Trump and Clinton were the two most-despised nominees ever. How do we avoid that in the future?


The election that made Donald Trump president was an unmitigated disaster for America and for the world it has led since 1945. And it’s hard to see how the nation is going to extricate itself and recover.

But things would not have been a bed of roses had Hillary Clinton won the election as well as the popular vote. You think Congress has been feckless and obnoxious this year (it’s great achievement passing an unneeded, execrable tax bill)? In the event of a Clinton victory, Congress would have spent all its time launching attacks and investigations against the woman many of the GOP members have hated with every fiber of their beings almost (and with some you could leave off the “almost”) since they were children. The nasty partisanship of the Bush and Obama years would be looked back on fondly as a golden age of harmony.

It was a no-win proposition. Of course, a voter with judgment and a conscience had to vote for Clinton because Trump had to be stopped and she was the only person in a position to stop him. But still, things would have been pretty bad had she won — just not as bad.

The country couldn’t win in 2016, because Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least-appealing nominees in the memory of pollsters. As FiveThirtyEight proclaimed in May 2016, “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking.”

How did this happen? Of course, in part it can be explained as simply a function of our partisan polarization: The candidate who appeals most to one side is the most hated by the other. But it’s way more complicated than that. These people were little liked among us independents, either. And these candidates were unique. Never before has a party nominated someone who was in the White House 25 years earlier, and started being despised by a large portion of the electorate way back then. Nor has a party picked a famously sleazy businessman with zero relevant experience, knowledge, understanding, or principles. So no, it was not politics as usual.

This predicament was in no way inevitable. As recently as 2008, both parties had opted for their most broadly appealing candidates, leading to what I, as an independent who (like so many) liked them both, saw as a win-win proposition. I regretted that I couldn’t vote for both McCain and Obama.

So how do we avoid this in the future? Well, the dream option would be for both parties to fall apart and to have some better system of winnowing the field suddenly and magically replace them. Do you see that happening? I don’t. Or rather, I see the falling-apart part happening, but not the replacing-with-something-better part.

Another option would be for the parties to stick around, but clean up their act to where they can put forth candidates who appeal to someone outside their most-committed respective bases.

I’m not seeing this happening so far. I heard on the radio the other day (but for some reason am having trouble finding it now) that Democrats have been working on “reforming” (Democrats sometimes use “reform” loosely, the way Republicans do with regard to taxes) their nomination process. I can’t give you specifics since I can’t find it now, but it sounded to me like they wanted to make the process more democratic, so that party elites can’t stack things in favor of their preferred candidates. This to me sounds like the opposite of reform. The insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the best argument I’ve ever seen for smoke-filled rooms. But then I have to acknowledge the inconvenient fact that Hillary Clinton was the choice of party elites this time. So what that tells me is that they need new elites.

(OK, I found something about the Democratic reform process. But it’s not what I was looking for.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans are cursed with power, and obviously haven’t a clue what to do with it. All of their pathological dysfunction has been nakedly on display this year, which is why the party has accomplished nothing but a tax bill that looks like a parody of everything the populists who voted for both Sanders and Trump despise about the GOP. Really, fellas? This is the big achievement that you think will save you? Basically, the GOP has spent the year staggering from disaster to embarrassment and back again. And hey, in a few days the Republicans in the Senate will likely be welcoming Roy Moore, the ugliest baby yet produced by the polygamous marriage of incompatible factions that is currently the Republican “big tent.”

I don’t have a magic wand or I’d be waving it like crazy to prevent 2020 from being like 2016, which would be more than either party seems to be doing so far.

Perhaps you have some ideas…

19 thoughts on “Trump and Clinton were the two most-despised nominees ever. How do we avoid that in the future?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As I said above, I couldn’t find the NPR piece about Democrats’ “reform” process — a piece that initially gave me the idea for this post. But I did find this story about it on The Hill.

    One reason there’s not much out there about this is that it’s being done behind closed doors.

    But as dubious as I may be of the process, I will say a good word about one idea leaking out of it — the notion of open primaries. Of course, I’ve been advocating for those since long before I started blogging.

    I’d go them one better, though. I’d go for a unified primary. But I doubt either political party will come out for that, since nothing could more effectively break the stranglehold that the two parties currently have on our electoral system..

