A Millionaire and a Socialist Threaten the US Political System

Monday sees the start of the U.S. primaries in the state of Iowa, at a time when the two main parties — the Republicans and Democrats — are in crisis.

Iowa, a state in the American Midwest with only 3 million inhabitants, kicks off the most uncertain and contested primaries in U.S. history. There are usually amazing precedents set by the caucuses, which tend to bring excitement and narrow results. However, they don’t always end up revealing who is subsequently nominated. Democrats Carter (1976) and Obama (2008) brought about a historical turning point in the Democratic race. In 2012, the Republican Romney won by only 8 votes — a victory that was later withdrawn but which had already secured him the nomination. What is unusual this time is that a millionaire showman and a self-proclaimed Socialist — two outsiders threatening the rules of political correctness — may have a strong chance of becoming the U.S. presidential candidates.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders may be ideological opposites — that is, if the business tycoon can be placed on the political spectrum and not a personality spectrum. But both [candidates] call into question all the traditional norms and pragmatism set by those who have governed both parties and the system itself until today.

Now is the time of the “angry” — who are plentiful on both the left and the right ends of the political spectrum. If the Republican leadership is facing the process in fear of a nominee who is not like-minded, then, the Democratic Party, and in particular President Obama, is feeling apprehensive. They would prefer the continuity that Hillary Clinton could bring to the table rather than the unpredictable road that a candidate, let alone president, representing the so-called “Sanders Revolution” would establish for the party.

The first step in the journey is Iowa — a conservative state greatly influenced by the weight of Evangelical Christianity — which will be hosting the caucuses on Monday for 1.2 million voters, approximately 600,000 of whom are registered with each of the two biggest parties. However, usually no more than 40 percent turn out to vote. Through the process of caucuses — or assemblies where the meaning of the vote is debated before the vote is cast by a show of hands — voters choose the number of delegates who will go on to represent each party at the July convention, where delegates vote for their nominee. Although talking about precedents is risky this year, the peculiar distribution of delegates often leads to a virtual nominee no later than the end of April, which is none other than the person who secures half plus one of the total votes.

The complex yet exciting process cannot hide the reality of the end of a cycle and a divided country. The two parties in crisis will battle it out in the post-Obama era in November’s presidential race. Traditionally, the Republican Party has never governed for more than three consecutive terms, ever since the term limit was put in place following Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death in 1945. Now it should be their turn. But in addition to finally choosing a candidate who may be subject to their moderation, the Republican Party is further away now, more than ever, from increasingly more decisive African-American and Hispanic minorities.

After seven years of Obama, Democrats want to continue their mandate of social reforms and economic management — which has reduced the unemployment rate to 5 percent — but has not slowed down the decline in purchasing power of the middle class. In addition, as acknowledged by a self-critical Obama, the next president will have to urgently address the union of an ideologically divided country, in which the confrontation between the White House and the Republican majority in Congress has contributed to intensifying the detachment of citizens toward politicians in Washington, and the increase of an anger that will come to define the 2016 election.

The phenomenon that best reflects this feeling is the emergence and consolidation of Donald Trump, who within six months has gone from a media novelty to becoming the favorite to win the Republican nomination. There is no state where he is not leading in the polls, which put him at national level with a lead of at least 15 points ahead of his nearest rival.

Super Tuesday

But the complexity of a staggered primary process means that only the first three states get all the attention. Iowa is always full of surprises. New Hampshire and South Carolina will confirm the first selection before Super Tuesday (March 1).

Although Trump is also in the lead, the solid campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz — an Evangelical Christian — also means that he has a strong possibility of winning in Iowa, which would define the future of his campaign. On Monday, the big questions that will begin to be answered in the Midwest state will be how much hot air the Trump phenomenon has, and if the votes will accurately reflect the pollsters’ forecasts. There are those who have serious doubts. The Hispanic Marco Rubio is expected to come in third, while Jeb Bush and John Kasich, with the latter being backed by The New York Times, aren’t expected to throw in the towel.

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