Michael Tomasky sheds light on madness of 2016 presidential election

Elizabeth Worthington, Assistant News Editor

As the 2016 presidential election produces increasingly unpredictable outcomes, many Americans are left wondering: How did we get here? On March 8, journalist Michael Tomasky helped answer this question, giving his audience what he called “a tour of the landscape” by explaining the rise to power of controversial candidates, predicting the future election results, and exploring the implications of such results.

Tomasky is a special correspondent for The Daily Beast, the author of two books, and the editor-in-chief for the U.S. political journal “Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.”

The talk was sponsored by the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) and took place in the ELC Forum. With a small turnout, the event became more of a conversation than a formal lecture.

After conducting a brief poll, Tomasky found that although the majority of the audience supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, most predict Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton will win the election in November.

No one in the audience seemed to believe that GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump or Sanders would win the election. Tomasky attributed the ascendance of these two candidates, whom he described as “surprising and unexpected,” to their success in addressing what have been the central sources of frustration for liberals and conservatives for the past 20 or 30 years: economic inequality and immigration reform, respectively. Tomasky noted that it is not the number of Americans who agree with Trump and Sanders that has driven their success, but rather the ardent enthusiasm shared by their supporters.

If Trump’s success continues in the next few weeks, Tomasky views him as essentially unstoppable in securing the Republican nomination. If this does occur, Tomasky wonders what will become of the Republican Party. Although a divide between the establishment and the far-right has existed within the party for a long time, according to Tomasky, the country has always submitted to the establishment in time to select a nominee. Yet, the fact that Trump has garnered so much support emphasizes the drastic change occurring within the Republican base. Tomasky predicted that if the Republican Party splits into two, something he believes is possible in the long-term, then the Democratic Party will likely follow suit. But for now, he believes we are “stuck in a polarized place for the foreseeable future.”

As for the Democrats, Tomasky views Clinton and Sanders as polar opposites. He describes the ideal Democratic candidate as “a hybrid of the two.” While Sanders is more stylistically appealing, he fails to follow through on the implementation of his plans. In contrast, Clinton is slower to gain appeal, but her logistical and detailed proposals help her gain supporters. Sanders’ drastic calls for change are especially appealing to millennials, who have not been around long enough to recall Clinton’s time as first lady, which Tomasky referred to as “groundbreaking.”

The evening’s primary results falsified Tomasky’s claim that Sanders does not pose much of a threat to Clinton. He called Sanders’ win in Michigan “the biggest upset in the history of American politics,” attributing it to the large turnout of young voters and independents.

“Before last night, [Sanders] had never won a state he wasn’t supposed to win. This is the first day that I believe he could actually win the nomination” Tomasky said.

Tomasky ended his lecture with a call to action.

“You’re in a fortunate situation … so just be citizens of this country and pay attention and participate,” Tomasky said. 

The audience last night was largely very well-informed about many aspects of the election, but I also know about the Bucknell Bubble. Many students are so focused on their coursework, athletics/clubs, etc. … and you have to actively seek information about current events—it’s not part of many students’ daily lives,” Associate Professor of Economics Amy Wolaver said.

“I thought the talk was informative, but he gave the impression that the election is already rigged to a certain extent, which I think was discouraging. Obviously he has several decades of experience with politics and covering elections, but I still feel as though there is room for the unexpected—more than he expressed,” Mor Gedalia ’16 said.

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