The Democrats are as divided as the GOP - but it's Trump who is setting the agenda
Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30
Hillary Clinton is on a mission to prove that any little girl can grow up to be president. Just so long as she marries one first. Last week's Democratic convention in Philadelphia displayed American liberalism in all its hyper-wealthy, incestuous glory. Chelsea Clinton was showcased as an heir apparent; Bill Clinton - the future First Gentleman - played with the balloons that fell from the ceiling. "And didn't Michelle Obama give a good speech?" the Democrats asked themselves. Well, perhaps she'd like to be president someday too? Everybody gets a turn in liberal land.
Everybody except rebel socialist Bernie Sanders.
Thanks to Bernie, the convention turned out to be a lot more interesting than anticipated. Hillary's original plan - hatched in about 1993 - was to cruise to the nomination on the back of her experience and with a little help from her friends in the party establishment.
An email leak has revealed that members of the Democratic elite were even willing to spread a rumour that her opponent was an atheist to defeat him in the primaries (the European equivalent would be spreading a filthy rumour that he believed in God).
Televised debates were limited to reduce Bernie's airtime, and the convention was stuffed with unelected 'super delegates' pledged to Clinton, just in case she should fail to win the nomination democratically.
In the end that proved unnecessary. Hillary did get more votes than Bernie. But the Sanders brigade arrived in Philadelphia in a mutinous mood.
They booed some of the first night speeches; the self-styled DNC Action Committee even threatened to "arrest" Hillary on the charge of election fraud. Time that should've been spent reaching out to voters watching at home was wasted on either begging the Sanders folks to calm down or telling them to shut up. "To the 'Bernie or Bust' people," said comedian Sarah Silverman at the podium, "You're being ridiculous!" In the end, a lot of them chose to walk out. Much as supporters of conservative Ted Cruz had done at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
In fact, the similarities between the Democrat and Republican conventions were striking. Trump's nomination might have been a rebellion against the Republican elite, but once he got the nomination he had to deal with a revolt against his revolt - indicating that both of the main parties are fracturing.
The Democrats are torn, culturally and strategically. Hillary's people think that the best way to win is to offer an orderly contrast to Trump. She promises, in effect, to be Obama's third term. Sanders represents those who don't see much to gain from keeping the status quo: students indebted for life by college fees; blue-collar Americans who have watched their jobs go to China; the poor languishing on handouts.
As these two sides of the American left duked it out, the Democrats visibly fossilised into the party of the dotcom millionaire and the professional activist - as far flung to the left of the US political spectrum as the Republicans are to the right. One speaker talked the convention through an abortion she'd had when she was younger - as casually and enthusiastically as one might extol the virtues of Botox.
These past two weeks have proven that the Republicans and Democrats are as bad as each other.
But there is one crucial difference which, increasingly, gives the electoral edge to the Republicans. Donald Trump is relevant. He is setting the political agenda and he is speaking to it. Hillary Clinton is not.
On the first night of the Philadelphia convention, one day before the murder of a priest in France, not a single speech referenced Isil. Trump, by contrast, speaks of little else but terrorism and urban disorder. The irony is that many voters regard Trump himself as a catalyst for anarchy - and so millions of independents and soft Republicans who normally lean to the right will probably be voting for Hillary in November.
But millions of independents and soft Democrats who normally lean to the left find nothing at all appealing about Clinton's personal mission to be president and will be taking a second look at Trump.
Do not underestimate the power of Trump's gutsy pledge to lock people out and lock people up.