Americans drawn to political outsiders

Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) At a time when Americans hold a highly skeptical view of Washington, political outsiders are seeing their popularity surge.

A sense of frustration with Washington’s elite has been a boon to political outsiders in the 2016 race to the White House, especially Republican Party front runner Donald Trump, reports Xinhua news agency.

Many of Trump’s supporters say they are tired of what they call de facto limits on free speech brought on by the nearly hysterical climate of political correctness that has overtaken many parts of the US.

They are frustrated with a White House that, they contend, is not taking the lead in the fight against the Islamic State. Many are worried about another Islamist terror attack on the US, such as the terror strike in California which killed over a dozen innocents.

They fret over the economy, in which millions of Americans remain unemployed or underemployed several years after the recession, and they view Washington elites on both sides of the isle as making Champagne toasts while ordinary people struggle to get by.

“I think Americans are drawn to outsiders like Trump… because there is a widespread distrust of what is seen as the political establishment,” Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua.

“For a wide swath of Americans who are concerned by terrorism abroad, immigration to the US, and an uncertain economic future, they see the traditional political leadership as unable to deal with these issues, and are drawn towards populist outsiders,” he said.

Mahaffee said this was seen in American political history when there were times of concern or unease about events at home or abroad.

“But the vitriol coming from Trump is unprecedented, unless you go back to parties like the Know-Nothings and other more radical political groups in American history,” he said.

In the wake of the brutal Islamist terror attacks on California and Paris, Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US.

The statement drew fire from several other Republican candidates, who said the measure, if implemented, would run counter to American ideals.

Some pundits noted that such a move would hurt the fight against Islamist radicalism as Washington needs moderate Muslim countries such as Egypt and Jordan to fight terror and banning all Muslims from coming to the US would make such countries unhappy.

Clay Ramsay, research director at the Center on Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, said there have been at least three kinds of “outsiders” in the last 70 years.

The first group comprises people who came from outside of politics or civil service and had never run for any office successfully. Those include Trump, retired surgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett Packard CEO Fiorina.

The second are politicians who surged up from one wing of a major party and briefly took over, such as George McGovern in the 1972 elections and Barry Goldwater in 1964.

And the third are people who had a career in government and then ran as third-party or independent candidates, such as John B. Anderson in 1980, George Wallace in 1968, Strom Thurmond in 1948, and Henry Wallace in 1948.

Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua that the current popularity of outsiders was not unique in history.

“This sort of thing ebbs and flows. People don’t generally flock toward outsiders when things are great. It’s when things are bad that an outsider starts to look good,” he said.

Mahaffee said there will continue to be a powerful vein of the American public that will gravitate towards outsiders. The sense that Washington is disconnected from the rest of America remains strong.

Additionally, as many see their path to economic opportunity disappearing as the global economy changes, there is a sense that the political establishment is unable or unwilling to address their concerns, he said.

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