Donald Trump is not only changing the Republican Party, he is causing an overall partisan realignment in America, which impacts the Democrats as well. The Sanders campaign shows how far from its populist roots the Democratic Party has strayed. Trump's victory over the GOP field shows the same thing about the Republican Party.
He is stealing the base out from under both political parties.
His candidacy and its challenge to the economic and social establishments of America highlight how close Hillary Clinton is to both. She is the candidate of the status quo in a country seething with a craving for political change.
Donald Trump is the sole source of change in this election. Clinton will trot out her little bitty programs of incremental change, creeping forward from the Obama administration agenda. But that is not the full-scale assault on income inequality, crony capitalism, free-trade giveaways, rampant illegal immigration and political correctness gone berserk that the populists of both parties want.
But Trump is doing more than driving populist Democrats into Republican arms. He is separating the establishment left of the Democratic Party from its populist base. His candidacy separates the blue-collar social populists from their partisan moorings even as his economic populism appeals to the Bernie Sanders left.
A new Democratic Party is emerging from the wreckage.
President Obama's transgender bathrooms, release of convicted felons, opposition to photo voter IDs, amnesty for people here illegally, health care premiums, and obstinate refusal to call Islamic terrorism by its real name have so alienated moderate and conservative Democrats that they are now rising in protest. Donald Trump is giving them an outlet and a forum.
At the same time, Trump's attacks on crony capitalism, trade deals that cost jobs, and Wall Street money are loosening the partisan allegiances of the Bernie Sanders left. Embittered by the primary, they now see how closely allied the Democrats are with Wall Street. And, when they see Trump echoing key parts of their agenda, they are willing to give him a second look.
They may express their outrage at Obama by voting for Trump now. But that won't be the end. Then they will likely return to the Democratic Party and oust the establishment liberals who rule it.
Trump is combining social and economic populism in a way other politicians before him have failed to do. In his seminal 1998 work, "The Populist Persuasion," Michael Kazin separates these two varieties of populism — economic and social — and traces their evolution. He discusses how the economic populism of Andrew Jackson's opposition to a national bank evolved into the farmer rebellions of the 1890s through the development of organized labor, and the '60s new left. And, in parallel chapters, traces the evolution of social populism from religious fundamentalism through prohibition into McCarthyism, the white backlash, and, finally to modern-day social conservatism.
Donald Trump is the first politician who combines both strands of populism. By his advocacy of trade protectionism and opposition to big banks, he reaches the Democratic Party's base of economic populists. And by attacking illegal immigration and warning of terrorists disguised as refugees, he reaches social populists in both parties as well.
Increasingly, it will become clear that Clinton is not the vehicle for any kind of change but rather the embodiment of a special interest status quo. And, more and more, Trump will, ambidextrously, drown her from the left and the right beneath the waves of a political Red Sea.