losers are making a racket. That’s the George Will and Charles Krapphammer view of things. Both have been ranting and raving about this on Fox for a few months now. That’s an easy temptation and even easier when you get paid to mail in bite sized commentary for an hour each night. As Buchanan used to say, they have gone native.
Anyway, the thing people forget about Perot is he started as a third party guy, even though he had a special hatred of Bush. His campaign was never a fight within the GOP. That fight happened with the Buchanan challenge of Bush in the primary. Trump is starting as a Republican and while not making his campaign about challenging the GOP power structure, that’s how people are responding to it. If Trump were running as a third party candidate right now, no one would care.
Another big difference in this cycle is the Democrats are not desperate to win like they were in 1992. They were also going through a reform effort of their own in the Bush years. The DLC emerged as the “New Democrats” promising to drag the party to the center. That’s how Bill Clinton grifted his way to the nomination. The desperate could overlook his vulgarity and the reformers could overlook his near total lack of a moral compass. Everyone in the Democrat side just wanted to win.
It’s tempting to credit the Sanders surge as merely a late reaction to Clinton, who is about as appealing as rectal cancer. Even her friends describe her as a moral nullity so there’s room for a not-Clinton in the primary. That’s not what’s going on though, as Sanders has tapped into some of the things we’re seeing on the GOP side. One is immigration and the other is economic nationalism.
Sanders is pretty good on the national question, to the horror of liberal elites. He’s also an economic nationalist, a reminder to many Democratic voters that the party used to be about the working man. Within living memory, Democrats championed the middle and working classes, while today’s liberal is the champion of deadbeats, weirdos and corporatist plutocrats. A lot of Democrat voters are pissed at what has happened with their party and they are flocking to Sanders.
I think the biggest difference here is the role of the media. The primaries were over by the time Perot started talking about a run. It was the summer of 1992 when he became a story and started building a campaign. The press filled the summer promoting Perot because they wanted an interesting story. He was treated like a rock star, just about living on CNN. Eventually, Perot’s nuttiness was the better story and the press started making sport of him.
In contrast, the media has been hostile to Trump from the start. The Conservative media has been a mix of mocking, insulting and incredulous. This column by George Will is revelatory:
He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of the National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley’s legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump “goes too far,” he has “tapped into something,” and therefore. . . .
Will starts out by asserting that conservatism was not always “intellectually respectable and politically palatable” and then he calls anyone not scandalized by Trump a subhuman. At least he did not demand they be shoved into ovens. He later goes on to say that a political party has a duty to defend its borders. This from a man who is an open borders fanatic. If you are a normal person who considers themselves a patriotic conservative, how can you not root for Trump over a man calling you a scumbag?
This where the red pill – blue pill concept comes in. Fox and the conservative media have been walking around thinking they are the authentic tribunes of the people. They truly thought they would be heroes to the cause by taking out Trump in the debate. Instead of their viewers throwing rotten cabbages at Trump, they were chucking them at Fox. Watching these folks, it’s clear they are off-balance and they don’t know what’s happening to them.
Unlike the Perot phenomenon, the Trump wave is as much about the general disgust with Conservative Inc. and the mainstream media as it is about populist outrage. A lot of people have started to figure out that Fox is there to move product and sell GOP Inc. to the gullible people on the Right. These are people who signed onto the Tea Party, but have been radicalized by the GOP’s efforts to marginalize them.
The reformer wants to save things. The revolutionary wants to destroy. Perot was leading a reform movement. Trump is leading a revolution, whether he knows it or not. Maybe that’s why guys like George Will are suddenly incontinent over Trump. Maybe they sense the danger. It’s hard to know, but the antics of guys like Erick Erickson are just throwing logs on the fire. Once you take the red pill, you cannot untake it so things will never be the same now that revolution is in the air.