With the abrupt departure of Andrea Leadsom from the Conservative Party leadership contest, Theresa May has cruised into number 10 as Britain’s new PM. To many, it appears that the Tory establishment has reasserted control over the Conservative Party. But I’m not convinced this is true–when Mitt Romney won the 2012 Republican primary, many people assumed that this meant the Republican establishment was in firm control, but within just four years Donald Trump had run Romney and the rest of the establishment Republicans off the Tarpeian Rock. Indeed, a close look at the data reveals that just as the 2012 result concealed deep weaknesses within the Republican establishment, the Tory establishment remains extremely vulnerable. May owes her victory to the incompetence and disorganization of her rivals, and she will need to be extraordinarily careful to preserve it.
A few days ago, I wrote a popular post about the ideological differences between Bernie Sanders, the egalitarian committed to shrinking the financial sector and boosting consumption by raising wages, and Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal committed to protecting the interests of finance capital. I explained the history of the Democratic Party and how it came to be captured by neoliberalism–the same economic ideology espoused by Ronald Reagan and many of his successors in the Republican Party. Many people found that this clarified the differences between Bernie and Hillary for them. However some people expressed concern that even though they think Bernie’s ideology is more desirable, he may still nonetheless be unable to beat a republican in a general election. A republican victory would be awful for the left–even a neoliberal democrat is still noticeably to the left of a neoliberal republican, especially on issues like climate change or LGBT rights. However, I think there are good reasons to think that Bernie is at least as electable as Hillary, and possibly significantly more so.
For the republicans, this has been a weird election. For most of the race, the leaders have all been rebel candidates deeply unacceptable to the party establishment–Trump, Cruz, Carson–and with just a couple weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, there’s no sign of this changing. If you’d asked me in the summer, I would have told you that sure, a few extremely kooky republican candidates might spend a little time making ephemeral runs in first place, but sooner or later an establishment candidate has to win out, just like Mitt Romney did in 2012 and John McCain did in 2008. Herman Cain had his month in the sun, but no one ever took him seriously, right? Sooner or later everyone converges around a Jeb Bush. It looks like my summer prediction isn’t going to come true, and like any good politics PhD student, that has me wondering what I got wrong. Over the past month I’ve been pondering this, and I think I’ve figured it out.