Sunday 23 October 2016

There is a revolution taking place at the heart of US politics

Tim Stanley

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

Bernie Sanders poses for a selfie with a supporter during his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa
Bernie Sanders poses for a selfie with a supporter during his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa

Do not think that just because the high-profile rebels didn't win that Iowa wasn't the scene of a rebellion. On Monday night, tectonic plates shifted in American politics: quietly, subtly. But the ground still moved.

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On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton was taken to a "virtual tie" by a 74-year-old socialist. On the Republican side, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz - two halves of the same anti-establishment revolt - polled over 50pc in a Republican caucus with a historic turnout.

And even Marco Rubio, whose name will dominate media coverage in the days to come, represents a rebellion of his own. The squares are fighting back against the whacko-birds.

The polls were wrong. When are they ever right? The biggest shock was the closeness of the Democrat vote. Many outside the US don't realise how weak Mrs Clinton's candidacy is. Yes, she is highly experienced and widely associated with the glorious, wealthy, saucy 1990s. Yet she still nearly lost to Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist.

Her appeal is generational. Hillary's voters were venerable and female; Mr Sanders got something in the region of 91pc of young caucus-goers. If only old women voted in November, Clinton would have it in the bag - but the franchise is a little wider than retired school teachers and defrocked nuns.

Her Majesty's problem is that she's exhausted - in the political, rather than physical, sense. She's tarred by the email scandal. Mr Trump has trashed her husband's reputation. She's tried to be all things to all people too often for anyone to believe anything she says any more. And it just feels like she's been around forever. Someday we shall discover that Hillary is immortal and has been running for office since 4000BC. When they crack open that hidden tomb in Tutankhamun's pyramid, they'll find a Vote Hillary hieroglyph chiselled into the wall: "Making Egypt Great Again!"

People will say that Mr Sanders voters are just teenagers in love: they don't really know what they want. But that's not fair. They're passing a verdict on the failures of the Obama era. For them, inequality isn't just an existential problem but one reflected in rising tuition costs, a healthcare reform that has left healthcare over-priced and poor quality, and woefully underpaid jobs. This, too, Mrs Clinton doesn't understand. In debates, she pledged to protect Barack Obama's legacy. Mr Sanders promised to go beyond it.

One group of people who want nothing to do with Mr Obama at all are the Republicans.

The defeat of Mr Trump will dominate headlines in Europe and some will foolishly write him off. I can understand why. Mr Trump sold himself as a winner and the attention he got was down to excitement/fear that he might win. Having lost the first contest he entered, he suddenly looks like a fraud. Like a giant Trump building that appears gorgeous on the outside but, when you enter it, is just a tacky old casino playing host to alcoholic midwesterners.

That said, to win a quarter of the vote is still an achievement for The Donald - and he remains way ahead in polling for the next primary state (New Hampshire). Moreover, the victory of Ted Cruz was just as shocking as Mr Trump's rise. Mr Cruz is loathed by his senate colleagues in Washington. He opposed an energy lobby that is hugely powerful in Iowa. And party leaders lined up to tell Iowans not to vote for him. His triumph, in the face of tons of negative advertising and the scorn of liberal critics, is a big story - especially given the vast number of new people he had to bring to the polls to do it.

His problem going forward is that he's essentially campaigning among the same demographic that Mr Trump is trying to dominate: the angry middle-class. That leaves Mr Rubio with a clearer shot at winning over mainstream, moderate Republicans.

So the real winner of the night may turn out to be Mr Rubio. By securing the votes of younger people, people with college degrees and those who lean towards mild conservatism, he has shown his ability to captivate the kinds of voters who previously gave the nomination to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And by bucking the trend of big personality, social-media-orientated politics, he has shown that old-fashioned reason can triumph over passion. That's revolutionary in its own way.

Yes, he is placed third rather than first. But the result represents for moderates a glimpse of sunlight between the clouds - and the hope of brighter days ahead.

If Mr Trump wins a few states but eventually bows out gracefully, Mr Rubio could inherit his voters without having to stoop to his level. A moderate Republican Party bolstered by the Trump vote could prove highly competitive in November. Especially if it's running against Hillary, the eternal loser.

So the rules of US politics are changing. Once upon a time, Democrats thought that only the Clintons could win elections: now they prefer cranky old Leftists.

And whereas the Republicans were once denounced as the racist party, it is they who boast two Hispanic candidates. Cruz v Rubio? I never saw that coming. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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