William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
I’m too fat to get into a proper fetal position, but were I not, Tuesday night would have been a good occasion to go there.
First came Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The Democratic Socialist, who had just run away with the Democratic primary, did not disappoint. He passionately painted a picture of a sinister America ruled by a handful of greedy oligarchs.
Then came an equally passionate, and slightly more orange, Donald Trump. After winning the Republican primary, he promised anyone who would listen everything they could ever possibly want. Stick with me, baby doll, it’s gonna be great. Just don’t check under the hood.
It’s hard to know whether New Hampshire voters were, as British cockney speakers might say, “taking a mickey on us.” Were they really putting these two candidates up for the Oval Office or were they just being cute in sending the rest of America a message?
I’m afraid it may be the former.
I still don’t think that Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump will be his respective party’s standard bearer in November, but the fact that they’ve gotten this far with the messages they’re delivering is sobering. It shows that a lot of Americans are willing to take a huge risk with the future of this country.
Is that warranted? Are things really so bad that Democratic voters would get behind a raging 74-year-old leftist who has been mostly viewed heretofore as a gadfly in the hallways of Washington? Is America so spiritually weakened that Republicans would vote for an archetypical New York City showman that they have to know in their hearts is promising things that can’t be delivered?
Are Americans really this rattled?
Pundits, including this one, have been so wrong in predicting how these primaries would go. Maybe that’s because the people we should be asking about these races are the sociologists, not the political experts. There is a tectonic change in the American psyche occurring that really needs to be explored.
I can’t help thinking that modern communications platforms have a lot to do with it. People in my industry have gotten so good at persuading people that the sky is falling that millions of people are looking up. (The $19 trillion federal debt, I would argue, is the one true cause for alarm.) And the fact that we can slice and dice the electorate through highly individualized targeting makes this messaging all the more powerful. It can rapidly start brushfires of dissent and build them into raucous political movements. Think Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter or certain elements of the tea party.
Every four years we are told by those running for office that “this” election is like no other. For the first time, I think most of us would emphatically and unequivocally agree. We have entered into some very strange territory, indeed.
At the end of the day, I trust that the American people are going to make a sane choice for president. If they don’t, I’ll have to lose weight quickly.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.