Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton rode her post-convention bump with glee. The polls have her with a comfortable lead against Republican challenger Donald Trump. However, both candidates have a poor favorability rating. In terms of public approval ratings, President Barack Obama leads them significantly, but the president communicated a message that could explain this year’s election: Do not vote for the candidate. Vote for the party.
“We all need to get out and vote for Democrats up and down the ticket, and then hold them accountable until they get the job done,” Obama said in his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Obama’s political regrets are best described in the gridlocked congress that marred six years of his presidency. Understanding that politics and the parties are very much polarized, the only way for his party’s platform to succeed is by having unitary control of the all the branches of government. History explains this carefully through the New Deal and World War II. President Roosevelt would not have been as successful had both houses of Congress not been in his favor, alongside the Supreme Court in the later years of his long presidency. Hillary Clinton, however, is not as popular as the 32nd president was.
The Democrats understand that fact. They also understand that supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., hinder their chances of unitary success with the potential for party division. Their convention was crucial in unifying the party around Clinton, but this was partially a formality. The Democrats presented themselves as a unified party in contrast to their Republican counterparts. The DNC had speakers ranging from retired military leaders like General John Allen and Admiral James Stavridis, the former independent mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and different celebrities, all giving their endorsements to Clinton. More important were speeches and endorsements from presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Sanders themselves. Above all, the DNC had endorsements and speeches from three former presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Obama.
Conversely, at the Republican National Convention, the last two Republican presidents, George H.W. and George W. Bush, refused to endorse Trump, the 2012 Republican candidate. Mitt Romney also refused to endorse Trump or speak at the convention. Trump’s rival during the primaries, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke during the convention, but was booed when he also refused to endorse Trump. Cruz ended his speech by telling voters to “vote your conscience.”
These aspects suggest the conclusion that Democrats are currently the most organized, optimistic, and unified party, and loyalty to the Democratic Party might be the primary reason for victory if Clinton is elected president. Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, elaborated on the party’s focused optimism, and how it can be reflected in the election.
“I think we are going to get more Democrats in the House. I think Donald Trump is going to create a type of environment that Hispanics, other minorities, and other people that fear his rhetoric—his fear mongering, where they are more tempted by a positive vision of America. Ronald Reagan used to talk about that ‘shining city on the hill,’ and here you have another Republican that’s talking about gloom and doom.”
“The New York Times” recently reported the Democrats have a 60% chance of retaking the Senate this year. If the Democrats are to take the Senate and win the White House, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, will be voted in as a Supreme Court Justice by the Democratic Senate. Then, the Supreme Court with have majority that favors liberal and Democratic policies. Sanders’ insurgency could motivate a new wave of progressives to run for office. By 2018, the Democrats could retake the House of Representatives, and then the Democrats would have a full majority in the government. Of course, to many this sounds like the worse possible outcome, but Trump has made things very difficult for the Republicans, and the Democrats are exploiting that fact in the congressional races. If Trump were to win this election, there is a strong likelihood that he will be sworn in with a Democratic Senate and Republican House, containing many representatives that are not very pleased with his vision. The state of gridlock would continue, and the Democratic Senate will likely not approve the appointment of his Justice nominees.
This is where the “Prime Minister” aspect comes into play. Canada and the United Kingdom have parliamentary systems where voters elect a government, rather than directly electing one individual. Clinton, as a person, may not be very favorable, but her party is. Clinton’s presidency could position her as a sort of Prime Minister rather than a president. However, this is America, and that is not the way things are usually done. The past three presidents have not had the dominating public support that Roosevelt or Reagan had. Relying on one person, as voters did with Obama, only furthered gridlock and polarization.
If there is anything all voters are displeased with, it is the current gridlock in the governmental system. At the moment, there is a Democratic Executive Branch, a Republican legislature, and an incomplete Supreme Court that is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. The outcome is a “do nothing” Congress, partnered with a “lame duck” president who can’t even do his job in nominating a new Justice because the opposing Senate refuses to have hearings until after the election. This massive internal dilemma disaffects voters from the political process. With the parties now embracing their polarization, it has come to a point where voters need to elect their party, and not solely the individual. With a Democratic government, Clinton will be a cog in the Democratic machine. Worries about the office of the presidency would no longer be of concern, because by the focus would be on which party benefits the American people most.
Current levels of party polarization were not what the Framers of the Constitution intended, but they are crucial in contemporary politics. As individuals, the two candidates are unfavorable, but Clinton’s ethical history of mistakes, and Trump’s lack of experience, coupled with his unorthodox rhetoric, are not swaying their voters. For many conservatives, Trump’s behavior has them looking for other options or accepting preemptive defeat. Even in the party’s leadership, many were only aiming for party dominance, but the Republican Party is very fractured, and Trump practically came out of nowhere and slayed all of his Republican challengers. Many conservative voters are feeling betrayed, and are finding hope in Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Electing a president of a third party, especially in this current situation of gridlock, would add fuel to the fire. At this point, one party needs to wins for either liberal or conservative ideals to progress. The office of the presidency could start resembling its British and Canadian counterparts.