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Marc Yacht: Leaders of both parties have misread the mood of this year’s voters

The latest casualties among Republican presidential hopefuls include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and JEB.

Christie, facing a step-down to the undercard debates, threw in the towel. Fiorina, who had never captured the imagination of the voters, will return to her privileged life and will probably write a book. JEB could not overcome being a Bush.

Democrat Bernie Sanders handily beat Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.   Bernie stole the men but also the women’s vote, a seismic outcome. The Clinton team has to look hard at campaign strategies. Hillary’s ever-present smile aside, this night hurt. Martin O’Malley exited the campaign after a poor Iowa showing. Hillary won in Nevada with Bernie nipping at her heels. She easily won the South Carolina primary.

Both parties are pulling out all the stops in what is becoming a bare-knuckled fight. The big winner, however, is the voter. The average citizen has mortified both the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Supported party leadership picks are being rejected.

In spite of herculean efforts by the RNC to undermine Donald Trump, he dominates the GOP race so far. A similar momentum pushes Bernie. What are the voters thinking?

Trump’s thump and Bernie’s boost is sending a message to the establishment in both parties. Money, backslapping and deception may be passé. Too many voters have been betrayed. Both parties are facing voter pushback and they better listen.

Many feel that roughhouse politics has angered voters. However, dirt and ideological divides are old hat. Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams, claiming wasteful spending and questioning his manliness. Adams, on the other hand, argued that Jefferson was not a good Christian and didn’t respect the sabbath.

Mudslinging is commonplace in politics. Important issues have too often played second fiddle. Opponents of Grover Cleveland focused on his child who was born out of wedlock. They marched and chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, haw, haw, haw!’

Voter dissatisfaction is universal. After elections, the winners would historically roll up their sleeves and face the business at hand. America’s needs came first, but the current polarization makes problem-solving difficult.

Republicans bent on denying President Barack Obama a second term said loud and clear that if Obama wants it, we don’t. Americans, whether they were for or against him, were put off by a strategy that hurt the nation. The Republican Congress was properly labeled obstructionist. The Republicans made abusing the president a priority.

The other Republican miscalculation involves the creeping Christianity in government and overplaying the “God” card. The evangelicals appreciate this, but their vote cannot sway a national election. Most citizens prefer separating church and state.

It is the voter who is upstaging the presidential hopefuls as the primaries unfold. There is also a nagging concern that two families, the Clintons and the Bushes, have had a stranglehold on the body politic.

There are splits within the parties. In the GOP the factions are the Tea Party or Rubio Republicans, Evangelicals identifying with Cruz, and angry white Americans rallying around Trump.

The Democrats face less dissention, but party members are divided between those who support Sanders’ vision of democratic socialism and those who favor a mainstream approach advocated by Clinton.

Should Bernie carry the banner to the general election, the blow to Clinton would be substantial but the party should survive intact. Should Trump carry the banner, the Republican Party would struggle to keep the party unified.

Whatever happens, the leadership of both parties need to embrace significant reforms because they grossly misread the American voter.

***

Dr. Marc J. Yacht, MD, MPH is a retired public health physician.  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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