The 2016 election has been one of the most controversial and unpredictable in the history of American politics, and it hasn’t even started yet! With candidates who make Frank Underwood look tame, this is an election where there seem to be more anti-establishment candidates than establishment ones, and in this piece I will assess how credible an anti-establishment victory is.
The Republican race has shed candidates faster than water from a colander. With an initial field of anti-establishment candidates broad enough to cancel one another out, the anti-establishment field has thinned to two. That the most recent withdrawal, the bonkers Ben Carson, backed Donald Trump is indicative of the way the anti-establishment on the right is coalescing behind one of those candidates. The other, Ted Cruz, may be an anti-establishment icon in the Senate, but in this Presidential race he has positioned himself more towards the establishment, so to all intents and purposes he has become another establishment candidate.
So Mr Trump then. Donald Trump is to politics what the History Channel is to television; bizarre, unintelligible, but strangely compelling and full of Nazis and conspiracy theories. Insane and spewing a fascist rhetoric, Trump has become the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Helped on by a multitude of establishment candidates splitting the vote between them, Trump is on course to secure a genuine shot at the Presidency, something that he has manipulated through a unique brand of pragmatism and personality. Whether or not he can guide the GOP to an incredibly unlikely anti-establishment victory is another matter.
Faced with Hillary Clinton, Trump possesses the ability to mobilise the conservative movement across the spectrum of the right against a candidate who cannot do the same for the Democrats. His force of personality and inability to be hit in debates or by negative publicity mean that his poll numbers can only go up. Against Sanders the story is unclear. Faced with an opponent who could mobilise the left, victory would go to whichever candidate could mobilise the Clinton vote.
Verdict: Unclear but possible.
With the Democratic race down to the final few candidates, the anti-establishment candidate has fared worse than his GOP equivalent. Bernie Sanders has seen off Martin O’Malley, but he is losing serious ground on Clinton in the popular vote, and of course when the Superdelegates are taken into account Sanders has already lost the race. None the less, the veteran Independent represents the closest thing to an anti-establishment candidate the left has fielded in years, and he has succeeded in bern-ing Clinton’s fingers in several states.
If Sanders were able to gain some momentum, then he perhaps has a long shot at the nomination. Even then, Sanders is perhaps even less likely than Trump to unite his party, with his views being considerably to the left of the traditional Democratic base. If Trump wins the nomination, or perhaps even Cruz, there may be a sufficient enough gulf between the two candidates to offer Sanders a chance, if no candidate captures the middle ground then the veteran Senator has a shot at the White House. Against Rubio, or even Kasich, Sanders has little chance at the White House, with those candidates offering an alternative to the Democrats right of Sanders.
Verdict: Impossible, too much stands between Sanders and the White House.
Of course, the two major ‘alternative’ anti-establishment cases would seem to be independent runs from Sanders and Trump. In the case of Trump, this seems an unlikely course of action. For a man who has built a campaign based on winning, losing the nomination would cast adrift any hopes of the White House. Though Trump and his supporters are not the most predictable, and an independent run against two establishment candidates could put Trump in the White House. For Sanders, an independent run would bring a situation he is used to, but it would also dent his chances, with any momentum he has gained being lost.
So the final consideration must go to a third party run. There has, it seems, never been a better opportunity for an alternative to make their mark on an election. Michael Bloomberg has ruled out a run for the White House, which leaves only the Libertarian Party as an alternative on the ballot in every state. Former New Mexico Governor, Gary Johnson, seems their most likely candidate, and his message is one which could appeal to a disillusioned Republican and Democratic base, with a wide range of social and economic policy which he claims enables him to work with either party. Governor Johnson is rough around the edges, but if he were able to get on the stage with the Democrats and the GOP, and if the nominees are favourable (i.e. Trump and Sanders, or Trump and Clinton), then there has never been a better time for the Libertarians, and Gary Johnson, to take the White House.
Verdict: Unlikely, absurd, and verging on impossible, so with the spirit of the 2016 race, entirely possible.