This year has seen one of the most tumultuous, controversial primaries in the history of the United States. Donald Trump has become exceedingly more likely to win the GOP nomination as his competition quits one after the other, despite the heart of the Republican Party opposing the nomination of the man who once said that he identified more as a Democrat. On the Democratic side of things, Hillary Clinton has seemingly staved off Bernie Sander’s astronomical rise from little-known senator, to what can now be considered the political figurehead of the Millennial generation. There is no doubt that this year’s primaries have been one of the most unpredictable of all time, and the most meaningful impact it might have made is yet to be seen.
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are likely to come out of this primary process unscathed. With the rise of Donald Trump for the Republicans, and the rise of Bernie Sanders for the Democrats, establishment politics has never been under more fire than it is now, and the voters have taken notice. As both major parties realize their exposed faults and appropriately reform to better suit the voters’ wishes, 2016 might shape up to be the most pivotal year in the history of modern U.S. politics. The thing is, no one is entirely sure how both parties will react and then settle.
Jeb Bush – once considered an early favorite for the Republican nomination – dropped out Feb. 20 in the face of Trump’s imposing success, followed by Carson, Rubio, Cruz and finally Kasich on May 4. While the party once boasted the presence of 17 nominees, Trump, the outsider and political rookie, is the only Republican left standing. Trump entered the process in one of the most unique positions a nominee has ever been in: a multi-billionaire celebrity, who had no true affiliation to either party or politicians. Many might believe his success is just the product of his well-established popularity, but the fact that his words resonate with so many Republican voters might force the party to accommodate some lasting Trump influence in the future.
“Trump has already made a mockery of the ideological pillars of the Republican platform,” Professor of Political Science Frank Alcock said. “This will change the party although I don’t know what it will look like a year from now.”
Likewise for the Democrats, an outsider – Bernie Sanders – has made a strong push for the party’s nomination. Unlike the Republican Party, however, the establishment has stood firm regardless of the tremors Sanders has inspired. Trailing Clinton by 290 pledged delegates as of May 7, Sander’s hopes for the nomination are bleak – yet, the Democratic Party might be significantly impacted because of his run. With his outsider acknowledgement of the foundational flaws in U.S. politics, desire to establish truly universal healthcare and free higher education, and even his Democratic Socialist values resonating strongly with Millennials, the Democratic Party might move more leftward to cater to those voters in the future.
“The Democrats will look to accommodate some of Sanders calls for reform,” Alcock said. “But it remains to be seen how much reform we’ll see if Clinton wins the presidency.”
While the states of the major parties are being thrown up in the air by the primary process, Americans are now faced with the increasing likelihood of a Clinton versus Trump general election. Clinton entered the primary process as the easy favorite to win both the nomination and presidency, but even though Sanders and she have run largely issue-based campaigns, the foundation of her political position has shown itself to be shakier than once thought. Her insider politics have been scrutinized, as well as the Clinton Foundation and her very own voting record. She has been contacted to be interviewed by the FBI over her email scandal, and has yet to release the transcripts from several of her speeches – both of which Trump will surely target when or if they go head-to-head. If one were to be asked who, between Clinton and Trump, would win the presidency a year ago, there would be no doubt as to who would be the favorite. Now, not so much.
“Clinton’s odds of winning are high, but I sense we’re in the midst of an odyssey,” Alcock said regarding the general election if it were Clinton versus Trump. “Bizarre stuff has happened, and the cycle may continue to surprise us.”
Sanders supporters certainly are not enthusiastic about Clinton, with one out of every four supporters declaring that they would not vote for Hillary if she were the Democratic nominee, according to the results of a McClatchy-Marist poll released back in Feb. 30. Luckily for her and her supporters – or anyone opposed to Trump – Clinton still seemingly has the edge in the general election if it were her against Trump: leading 47.3 percent to 40.8 percent on average as of May 1, according to realclearpolitics.com. Despite the average poll pointing to a lead for Clinton, the number varies between poll sources, going from having her in a 13-point lead according to a CNN/ORC poll, to trailing Trump by 2 points according to Rasmussen Reports. The unpredictability of the primaries so far can only support further unpredictability in the general election.
Regardless of the race for presidency, we might catch a sneak-peek of the effects of the primary process on the country in the upcoming states’ primary races. With 45 states and territories hosting elections in the upcoming summer months, there might be some significant changes to both Congress and state governments. The Democratic Party might be poised to regain control of the Senate, with only 5 seats needed to accomplish that. The majority of vulnerable seats in the Senate are held by Republicans, as there are 24 Republican incumbents up for re-election, and only 10 for the Democrats. With the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open for appointment – which needs 60 Senate votes for confirmation – the race for Congressional seats has even broader implications than usual.
“Pay attention to the states’ primary races – for everything other than the presidency,” Alcock said. “And be sure to vote on August 30.”