There are some who believe that our little planet is being watched over by impossibly advanced and powerful aliens who monitor our activities, abduct the odd farmer for experimentation and probing, and wait patiently to watch how humanity conducts itself. If that's true, then we're approaching the time when they reveal themselves in all their majesty, come down to Earth, and say, "That's it, we're stepping in — you humans have gone too far."
I surely can't be the only one who contemplated that possibility as we watched Donald Trump win most of the Super Tuesday states. While it's still possible that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio could, through some Rube Goldbergian set of circumstances, actually prevail in this contest, it's now looking like one of our two great political parties is going to nominate Donald Trump to be president of the United States, the most powerful human being on Planet Earth.
The prospect of Trump actually occupying the Oval Office is a horror we will explore in its gruesome depths at a later date. But for the moment, we should recognize that Super Tuesday has told us something important about Democrats and Republicans at this particular moment in history. Democratic elites and Democratic voters, it turns out, are pretty much on the same page. Republican elites, on the other hand, not only don't agree with their voters, they had no idea what those voters felt, thought, and were motivated by.
For a long time, we talked about the "lanes" in the Republican primaries that different candidates were supposed to occupy. There was the social conservative lane, where the most pious candidate would win the hearts of the evangelicals who made up nearly four in 10 of Mitt Romney's votes in 2012. There was the establishment lane, where those who would go for a serious, party-approved candidate were to be found. And there was the small-government lane, where tea partiers would await their champion.
The problem with conceiving of these groups as "lanes" in the electorate is that it fooled you into thinking voters would fall into only one of them. But that wasn't true in the end. It can be hard for elites who understand the issues and have clearly defined ideological systems to put themselves in the heads of ordinary voters. In this case, those elites didn't envision how wrong it was to think that the electorate would be organized and consistent. Those groups — evangelicals, believers in small government, and so on — do exist, but the groups are all overlapping, and voters hold a jumble of complex and often contradictory motivations and emotions. They sometimes respond to changing events by changing their preferences, which elites don't do. They don't fit things into mutually exclusive categories the way you do if you know and care a great deal about politics.
And of course, Republicans underestimated the time bomb they created by overpromising what they could deliver as the opposition party and nurturing their base's anger and disgust with Washington. That anger and disgust has found its expression in a candidate who doesn't care about the fate of the Republican Party, who knows nothing about how government works, who takes on some conservative positions with a laughable insincerity and rejects others just as easily. And just as critically, he takes every ugly appeal Republicans have made implicitly — to fear and racism and nativism — and slaps it right on the table for everyone to see, while his crowds cheer and the Republican elites look on aghast at how he has made literal and crass what was supposed to be subtle.
On the Democratic side, the picture couldn't be more different. Yes, there is ample dissatisfaction and disappointment among Democrats with the Obama years. It wasn't the glittering utopia the president's 2008 campaign seemed to promise. It was a difficult, disheartening slog, one step back for every two steps forward, full of compromises and bitterness where even the victories left one feeling bad.
So there are lots of Democratic voters who wish that the promise of 2008 might be realized with a different president, who want to strive for a genuine reimagining of American politics. And for a while, the candidate to whom they flocked showed remarkable strength, beyond what even he probably imagined was possible.
But now the majority of Democratic voters seem to be accepting their elite's argument. It says that they can live with compromises and setbacks if it means that genuine progress will be made. It says that politics is about both the inspiring speech and the narrowly passed piece of legislation. It says that governing is going to be hard no matter what.
And more than anything else, it says that the most important thing is stopping the other side. This too is where Democratic and Republican voters have parted ways. When Republican elites fed their side's furious loathing of Barack Obama, they had no idea that they were creating a beast so hungry and vicious that it would eventually turn its rabid gaze to its makers. There were primary challenges that took out a few senators and congressmen, but the elites thought they could manage the anger, keep it pointed in the right direction. Surely it would never grow so strong that it would cause the entire party to self-destruct.
Then along came Donald Trump. A kind of idiot savant of celebrity culture, he may not know what the nuclear triad or the individual mandate is, but he knows how to feed the emotions of the crowd. It proved remarkably easy for him to waltz into the presidential race and stomp all over a bunch of guys who had devoted their lives to politics.
And now they're stuck with him. Democrats have plenty of reservations about Hillary Clinton, but all in all, they accept her. Republicans, on the other hand, are spiraling down in chaos and despair. And there's nothing they can do about it.