This presidential election is highly reflective of the times we live in. The Republican party is soul-searching at a time when it is in bad need of an overhaul. Meanwhile, they are fairly dominant in state politics. The country as a whole finds itself in a similar situation: we need domestic reform, but continue to be dominant globally.
Both parties have a split between bold change and moderation, which marks the increased frustration with lack of movement. Like tectonic plates, as pressure builds over time, the eventual shift will release greater energy. That doesn’t necessarily portend violence, but it does mean that things will be messier than if we manage to move incrementally.
The Republicans had 17 candidates. But they had little appetite for moderation, with everyone from Chris Christie (a loud moderate) to Jeb Bush (a traditional moderate) to Marco Rubio (a neo-moderate) all getting snubbed. They had little appetite for traditional faux-extremism, either. Folks like Scott Walker and Rick Perry found no room. Not even the Palin-Bachmann-Cain wacky-wing of the party had any real traction this year. And don’t start with the candidates out in the weeds like Jindal and Gilmore and Pataki.
They had Donald Trump, the hydrogen bomb, rather than a bunch of firecrackers. They had Ted Cruz, the shut-it-down kid. John Kasich, for his part, hid under the stairs like Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. Doubtful that tactic pays off outside of the big screen. Point is, Kasich aside, the Republicans went for the stiffer stuff this time around.
The GOP in Congress has failed to do much. Their constituents want some action, and their choices reflect that desire.
The Democrats want action, too, but some of them still see Clinton-style moderate progressive politics as a viable path to it. They don’t need big bangs to make the car go. Regular unleaded gas should do it, maybe switching over to electric soon. But others in the left wing want to go full-on hydrogen or maybe even try to crack fusion, with Bernie Sanders.
There is less division there. In large part, the party division in 2016 is, and will be, reflective of how much change the parties really want. The Democrats largely want things to incrementally improve in much the way they have under President Obama. The minority of Democrats want to push down on the accelerator a bit.
The Republicans desire much starker changes: repeal the progress of things like the Affordable Care Act (to replace it with mumble mumble). They want to find ways to claw back changes old and new, from still wanting to overturn Constitutionally-protected abortion to stalling or reverting progress in gay rights. They actually find it possible to stand on stage in a nationally-televised debate and call for the shuttering of the EPA. In 2016.
We have a reflective election, one that divides us into those who look in the mirror and like what we see, and those who don’t recognize our own face.