    1. Doug Ross

      Here’s a knee jerk Libertarian hot take: primaries should not be funded by tax dollars in any way. It’s a rigged system for the two parties and there’s no reason why taxpayers should fund the selection process for candidates they would never vote for. If they want to use voting machines and facilities that are intended for general and local elections, then the parties should pay actual costs for those services — just like renting a ball field for Little League. That might open up new ways to select the candidates — including online voting, early voting, etc. Each party could come up with its own way to do it and we (the general public) don’t have to care how they do it.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Doug, that would make perfect sense if not for the fact that in the universe in which we live, one of those two nominees is going to be elected 99.999 percent of the time.

        That gives the public a HUGE stake in the primaries, and making sure they’re run properly and fairly. Especially in gerrymandered districts where the primary IS the election.

        As long as these things are true, I will never, ever want the parties to be completely in charge of primaries. They have too much power over our system already…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And Doug, I realize what I say probably won’t matter to you because you are always perfectly happy to vote for someone who has no chance of being elected.

          But most of us voters would like a say over the parties’ nominees, because we know that one of them is going to win the election.

          As I’ve said before, we should all be allowed to vote in BOTH parties’ primaries — or, perhaps better, have a unified primary like in California. If there are only going to be two viable candidates on the ballot in the fall, we should all have a say in both of them…

          1. Doug Ross

            Except 80 percent or more of the voters already have decided which candidate they will vote for based on the party.

            Its a self fulfilling cycle that eliminates choices for the public.

            But then I can take solace in knowing that our current political situation is directly tied to the two party system. Don’t blame libertarians. You own it, you support the outcomes.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              No I DON’T own it. That’s the thing. I’m on the outside of these parties, and I’m not about to sit still and let them call the shots. I should get a say, too.

              You’re fortunate that there’s an alternative out there that’s palatable to you. The last thing I would ever do is vote libertarian. There’s always a possibility that the Republican or Democrat or (in exceedingly rare cases when we get this choice) independent would appeal to me, but there’s pretty much NO chance I’d want the libertarian.

              Unfortunately, there is no communitarian party. There aren’t enough people in the country who know what the word means to form a party.

              And I’ve always thought that was one of the great ironies of American politics — the libertarians, who believe in the radical individual standing alone without reference to anyone else, actually have a close-knit party. Communitarians, who are all about living in community with others, have no party, so each of us is stuck out here on our own.

              Weird, huh?

              1. Doug Ross

                I would have voted for Romney if Ron Paul was not an option. Would have been fine with him winning. Would also have voted for Kerry over Bush without any concern.

              2. Doug Ross

                There is no communitarian party because there are few people who have the same views as you do. You are extreme on abortion, national defense, illegal immigration, government surveillance, taxation and spending, single payer, and on and on.

                Could you find any candidate who would be pro-single payer, anti-abortion, pro-amnesty for illegals, and ultra-pro military? Even Lindsey Graham only gets you 3/4. He’s probably the closest to your views and we saw how he did in the Presidential primaries. He’s got lower national appeal than the Libertarian and Green Parties.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  One thing I am not is “extreme” on anything. All of my positions except single-payer have been centrist all my life. And single-payer is only considered extreme because so many Americans are completely nuts. It’s the most matter-of-fact, sensible position possible, and most of the developed world thinks Americans have a screw loose for thinking otherwise. And they’re right.

                  There are plenty of things about me that are subject to argument and interpretation. But the fact that I am anything but “extreme” is not. I’m rather boringly orthodox in my views…

  2. Claus2

    Okay I went back and read it, just as I suspected. Brad won’t be happy until there is a Democrat in the White House and the House and Senate have a Democratic Super Majority in both houses. Then only will he again be a pleasant person to be around… until then we’ll just have to deal with the angry old man who will step outside and yells at the clouds if he can’t find anything else to complain about.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Brad won’t be happy until there is a Democrat in the White House and the House and Senate have a Democratic Super Majority in both houses.”

      Say WHAT? What have I ever done, said or written that would make someone think that? I cannot imagine. Was it when I endorsed and voted for, say, Bob Dole? Or George W. Bush? Or John McCain? Or Lindsey Graham? When?

