But it has become clear that, this year, the actual presidential election will probably be a sideshow. The important elections will be the primaries. Why is this? Because at this moment, it looks like the final two contenders will be a right-winger so far to the right he can no longer be seen from the center, and a left-winger so far to the left he is also beyond the purview of people who favor a modicum of thoughtfulness.
Before we talk about the seemingly-likely candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, allow me to make some observations that are understood by some political theorists but not much appreciated by anybody else. The big news is that the far left has more in common with the far right than either of them have in common with moderates or libertarians: using the wings of the bird as the analogy, in extreme cases the tips of the wings are actually touching.
"That cannot be correct!" I hear some readers cry. But consider some examples.
Tesla is a case in point: both the UAW union and Big Three auto makers hate them. Bernie knows he hates Tesla, since it is a nonunion shop. Trump may not be fully aware that he hates Tesla, but he does, as demonstrated later (there is a claim that Trump can be independent because he can fund his own campaign and won't owe anyone anything. Perhaps. But he still has friends, and all his friends are Big Old Business insiders, and BOB insiders have a long, rational-sounding, litany of reasons to hate Tesla, as demonstrated during the New Jersey Tesla scandal, when the Republican lobbyists used an obscene little protectionist law to bar Tesla dealerships from the state, in order to protect the poor little car racketeers (I mean, the car dealers, as they call themselves) from rapacious big Tesla.
Now, I am still skeptical about Tesla as anything but a niche player, a Ferrari for the green community. Consequently, I find SpaceX to be an even better example of startup versus Big Old Business: all the big aerospace contractors, from the established monopolists at the joint Boeing/Lockheed rocket subdivision to the contractors building the government's own space boondoggle, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, work ceaselessly with the senators in their pockets to stop SpaceX. (as a point of philosophy, anyone who uses the words Evolved and Expendable in the same phrase to describe a rocket is lying, probably to themselves).
Both Sanders and Trump have clear and effective strategies for destroying such startup competitors to Big Old Business. Of course, neither Sanders nor Trump will tell you that destroying startups will be the most important result of their plans, and perhaps they don't even know. Unintended consequences, even when obvious, are easy to overlook if you don't want to see. For example, Obama may have really believed himself when he said that, under Obamacare, if you already had health insurance you liked, you could keep it -- completely missing that fact that many of those plans (such as the one I had) had to be killed by their offerers in ObamaLand.
Bernie would eliminate startups by sucking into the government all the billionaire fortunes that can enable a startup to overcome the Regulatory State. All except the government's billions, of course: boondoggles like the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle would thrive, since political support means that cost effectiveness or even modest common sense are irrelevant.
Trump's solution to prevent future Teslas and SpaceXs is perhaps more novel: under the immigration law framework that Trump would try to impose, people like Elon Musk, who was born in South Africa, would probably be unable to get into the country. So there would never be a Tesla or a SpaceX ... or a PayPal, for that matter.
Both strategies eliminate major threats to Big Old Business at their roots.
Bernie Sanders: "We are all correct to hate the rich one-percenters. They are not like us. They will destroy our way of life. Vote for me and I will punish them relentlessly. That is the most important thing we can do to make our lives better."
Now, substitute the phrase, "Muslims and Latinos" for the phrase, "rich one-percenters", and out comes the Donald Trump answer:
Donald Trump: "We are all correct to hate the Muslims and Latinos. They are not like us. They will destroy our way of life. Vote for me and I will punish them relentlessly. That is the most important thing we can do to make our lives better."
The rhetoric in this election reminds me of nothing so much as the battle between communists and fascists for the heart of Germany just before WWII:
Communists: "We are all correct to hate the rich. They are not like us. They will destroy our way of life. Vote for me and I will destroy them. That is the most important thing we can do to make our lives better."
Fascists: "We are all correct to hate the Jews. They are not like us. They will destroy our way of life. Vote for me and I will destroy them. That is the most important thing we can do to make our lives better."
The battle between Trump and Sanders is a little less dramatic. In the 1930s in Germany, they were serious about destroying utterly the targets of their wrath. But the similarities seem inescapable.
It is not surprising that the politics of hate becomes popular in the face of great uncertainty. The communist-fascist battle took place in the aftermath of the Great Depression. And in the face of that kind of hardship, scientific research demonstrates that people are strongly attracted to strategies with 3 features:
The bottom line is, it makes little difference whether Sanders or Trump wins, the politics of hate comes out victorious. Our only chance is to get rid of at least one of them during the primaries.
So if you are a Democrat, vote for Hillary in the primary. If you are a Republican, the situation is complicated. Ted Cruz, the second-most-likely, is running on a platform of "I can hate even better than Donald Trump". You have to vote for a third-tier candidate, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or John Kasich. Unfortunately, these third-tier candidates are engaged in a marvelous display of a mathematical problem known as "fratricide". It works like this: start with a winner-take-all primary voting state. Suppose Trump gets 35% of the vote, Cruz gets 25% of the vote, and the third-tier candidates cumulatively get 40% of the vote. In this quite likely scenario, the moderates as a whole got more votes than Trump. But because they split the votes up, Trump wins the whole state.
So we have to pick a single candidate. Sigh. One can use better voting systems that prevent fratricide (such as the excellent voting system used in the Olympics for judging athletes), but that cannot help us in this election.
So I am going to make a recommendation for a single candidate. I sort of recommend backing Marco Rubio. Why? He is better known than Kasich. And Jeb would be the third member of the same family; we do not need family political dynasties in the USA, we need fresh blood, always.
What if the race winds up being Sanders versus Trump/Cruz? Do not despair. The next opportunity to intervene is to use Congress as a counterbalance. Take a look at the polls the day before the election. If Sanders is in the lead, vote for Republicans for the House and Senate. If Trump is in the lead, vote for Democrats for Congress.
And if your votes do not have an effect, it is still not quite time to despair. To enact an agenda of hate, the president needs a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate. The good news is that the Founders of the USA foresaw this risk when they set the government up, and enabled the filibuster in the Senate. Since neither party is likely to get a supermajority in the Senate, we may remain reasonably safe until the next election cycle.
And if the Democrats or Republicans actually vote against hate, and nominate Clinton or Rubio or one of his peers, I will do a second-part analysis in the race for the President, looking in detail at what they actually believe, what their chances are of enforcing it, and what the consequences would be.