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Remedy or Replica?
by Jack Beatty
What explains the dynamics of the New Hampshire primary? Is there a common factor accounting for the rout of both party establishments? Why did the voters chose Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders?
“The Obama Theory of Trump” offers an hypothesis that not only fits the New Hampshire results but may forecast the outcome of the November election
David Axelrod presented the theory in his January 25th op-ed piece for the New York Times.
In 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama asked Axelrod to write a “strategic memo exploring his prospects” as a presidential candidate in the 2008 election. “My bullish analysis,” Axelrod writes now, “…was rooted in a theory I had developed over decades as a political writer and campaign consultant.”
In open seat elections, like 2008 and 2016, voters “rarely seek the replica” of the incumbent president but “almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking” in the incumbent. President George W. Bush’s vow to restore “honor and integrity to the White House” thereby cast him as the remedy to scandal-scarred Bill Clinton in 2000.
Thus, in 1960, voters sought a remedy to stodgy Ike and Mamie in Jack and Jackie. This in 1976 “a puritanical Jimmy Carter” seemed a remedy for the corruption of the Nixon era.
In 2008 Obama successfully ran as the remedy to the “rash, bellicose, and divisive” George W. Bush.
(You can see where this is going.)
In Donald Trump, GOP voters see the remedy for Obama. The blusterer — “We’ll bomb the shit out of ISIS” — as against hesitant “lead from behind” Obama. The simplifier — “I’ll make America great again!”—as against the man of nuance and complexity. The tribune of white nationalist resentment as against the symbol of multi-racial tolerance.
The theory also helps light up the dynamics of the Democratic race. New Hampshire Democrats gave a smashing victory to the “remedy” candidacy of Bernie Sanders.
The differences in style, temperament, and humor between Obama and Sanders are obvious. As striking are their differences in policy and vision.
Obama made peace with Wall Street. Partly for the sake of the economic recovery, partly because of the difficulty of proving individual culpability in corporate “crimes," he did not prosecute the big bankers responsible for “the worst recession since the Great Depression.” Sanders wants war with Wall Street, and jail for its marquee names.
Obama worked within the existence system of private health insurance to gain coverage for 18 to 20 million previously uninsured Americans. Sanders refers to this immense achievement as “the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act.” He would scrap the current system in favor of “Medicare for All.”
Exit polls showed almost two-thirds of Granite State Democrats agreed.
Candidate Obama hoped to unite Americans across boundaries of region, race, party and class. Candidate Sanders vilifies the rich and vows to make them pay for his Democratic Socialist state. Republicans have charged Obama with fomenting “class warfare.” Sanders would give them a taste of the real thing. “I like how…he wants to take away from the rich and give to the poor,” a young Sanders voter in Dover told the Times.
It’s understandable that New Hampshire Republicans rallied to Trump as the “remedy” for the despised Obama. But Obama remains popular with Democrats. Indeed, in one poll 90% of Iowa Democrats approved his performance.
Yet, at least in two states with few of the minority voters who anchor the Obama coalition, Democrats have now shown scant enthusiasm for Obama’s replica, Hillary Clinton.
On Point news analyst Jack Beatty has sent us dispatches from his home state of New Hampshire, as the 2016 candidates for President make their final pitch to voters in the Granite State. The primary may now be over, but our newsletter is only just beginning. Sign up for our On Point Newsletter here!
- Notes From New Hampshire, #1: Kasich — Reagan Redux?
- Notes From New Hampshire, #2: Chris Christie — Reassuring Bulk
- Notes From New Hampshire, #3: Jeb Bush — Cry for Me, America!
- Notes From New Hampshire, #4: Donald Trump — You Heard It First!
- Notes From New Hampshire, #5: Ted Cruz — The Advocate
- Notes From New Hampshire, #6: Bernie v. Hillary — The Electability Debate
- Tom Ashbrook’s Note From New Hampshire
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