There was a time when the Republican and Democratic parties stood for a few basic, uplifting principles. For Republicans, free enterprise and limited government were guarantors of equality of opportunity, ensuring anyone could reach his (hers, not so much) potential in a society where class divisions were less impermeable than anywhere else. Post-New Deal Democrats differed only in their more benign view of government as a tool to promote equality of opportunity.
This shared view of the United States as an opportunity society is all but absent from the 2016 presidential race. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may not win the Democratic nomination, but he has dictated the terms of engagement with an all-out descent into class warfare. Success is suspect and resentment of wealth has become the guiding emotion of Democratic politics. Only massive confiscation and redistribution of the ill-gotten gains of the rich can render justice. The implication is that social mobility is a pipe dream, that the American Dream is a vast fraud.
It's even worse on the other side. The Democrats have limited their scapegoating to the white elites of corporate America and Wall Street, the same gang to which Hillary Clinton delivered speeches for at least $225,000 (U.S.) a pop during her voraciously accumulative post-State Department, pre-2016 break from active politics. The Republican race is led by a billionaire populist demagogue who has a list of scapegoats as long as his gold-cufflinked shirt sleeves.
Donald Trump has executed a reverse takeover of the Republican Party, perverting its principles to capture the angry white zeitgeist of 2016. He has managed to turn the party of free markets into a hotbed of protectionism. China, Mexico and Japan (among others) are put on notice that they will face tariffs as high as the wall he intends to build along the southern U.S. border. (Canada's, he says, is too long to bother with.)
Mr. Trump's rambling anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-globalization rants are facile, but they strike a chord among a disaffected white working class that has been left behind by globalization, whose employment and income prospects recede by the day, and whose family and religious ties have weakened to the point that the GOP front-runner can attack the Pope and thumb his nose at Christian values with impunity. These voters aren't interested in lofty principles. They're interested in revenge, and they've found their Vladimir Putin, minus the topless chest-beating, mercifully.
As Mr. Trump began to rise, the Republican establishment believed there was a ceiling to his support. Sure, he could lead a crowded field of candidates. But his support would max out at 25 per cent of the Republican electorate. Then it was 35 per cent. In the Nevada caucuses, he won 46 per cent of the vote. He is drawing people to the polls who normally ignore or have given up on politics. Opinion surveys show him winning 40 per cent or more of the vote in moderate Massachusetts, one of 11 states whose primaries on March 1 could all but seal the deal for the reality-TV star.
This chilling prospect prompted a blaring editorial from The Boston Globe telling Massachusetts voters they "must stop Donald Trump." But the more that opinion makers and establishment types sound alarm bells, the more it seems to embolden fence-sitters to listen to their inner demagogue.
The Boston broadsheet endorsed Ohio Governor John Kasich, a nice man and sensible moderate who would be a compelling general election candidate were it not for the fact that he has almost no chance of winning the Republican nomination. The longer he stays in the race, the likelier Mr. Trump will be the nominee.
Only two people can stop Mr. Trump now. One is Ted Cruz, the mean-spirited Texas Senator who can save his faltering campaign on Tuesday by winning his home state, with its motherlode of delegates. Mr. Cruz is really just a better-educated, more ideological version of Mr. Trump. Enough said.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is thin on experience but long on policy and much smarter than his detractors think, finally hit his stride in the Feb. 25 Republican debate. Only he would put the Republicans back on track as the party of strivers who believe in a better tomorrow.
Who cares, at this point, if he can beat Hillary Clinton? Nominating Mr. Rubio would remove the threat of a scorched-earth Trump-Clinton race that could result in a Trump presidency, given Ms. Clinton's listless campaigning and endless vulnerabilities. Is it too late to wish Marco a super Tuesday?