  3. bud

    Never before has a party nominated someone who was in the White House 25 years earlier, and started being despised by a large portion of the electorate way back then. Nor has a party picked a famously sleazy businessman with zero relevant experience, knowledge, understanding, or principles. So no, it was not politics as usual.

    Now go back and read that paragraph carefully and see what makes it an incredibly false analogy. Especially this part – ‘started being despised by a large portion of the electorate …’. Did that despising just occur by happenstance? What’s missing from that statement? The why part. The why is explained by the endless, nonstop lambasting by Fox News and talk radio. For nearly 3 decades Hillary Clinton was attacked for everything from her laugh, to the false story about removing the letter W from the typewriters, to Whitewater, to the utterly fictional murder of Vince Foster. Heck she was even blamed for her husband’s cheating. And she was the victim! The only real victim. The endless Benghazi and e-mail nothing burgers convinced huge numbers of people that Hillary was far, far, far worse than she actually was. In fact she was a very accomplished, intelligent, knowledgeable woman who would have made a fine president. And as soon as the Dems have a front runner that person will receive the same treatment. Just look at how Doug Jones is portrayed. He’s nothing but a Nancy Pelosi brown noser. And the press is just making up stuff about Roy Moore.

    So let’s be real. The real enemy is the Republican Party and it’s spin machine in the “media”. This is an outfit fixated on shoveling money to the rich and creating a new gilded age. Until we recognize that we’re doomed to politicians like Trump, Moore and McConnell. And things like life expectancy will continue to drop relative to other developed countries.

      1. bud

        Not sure why that’s difficult to understand. In fact it’s a central point in why I despise the Republican party so much. They ruthlessly go after their political opponents in ever more reprehensible ways. It kind of started with Willie Horton. And they should not be allowed to get away with it and ruin the country in the process.

    1. Bart

      bud, maybe it would be a good idea to go back to when Clinton was elected and we were informed that basically Hillary would be co-POTUS and she was placed in charge of overhauling healthcare. I still remember Clinton telling the public we were getting 2 for the price of 1 with Hillary being his equal partner. This along with her being complicit in enabling Clinton by going after his accusers tooth and nail and accusing them of being wrong goes a long way when her public persona and perception was being formed initially. From the beginning, she made fun of women who were not of the same ideological bent and her infamous comment about not being like Tammy Wynette and her song, “Stand By Your Man”. Yet, she did stand by Clinton and continued to enable him.

      “..accomplished, intelligent, knowledgeable..” are all fine qualities in anyone running for public office but it is not these qualities that may apply to Hillary that were important, it was and still is the perception of who she is that in the end counts with the voters. My initial negative reaction to Hillary Clinton was not formed or influenced by Fox or talk radio, it was formed by a series of events beginning with the ones mentioned earlier in my comments. Whether you like it or not, Hillary Clinton was anointed by Democrats and liberals from the beginning to become POTUS but Obama derailed her ambitions. Then she moved to New York, ran for the senate and was elected. In other words, she was a carpetbagger who was welcomed by New Yorkers and that most certainly didn’t add to her list of positives for most of the country.

      You and her supporters cannot continue to blame Fox, talk radio, and the “vast right wing conspiracy” for her numerous negatives, she did more than her fair share to assist in adding to them.

      As much as I admired JFK, personally it would be great if not one more Kennedy was elected to public office along with another Bush, Clinton, Obama or any other so-called legacy candidates. C’mon, Chelsea Clinton is already being touted as a possible candidate for a House seat. And Hillary is still on her never-ending tour complaining about losing to Donald Trump. Al Gore disappeared for a while, grew a beard, and when it was time, returned to the public arena but with a different purpose in mind. Maybe it is time for Hillary to do the same. Well, not the beard but who knows.

  4. Dave

    Two points: in one of the greatest political ironies of all-time, George McGovern played a big role in electing Donald Trump. Had it not been for the McGovern-Frasier Commission and its moving of power over the Democratic nomination from the smoke-filled rooms to primary voters (and with it, the same for the Republican Party), Donald Trump would never have gotten the Republican nomination. Second, it was the unbridled ambition of the 16 other Republican candidates who refused to drop out early and coalesce around one or two alternatives to Trump that also led to Trump’s nomination. Had the field narrowed earlier, we would probably be talking about President Rubio or some such today.


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