In the early stages of any presidential campaign, the race for money is accompanied by an “ideas primary” as candidates begin to frame the purpose and platform of their campaigns. What’s striking about the salad days of the 2016 race is that populism is leading the ideas primary of both parties. Republican and Democratic candidates are invoking populist tropes to make their case.
One Democrat, for example, launched his campaign with this populist broadside:
“The CEO of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either [Jeb] Bush or [Hillary] Clinton. Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street. The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”
Growing inequality, the candidate said, is shattering the American dream. Not global forces, but “powerful, wealthy special interests here at home” have built “an economy that is leaving a majority of our people behind.”
This wasn’t Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an acknowledged radical drawing big crowds with his populist oratory. It was former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, long known for his passion about efficient management techniques.
Not to be outdone, another Democratic contender railed against “25 hedge-fund managers making more than all American kindergarten teachers combined. And often paying a lower tax rate. … Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain, too.”
That also was not Sanders. It was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regularly cited as Wall Street’s favorite Democrat. She sounded the populist cry in her Roosevelt Island speech on Saturday.