I spent election night in New Hampshire with the Kasich campaign. Obviously this was an important night for the country, with more decisive victories than I had anticipated for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Taken together, their wins signal a dramatic rejection of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, the shared ideology of the current American establishment.
It’s not an anti-government message—both Sanders and Trump very much believe in government. It’s an anti-what-the-government-has-been-doing-for-the-past-20-years message. It’s a rejection of the Iraq war, opposed by both the winning candidates, (and supported by all the others), and of a Wall Street-dominated economic system. For the Trump voters, it’s also a rejection of high levels of immigration and a free trade regime that has decimated America’s manufacturing base. Sanders harkens to an older radical tradition, deeply rooted in the country, supposedly vanquished once and for all by the neoliberalism embodied by the Clintons.
I like both of the winning candidates, and relish how much they discomfit the current establishment. Everyone seems to like Bernie Sanders at least a little, but boy does Trump ever worry them. Driving back from the Kasich election night party in Concord I heard Rachel Maddow on the radio. She is totally freaked out that a large number of Americans want to reestablish control of their nation’s borders. I wonder why she has such difficulty understanding this, I really do. Xenophobic nativism she labels it. Generally a cool customer, she is unable to hide her hatred.
I’m far from persuaded that either Trump or Sanders will be elected president—Sanders because his views are too far left for the country, Trump because of his temperament and relative lack of political experience.
I’ve seen John Kasich five times now, including tonight. He campaigns as a moderate conservative who can work with Democrats across the aisle, as a governor who knows how to balance budgets. He’s occasionally said some hawkish stuff, but essentially he is the only other non-neoconservative remaining in the GOP race. I’ve written before that I believe his endorsement of James Baker as a model secretary of state is significant as an indication of his foreign policy inclinations, realist and not neocon.
But the unexpected thing at a Kasich event is his sweet side, which seems so unlike the other Republicans. In his celebration of his second-place finish, he used his time before the national cameras to describe moments from his town hall meeting which sounded evangelical, though without any references to scripture. He recalled people in pain who came to him during a town hall, suffering from illness or grief, and how he responded, with words, or embraces. It might easily have seemed treacly, and was unusual for an election night speech. But with Kasich it seemed authentic, and it worked.
The Kasich party was full of Ohioans, cheerful volunteers who came out to canvass over the weekend. When the TV showed a graphic saying that Kasich had beaten Trump (by one percent) among late deciding voters, the Ohioans started chanting “ground game, ground game.” While waiting for the candidate to appear (waiting actually for Clinton and Sanders to finish their very long speeches), the Ohioans chanted “Unite Not Divide,” perhaps the least catchy political slogan ever. I don’t believe any serious analysis of what Kasich has in terms of money and organization in the ensuing states has been published, and it is assumed that Jeb and Rubio have infinite amounts of establishment or neocon money to continue.
But I have little doubt that Kasich is superior to those two as a politician, in terms of judgement, experience, and intelligence. I suspect that will emerge in the weeks and months to come.
Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, reports on the 2016 campaign from New Hampshire.