Scott Rasmussen: Selecting the lesser of two evils
Over the past generation, there has been growing evidence that our dysfunctional political system is badly broken. For the past 30 years, neither party has been able to hold a sustainable governing majority in both Congress and the White House. In fact, control has been divided between the parties for 22 of those 30 years.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all came into office with their party in control of Congress. All three lost control during their tenure. That’s never before happened in American history.
The dysfunction has been visible in other ways. Four years ago, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan represented their parties as presidential and vice presidential nominees. Despite their many differences, all four men supported the bank bailouts that saved Wall Street but ignored Main Street. Given the massive public anger over the bailouts, it’s hard to comprehend why neither party felt a need to reflect that concern in their leadership ranks.
In that context, the 2016 presidential election is merely a continuation of the trend. For the first time in history, voters will have to choose between a pair of major party candidates viewed unfavorably by a majority of Americans. It’s a classic case of being asked to select the lesser of two evils. Or, as GOP mega-donor Charles Koch put it, “If I had to vote for cancer or a heart attack, why would I vote for either?”
But there’s another way of looking at this choice. Rather than looking at the candidates themselves, look at the cure they’re offering for our broken system of politics and government.
The Donald Trump cure is to tear the system apart and start over again. It’s based on a belief that the system is so corrupt that it cannot be saved.
The Hillary Clinton cure is to put experienced leaders in place who know how to make the system work as it should. It’s based on a belief that, if properly run, Washington can lead the nation to the Promised Land.
On a gut level, most Americans are probably closer to Trump’s view about the systemic corruption of official Washington. But, many who share that view are uncomfortable with the idea of Trump leading the redevelopment effort.
On the other side, many who share Clinton’s faith in big government are uncomfortable with the idea of her as its leader. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd expressed this reluctance in a recent column. “The Clintons work hard but don’t play by the rules. Imagine them in the White House with the benefit of low expectations.”
At the moment, these crosscurrents point to a somewhat close election with Clinton holding the edge. But a lot can happen between now and November, especially with two unpopular and deeply flawed candidates. Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be an ugly campaign season.
Trump’s greatest chance to win is by convincing voters that the system is so rigged against everyday Americans that things couldn’t possibly be any worse with him in charge.
Clinton’s greatest chance to win is by convincing voters that no matter how bad things are a Trump presidency could make it worse.
No matter who wins in November, it seems likely that dysfunctional politics will be around long after Election Day.