Monday, January 04, 2016

Trump Did Not Break Politics


Politics, we’re often told, is governed by rules — basic principles that explain not just what’s going to happen, but what rational candidates and parties can be expected to do. Donald J. Trump seems to casually defy all these rules — insulting Senator John McCain, a veteran; disparaging women; and building a rhetorical wall to keep out the single demographic group that his party seems to need for its survival, Latinos.

And yet with each transgression, his poll numbers bubble upward.

Mr. Trump is not the first to test the basic assumptions about how politics works and how we predict outcomes. He may be changing the rules of the presidential primary race, but in the halls of Congress and in governors’ mansions across the country, politicians have already acted in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By testing and breaking the rules, they have been reshaping the practice of politics since long before Mr. Trump emerged.

Take this familiar rule: “Americans hate Congress, but love their own member of Congress.” For decades, members of Congress secured re-election even in districts that voted for the other party’s presidential candidate, through slavish attention to local concerns, ranging from casework (helping constituents navigate Social Security problems) to winning earmarked appropriations for local spending projects, with the ribbon-cuttings that followed. Transactional politics of this kind then helped smooth the wheels in Congress, as leaders handed out earmarks, or federal funding specifically designated for projects in the district, in exchange for cooperation.

(More here.)


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