By Ron Mwangaguhunga
Looking backwards, historians of the future may regard this as the moment in modern American history in which the present two-party duopoly, at its weakest, implodes. And not with a bang, but a whimper.
There are, at press time, legitimate questions as to whether or not the Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate, Bill Weld, will get on the second debate stage. Ross Perot’s odd outlier candidacy in the 90s notwithstanding, this would be a momentous American political event, to have on the vice-presidential debate stage shared by three, not two, candidates. Further, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is a formidable debater, able, arguably, to hold his own against former governors Kaine and Pence. Not that I am suggesting here that the Libertarians could win the Presidency – far from it – but they might just draw so many millennial and economic conservative votes away from the major parties that such exposure could hasten the demise of the two-party system.
But wait -- there’s more. 60 Minutes, which has been the highest-rated Sunday evening non-sports show for decades -- an American institution -- interviewed the Libertarian ticket of Weld and his partner at the top of the ticket, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Has the long-running Sunday news magazine ever done such a thing before? And, if not, why now?
It is a crazy political season, to be sure. The two parties are at the weakest that they have been since … when? The Republican Party has finally had its public, humiliating crack-up. The conservative core that has for the last half-decade held the various constituencies together has been overtaken by the populist-nativist right-wing. I have always, quite frankly, been of the opinion that modern conservatism is more an entity of mood than of philosophy, more Archie Bunker than Friedrich Hayek.
The heart of the Republican Party has split from its mind, its organizing principle. William F. Buckley, Jr, the late godfather of modern conservatism, cobbled together a winning coalition of laissez-faire economic theorists, anti-abortionists, military hawks, anti-hippies and, of course, the steak-and-potatoes eating anti-Communists. Tonally, Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign commercial, his Summa, was not so much political philosophy as a reproduced Norman Rockwell canvas. The prevailing mood of post-war American conservatism was always above all one of nostalgia, of the profound desire to return the United States to an improbable Garden of Eden state best characterized by black-and-white 1950s TV shows. Think of the message: an appeal to how things used to be pre-counter-culture. Think of the messengers: Pat Buchanan, Bill Buckley, corporate CEOS and a lot of old Establishment white guys in grey flannel suits.
The Democrats are in better shape, but not by much. Hillary Clinton is by far infinitely better prepared to assume the role of President than Trump. Still, the stink of Establishmentarianism, inevitability, privilege and entitlement clings to her campaign. Vermont true-believer Bernie Sanders mounted a surprisingly robust challenge, lighting a fire under the asses of millennial voters. But there was always something a bit … off about the debate schedule. Hillary had the name recognition, and Bernie obviously needed the debates more than Clinton. So why were so many debates held on Saturday and Sunday nights, evening where most millennial – most voters, even – would be out?
And then there was Wikileaks. The release of more than 20,000 leaked Democratic National Committee emails proved what every alert political observer of the scene already knew: the DNC loathed Bernie and favored Hillary. Whether or not the DNC actually rigged the primary is inconclusive from the emails, but the release caused enough of a hubbub that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz had to resign (and, we cannot fail to note, was picked up as an official campaign surrogate in late July by Team Hillary). It remains to be seen whether the Bernie progressives will return to the Democrat Party in large numbers.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows Libertarian Gary Johnson over performing with voters under 30, a bad sign for Hillary Clinton, who should own that demographic. Then again, the young want change. And perhaps change, in the near future, means more than just a political duopoly.
Ron Mwangaguhunga is a Brooklyn based writer focused on media, culture and politics. His work has appeared in Huffington Post, IFC and Tribeca Film Festival, Kenneth Cole AWEARNESS, NY Magazine, Paper Magazine, CBS News.com, and National Review online to name a few. He is currently the editor of the Corsair.