Electability, schmelectability: It’s the year of the angry, angry voter

Donald Trump reacts during his victory speech at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Bill Schneider

New Hampshire is supposed to clarify things. It didn’t. What New Hampshire did this year was make the political situation in both parties a whole lot murkier.

The winners of both primaries were candidates who are widely seen as unelectable. New Hampshire Democrats went for a socialist. New Hampshire Republicans picked a demagogue.

What we saw in New Hampshire was a massive vote for change. But here’s the thing: Voters went for change in two completely different directions. That does not bode well for bringing the country together.

Republicans are moving to the right and Democrats to the left. This year, 71 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters called themselves conservatives, up from 53 percent four years ago. On the Democratic side, liberals went from 56 percent in 2008, the last time there was a competitive Democratic primary, to 69 percent this year. The distance between the two parties is getting wider. That’s a formula for more gridlock.

Barack Obama was wrong in 2004 when he said, “There is no liberal America and no conservative America.” Republicans are Democrats are living in two different worlds. Among New Hampshire Republican voters on Tuesday, 59 percent said they were “very worried” about a major terrorist attack in the United States. And among Democrats? Just 22 percent were “very worried” about terrorism.

Donald Trump gestures during his victory speech as his wife Melania, looks on at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Donald Trump’s resounding victory — he got more than twice as many votes as any other Republican — was not driven by conservative ideology. Trump did carry conservatives, but he also carried moderates, women, young people, independents — every type of Republican voter.

What drove the Trump vote was anger. The angrier you were with the federal government, the more you voted for Trump. Forty percent of Republican primary voters described themselves as “angry” over the way the federal government is working.

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There are many sources of anger in the Republican Party. Some of it is conservatives who hate Obama’s big government liberalism, epitomized by Obamacare. Some of it is people who are hurting economically. Trump did best among voters who said they were falling further behind financially.

Some of it was also rage over the cultural and demographic changes happening in the United States. That rage is greatest among less-educated white voters, who feel they are being pushed aside. Trump got twice as much support from Republican voters who didn’t go to college (46 percent) than he did from voters with post-graduate degrees (23 percent).

Many working-class white voters feel embittered toward the whole political establishment. Nearly half of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire said they felt betrayed by Republican politicians.

Bernie Sanders gestures during a rally at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016. – RTX260V1

Democrats are also facing a revolt. But this one is coming from the left. Only 40 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies. Forty-two percent wanted the next president to move in a more liberal direction.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become the candidate of the status quo. She may have run against Obama eight years ago, but now she is thoroughly identified with his policies. What kinds of Democrats are unhappy with the status quo? Liberals. Young people. People who feel they are falling behind financially. All of them voted overwhelmingly for Sanders. So did the more than 60 percent of Democrats who said that they, too, are dissatisfied or angry with the way the federal government is working.

In 2008, Democrats who were hurting in President George W. Bush’s economy went for Clinton over Obama. The economy was Clinton’s issue, and she used it to win a surprise victory over Obama in the 2008 New Hampshire primary. – The economy is not her issue any more. Democrats who said they were very worried about the economy voted overwhelmingly for Sanders.

Insiders in both parties are trying to reassure themselves that, over the course of the campaign, voters will come to their senses and nominate more electable contenders. That may not be so easy, however.

Republicans who want to stop Trump can’t seem to come together. Conservatives are rallying behind Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who may be even less electable than Trump. Mainstream Republicans can’t agree on who will be their champion. Last week, after Senator Marco Rubio of Florida did better than expected in Iowa, he was the Republican “It Boy.” This week the title goes to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who did better than expected in New Hampshire (he came in second). If happiness in politics is a divided opposition, then Trump must be pretty happy right now.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s liabilities are becoming ever more apparent. Most voters don’t think she is honest and trustworthy. She has the image of political calculation. Republicans will claim that a vote for Clinton is a vote for a third term for Obama — and that is exactly what it looks like to many Democrats.

Only one in eight voters — in both parties — said they were voting for a candidate who could win in November. The message of New Hampshire was, “To hell with electability. We want candidates who will shake things up.”