With Donald Trump and Ted Cruz locked in a bitter battle for the Republican nomination, the stakes in 2016 rise dramatically. The likely victory of either one of these deeply flawed candidates will give Democrats a chance not only to hold the White House, but also to realign U.S. politics. No wonder Republicans are panicking.
To seize the opportunity, however, Hillary Clinton will need to transcend the limits of a “populist” message based on identity politics, economic victimhood and redistribution. Thus far such themes have dominated the nomination battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders, but they won’t help Democrats forge a broader political coalition that includes suburban moderates, college-educated independents and many Republicans who are aghast at the prospect of branding the White House with a giant “T.”
Of course, with yet another caucus victory on Saturday, this time in Wyoming, Sanders will stay in the race, if only to keep tugging Clinton to the left. But Clinton needs to resist this ideological gravity, because Sanders’ left-wing populism is not an effective answer to the right-wing populism that Trump channels with such diabolic cunning.
Before the Bernie Bots clank into action, let me hasten to say I’m not positing moral equivalence between Sanders and Trump. Sanders is honest, principled and decent; Trump is, well, none of those things. But the lifelong socialist’s dream of turning America into a paternalistic, European-style welfare state isn’t the right prescription for what ails our country.