Home/Daniel Larison/“Anti-Party” Men and Their Parties

“Anti-Party” Men and Their Parties

David Brooks misdiagnoses the rise of “anti-party” candidates:

Maybe this is a summer squall and voters will get interested in the more traditional party candidates come autumn, the ones who can actually win majorities and govern. But institutional decay is real, and it’s what happens in a country in which people would rather live in solipsistic bubbles than build relationships across differences [bold mine-DL].

Brooks doesn’t offer much of an explanation for why so many of these “anti-party” men are winning so much support. He puts it down to “the ethos of expressive individualism,” but that fails to tell us why the same phenomenon hasn’t usually shown up on this scale before now. If there is broad dissatisfaction with and contempt for parties and conventional party leaders, that likely has a lot to do with how the party’s leaders have performed in the last ten or fifteen years. Trump benefits from the contempt he shows the party leaders because his supporters already share that contempt, but what Brooks fails to acknowledge is that this contempt is mostly well-deserved. That doesn’t make Trump any less ridiculous, but it should make party leaders realize that they are being told by a large bloc of their core supporters that they have neglected them and their interests for far too long.

Carson offers a more straightforward conservative protest option, especially for social and Christian conservatives that have been pandered to and then ignored by conventional Republican candidates. Carson is “one of them” (or they believe he is) in a way that none of the senators and governors can be. Sanders benefits from offering an alternative to the depressingly inevitable coronation of a dynastic candidate, and the better he does in the polls the more support he gets from people that didn’t really want a Clinton nomination but were told that they had to put up with one. The Democrats have almost always had at least one challenger to the “establishment” favorite in their presidential contests, and Sanders is picking up the support another insurgent candidate might have had because he jumped in the race early on and offers the clearest contrast with Clinton on many of the issues that most separate her from progressives. Sanders may be an “anti-party” candidate of sorts in that he isn’t a Democrat, but his supporters are drawn to him because he offers them a momentary alternative to the unappealing “centrist” kind of Democratic Party that they reasonably expect they will get from Clinton.

Cramming Corbyn into the column doesn’t work all that well, either, because Corbyn is a longtime backbencher and MP. There is hardly less of an “anti-party” man than someone who has identified himself publicly with a party for his entire political career. Corbyn is giving the Labour left a chance to repudiate everything they hated about New Labour and specifically about Blair, and it appears that they are taking it. Let’s also remember that he is in his current leading position because of the multiple failures of the most recent party leader. Miliband led his party to one of its worst modern election results, and then quit as soon as the election was over, which left the party adrift at exactly the moment when a caretaker leader might have been most useful. As the leadership electorate expanded, the contest became more democratic in some ways but also more likely to be dominated by activists, and they are predictably in favor of a more ideological candidate. In the American context, it’s as if the Republican nomination were being decided by a disproportionately conservative caucus. Once again, this is not evidence of “anti-party” sentiment, but the capture (or recapture) of party leadership by ideological voters that are tired of being told to settle for crumbs.

None of the Americans is going to win the nomination of his party, and Corbyn is likely to win the leadership contest only to preside over his party’s defeat and/or fragmentation, but these candidates have reached this point because of a complete and mostly well-deserved loss of confidence in the leaders their parties have put forward in recent years. Support for these candidates is an indictment of bankrupt, awful party leaders and their “centrist” policies, but it is one that those leaders and their allies seem incapable of understanding.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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