How do you know? Well, besides the names being floated, mainly Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush, is the increased television presence and speaking engagements, the book tours and the constant mentions of the “possibilities” of how the parties need to position themselves on the policy agenda (namely around global security, immigration reform and election reform).
Who can vote, and who will vote, will become more intense than in 2012. Beyond the identity politics that showed America how much “the world has changed” is that reality that we now live in a populist culture. Populism, which came about as a result of the anti-intellectualism “fatigue” that the nation suffered from eight years of the Bush II presidency, was driven by the ability to move around the media “gatekeepers” to reach the American public. Those who have historically controlled politics and the political processes have lost control of those processes to social networks and alternative outlets such as late night television, faux journalism and a new generation of popular pundits who reach the public with more frequency and appeal than “traditional” news outlets.
An appearance on The View, Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, or Real Time with Bill Maher can get a candidate more traction than a segment on the evening news or the Sunday morning public affairs shows. Non-traditional mediums tend to be less scripted, more honest, and more in touch with reality of real world discussion. The candor is what makes it popular. Ties to non-traditional endorsers, who are popular in the culture, make the public pay attention to anyone who is not a politician. “Pop culture” figures also drive this new populism. Everybody can’t get with the program and they run to the traditional leaders – the politicians, the preachers, the businessmen that have exploited many in the culture. They turn off from these voices and tune in to voices they relate to. This is the paradigm shift of the past five years that have produced a new generation of political voices on the national scene.
Traditional politicians have tried to conform to this new populist environment. Many haven’t been able to do it. Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton are two who can attest, first hand, what it means to be “out-popularized.” President Barack Obama ran circles around both of them, though one was clearly the favorite (Clinton) and the other had more faith in traditional politics than populism (Romney). Both walked away broke faced and broken-hearted. It is the new politics of the nation that is now playing at the state and local levels. You now get more emails, texts, tweets and Facebook notifications from people you never heard of before than at any time in American politics. Your followers now mean as much as the money you raise. It’s no longer “who you know” in American politics, but “who knows you,” and who follows what you do.
So the 2016 Presidential race is on…to capture followers. Populism will dictate the next winner of the Presidency. The above mentioned “favorites” have two years to catch this tiger by the tail. Time will tell who grabs the tail in time. Coming late is just like not coming at all.
Nobody knows this better than Hilary Clinton. The “odds-on” favorite in 2016 was the odds on favorite in 2008. She was the highest profile candidate in the race, for either party. She had more resources at her disposal from the outset, and the most popular politician in the world (outside of Nelson Mandela) as her spouse. The race was hers to lose. She was outmaneuvered for the Presidency in 2008. Hillary Clinton lost because she was disconnected from the masses.
Mass appeal is a funny thing. The first thing one should know about the masses is they walk to a different beat. They don’t follow traditional leaders. Many tend to be anti-establishment and cynical of traditional leaders. They view politics as an elitist engagement. Elites tend to want to control the masses. They do so by playing on mass ignorance. Elites never go against the masses. They simply try to convince the masses to go with them (and their interest). Most times, they succeed by simply tricking the masses. That’s why the masses call politics, poli-tricks. Populist movements occur when there is a total rejection of elite politics. Clinton was an elite politician in 2008. Romney was the elite’s choice in 2012. Neither attracted enough mass appeal to win the Presidency. Elitism is out. Populism is in.
Elites fueled Obama’s campaign in 2012 largely because he retained his mass appeal. The masses fueled his campaign in 2008. The elites came on only after the masses made their choice evident. Those who missed the ship in 2008, were the first onboard in 2012. They weren’t about to get caught going against mass appeal again. The lesson of 2008 was that elites follow the masses – the masses don’t follow elites. And masses can win national (and local) elections when the anti-establishment choice becomes popular. That was the BIG take-away from the Clinton loss in 2008. In 2012, identity politics became more of a factor as both the President and the challenger (Romney) went after the masses in an effort to out-popular each other. Romney tried to use traditional media to suggest that Obama wasn’t as popular as he once was.
He found out different because his polling only polled traditional voters. The masses generally aren’t frequent voters, or part of the attentive public that tends to watch government and express their opinions in polls. However, the day in which you can dismiss the non-traditional view is over. Those seeking to position Hillary Clinton, and others, now know this.
This week, Senator Claire McCaskill became the first member of Congress to endorse a political candidate for the 2016 Presidential race. She endorsed Clinton even though Clinton has yet to announce that she is, in fact, running. There’s an interesting take-away in McCaskill’s endorsement, however. An endorser of Obama in 2008, she realized what beat Hillary in 2008.
It was Obama’s “boots on the ground” grassroots movement. She said in her endorsement statement that Hillary will have to start early, build a grassroots movement and effectively use all the tools of the internet – all the things Obama did successfully – to win in 2016. She was effectively putting Clinton on notice that the campaign she ran in 2008 will not get her elected in 2016. Being popular doesn’t amount to being a populist. Hillary is popular. She is not a populist.
The candidates for 2016 will have to run to the masses as hard as they run to the elites – the money folk, the high-profile endorsements, the celebrities. They will have to become “rock stars” themselves as Obama did in 2008. Rock stars are held to different standards. Their foibles are embraced and their views are anti-cultural (unpopular), but people like the human side of them and like to see them where they are (on the show they watch, the venues they frequent and the mediums they use). McCaskill wanted to help Hillary understand that just “being popular” among singular segments is not enough. She will have to be populist in appeal.
They all will have to attract populist appeal. Hopefully, Hillary is listening.
And the run for the masses begins…
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