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By Robert A. Vella

Under normal circumstances, and by that I mean a more stable political climate where Americans are generally accepting of the socioeconomic status quo, the party of a two-term incumbent president with the accomplished record of a Barack Obama would not be confronted by insurgent candidates from within its own ranks.  Republicans faced no such insurgency in 1988, and neither did Democrats in 1940.

But in 2016, the circumstances are far from normal.  Despite a solid – though not spectacular – economic recovery from the Great Recession, despite providing healthcare to 19 million formerly uninsured Americans, despite major advances on the counter-terrorism front, and despite the historic international agreement to control Iran’s worrisome nuclear program, America’s political climate is as unstable now as at any time since the Civil War.  The mood of the nation is angry, distrusting of large institutions, fearful of rapid societal changes, and internally discordant.  This is not the America that elected Ronald Reagan’s cold-warrior successor, George H. W. Bush.  This is not the America that reelected progressive champion FDR to an unprecedented third term.  This is a 21st century America where culture wars and class warfare are waged across battlegrounds pitting divergent populist forces against an entrenched establishment.

In the first of a two part exposé, RealClear Politics examined Angry Voters: They’re ‘Sick of Politics’:

Standing on the snowy lawn in between Burlington’s City Hall and Main Street on a 20-degree January night, Theresa Fassett says things are going to get ugly.

“A lot of people are upset. There’s a lot of anger, and definitely frustration,” Fassett says, noting that she isn’t typically involved in politics. “We have worked so hard for our entire lives — since we were kids! And we have gotten nowhere. We are living with family. This is not the way this country is supposed to be.”

[…]

Trump’s rise, Sanders’ ability to exceed expectations in the Democratic race, and the interest, however fleeting, in other so-called “outsider” candidates have shone a spotlight on voters upset with the status quo. Polls and reports throughout last summer and into the fall and winter have exposed an anxious electorate, with a majority of Americans feeling the country is on the wrong track.

With voting set to begin in just a few weeks, these sentiments could be all the more consequential. While the Republican Trump and the Democrat Sanders tapped into this mood early on — albeit in very different ways —several other candidates have also picked up on it as well. The profile of the angry voter has made its way into stump speeches from Iowa to New Hampshire and on the two parties’ debate stages.

This populist discontent is boosting the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders against Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton who is committed to keeping the nation on the centrist course plotted by President Obama.  After last night’s fourth Democratic debate, it’s apparent which way the political winds are blowing.

From Chris Cillizza of The Washington PostWinners and losers from the fourth Democratic presidential debate:

Yes, Sanders has one volume: shouting. And, yes, he got tripped up a few times during the debate on his voting record — especially on guns. But throughout the debate’s first hour — the hour when most people, especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest, were watching — he was the prime mover in virtually every discussion from Wall Street reform to health care to climate change. He was on offense, accusing rival Hillary Clinton of half-measures and political caution at a moment when boldness is required.

[…]

More than anything he said, though, it was the passion and disruption that Sanders oozed from every pore over the two hours that should push Democrats on the fence about the race into his camp. Sanders effectively positioned himself as the anti-status-quo candidate, a very good position to have in this electoral environment.

Cillizza also took a parting – and justified – shot at the Democrats’ curious debate schedule which appears to favor Clinton:

Let’s call the Democratic debate schedule what it is: ridiculous. A Saturday debate just before Christmas. A Sunday night debate just before a federal holiday. No debate from now until AFTER the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Seriously? Say what you will about the Republican National Committee’s attempts to influence the debate calendar. It pales in comparison to the travesty the Democratic National Committee has made of its own debates. Period.

From Dylan Matthews of Vox3 winners and 2 losers from Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate:

Sunday night’s Democratic debate was, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted, timed to “maximize the opportunity for voters to see our candidates.” Given that it was held on the Sunday before a federal holiday, that seems … dubious. But whoever wasn’t deterred by the debate’s inauspicious timing saw an event that was both substantive and sort of lackadaisical. Almost all the discussion focused on policy, but Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton began awkwardly attempting to slip in attacks on each other, though neither really seemed that comfortable doing it. The most animated of the bunch was Martin O’Malley, who seemed energized by his quest to successfully say something, anything, without being talked over.

It’ll take a few days for poll results to trickle in, which will provide the closest thing to an objective answer of who actually won the debate. But in the meantime, here are the candidates who ended the night better off than they started it — and the ones who slipped.

Winner: Bernie Sanders

Bernie is now posting his best poll numbers of the campaign to date, as he excitedly pointed out in a moment that echoed Donald Trump’s matter-of-fact citation of polling at Thursday’s Republican debate. He’s only four points behind in Iowa and gaining, solidly ahead in New Hampshire, and has momentum nationally too. There’s a very real possibility that he wins the first two primary contests and leaves Clinton scrambling to recover in South Carolina.

None of this means that Sanders is poised to win the Democratic Party nomination, far from it.  But, the rise of his insurgent candidacy does mean one very important thing – that whomever is elected president this fall will face a decidedly surly, impatient American populace next year and beyond.

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