By Tory Newmyer and Chris Matthews
February 20, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

Our latest issue raises the alarm about the twilight of the political establishment. Or it re-raises the alarm, or re-re-raises it, depending on when you started paying attention to this presidential campaign. The phenomenon is evident at one level simply in the primary results so far. In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic Socialist, clobbered Hillary Clinton by 22 points, a historically huge margin for a contested Democratic primary there. Among Republicans, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, both anathema to party elites, have split the first two contests. They seem poised to finish first and second in South Carolina, voting today in its Republican primary, while out in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses, also today, Sanders appears to have closed rapidly in on Clinton. Both competitions could take months to sort out.

But the horserace isn’t an end itself. The early voting signals an electorate rejecting what remains of consensus-style leadership in Washington. And no matter how the campaign concludes, the next president is primed to take power facing a public more divided along class lines, with lower-income Americans increasingly distrustful of the government’s ability to improve their lives. Indeed, a majority of Americans, 54%, now think the country’s economic and political systems are “stacked against them,” while nearly seven in 10 describe themselves as angry that the government “seems only to be working for those with money and power, like those in Washington or on Wall Street,” per a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey.

Those sentiments sound like they could easily describe either Sanders or Trump supporters. And the two fire-breathing populists do in fact share an enemies list when it comes to drug companies, the financial services sector and all manner of jobs exporters. (Their similarities flummoxed Trump himself this week when he stepped in a poorly-laid trap during an MSNBC town hall.) But focusing on their staying power in the primaries would miss how the pressure they’ve already applied has shifted the terms of the debate on both sides. Witness Marco Rubio’s abandonment of his work toward comprehensive immigration reform with the Gang of Eight, and Clinton’s disavowal of the Trans Pacific Partnership she championed as Secretary of State. Either one may prove the sort of primary-season contortion a president unwinds once in office. The new assertiveness of anti-corporate factions in each party suggest that would prove unusually difficult. Eyeing the field this week, one veteran GOP lobbyist sniffed, “There may have to be some accommodation to the angry, fearful crowd.” At the moment, at least, that hardly appears to capture it.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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