| Until the day comes when the nation has more than two viable political organizations, elections must, regrettably, remain about choosing parties, not candidates – particularly on the presidential level.
If one party controls Congress and the other the White House, as we have today, government becomes almost entirely dysfunctional. A Supreme Court nominee can't even get a hearing because of intra-party warfare. If, on the other hand, a party controls both branches, actual progress becomes possible, as happened with the landmark Affordable Care Act.
Speaking of the Supreme Court, the task of filling its vacancies alone is enough to make presidential voting along party lines essential and the notion of "picking the best person for the job" pure fantasy. Yet, a staggering 40-plus percent of voters tell pollsters they are independent.
In fact, according to research at Michigan State University as reported in The Nation magazine, those who identify as independents today are more stable in their support for one or the other party than were “strong partisans” back in the 1970s. Moreover, Dan Hopkins, a professor of government at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that “independents who lean toward the Democrats are less likely to back GOP candidates than are weak Democrats.”
The meaningful work in choosing among candidates takes place during the primaries. Democrats were given a real choice between a daring progressive and a more cautious centrist. Undecided Democrats could have had an understandably difficult time choosing between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Republicans had even more soul searching to do, faced with the arch conservative views of Ted Cruz, the center-leaning values of John Kasich, and the trust-me based bravado of Donald Trump.
But that's all been decided. Now we have one Republican and one Democrat vying for the right to place their party's imprint on the Court, the tax code, the military and the nation's social structure. Party politics are so clear and powerful that Paul Ryan backs Trump, Liz Warren backs Clinton and the actress Sarah Silverman points out that to do anything else is "ridiculous."
One of the more interesting convention speeches was delivered to Democrats by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and a billionaire businessman. Bloomberg's experience in government came at the city level, where party politics are less important and where voters are, indeed, wise to select the best individual for the job – such as New York's John Lindsay, who was elected as a Republican, re-elected on the Liberal Party ticket, and then became a Democrat.
Bloomberg did a masterful job of attacking Trump but preceded it with a statement that was bizarrely naïve. "When I enter the voting booth each time," he said, "I look at the candidate, not the party label. I have supported elected officials from both sides of the aisle."
I doubt even Michael Bloomberg believes it. I think he plays that card to enhance his role as a power broker between both parties.
Yet, 2016 is unique in modern presidential politics because there is, for the first time, a legitimate basis for Republicans to rebel. Has the GOP gone so far off the rails in nominating an unqualified candidate that common sense might prevail above party politics?
What's a sincere Republican voter to do? Stay home? Cast a vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, who has no chance of winning? Or pick Hillary Clinton and, in doing so, commit the nation to at least four years of a liberal agenda?
If nothing else, Donald Trump has given undecideds something to be truly undecided about.
(c) Peter Funt. Distributed by Cagle syndicate.