How did this happen, as after all it appears to make a complete mockery of the dominant theories of political science, and demonstrates that almost all of our professional political predictors are completely full of shit?
First you need to understand five major long term trends in American politics that are now culminating in the Trumpocalypse:
- With the sole exception of Bush the 1st, every president since Ford (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush the 2nd, & Obama) ran as an “outsider” reform candidate. Obama was the ultimate reform candidate, the most extreme “outsider” imaginable from within the Democratic party. The reform candidate has been a perennial feature of American politics for 40 years, but the angry energy behind him is never satiated, rather it is betrayed and suppressed, only to return again in the next cycle.
- The complete failure of a generation of Neoliberal economic policies (from both Democrats or Republicans) to produce the promised wealth and economic growth for anyone other than the super rich and their apparatchiks. What these policies have created instead is a stark class divide, and the people on the wrong side of the razor wire fence are truly up against the wall, and they know it. For a large and increasingly desperate part of the country, there is no longer much left to lose.
- The deep popular hatred of our political class, the managerial class as a whole, and almost every significant social, economic, or political institution in the country, that has been visibly growing for decades and is now at an all time high. Obama, Occupy, & the Tea Party were all direct products of a boiling rage that manifests itself across the political spectrum.
- Surrounded by every species of sycophant and courtier and doped up to the gills on psychiatric medication, our late-imperial ruling class is becoming ever more visibly arrogant, corrupt, brazen, nepotistic, narcissistic, and oh so spectacularly incompetent. As their political legitimacy slowly collapses into a sinkhole, they have become only that much more convinced of their own awesomeness, and their ability to effectively manipulate the “little people” to their ends.
- The systematic displacement of real politics with political consumerism, the replacement of leaders with media celebrities, and the real domination of the spectacle in every aspect of American society are fundamental trends of post-modernity itself; they were first undeniably visible in American presidential politics with Ronald Reagan and finally developed into the most extreme form with Obama, who was more of a marketing hologram than a traditional politician. Trump is the apogee of this phenomenon. Now the spectacle is openly taking political power. This “mechanism” is switching places with its master.
Then you need to understand recent trends in the Republican party itself:
- The ever growing divide between the real economic and political interests of the Republican base and the policies and ideologies of the Republican establishment. (A now permanently unemployed carpenter fighting third world immigrants for minimum wage temp jobs does not give a shit about “lower taxes and less regulations” for corporations.) The two most potent issues are the pro-illegal immigration and economic globalization policies of the Republican establishment that have ruthlessly pauperized the working and middle class parts of the Republican coalition.
- The failure of the traditional “hot button” social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc) to order Republican politics after having been massively over used to manipulate voters into ignoring their own real interests in favor of a “cultural warrior” identity politics.
- The Bush era war politics that led into disasters and defeats have visibly collapsed, again after brazen abuse. Now the neocons are flocking to Hillary as their only hope.
- The more and more passionate support within the Republican base for utterly unqualified candidates (Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, etc) who look and sound like angry anti-establishment outsiders, almost regardless of their politics (or lack thereof).
- The deep anti-institutionalism of the tea party movement and the Talk Radio Nation that spawned it. This is not just a complete hatred for the Republican party establishment, but for the political institutions as such.
- The political collapse of the Bush administration in 2008 was never recovered from or even addressed. Instead the whole focus of Republican politics since has been a deranged anti-Obama mania that must necessarily come to an end as the lame duck limps off the stage without having instituted “Shari ‘a Law” or “Communism”.
- The most salient aspect of the last two presidential cycles was that the Republican base was forced to accept a “moderate” nominee that they absolutely and completely loathed, but then they still lost. You can only swallow so many toads before you puke them all up. Bush the 3rd was a toad way too far.