I’VE ALWAYS been a politics junkie, sometimes to a degree which friends and family have occasionally said is unhealthy.
But I’ve never forgotten that politics follows culture, not the other way around. Culture is by far the most important driver.
Politics, however, is often just more fun—and I guess that’s why I enjoy writing about it so much.
Here in this pivotal local municipal election year, with a presidential election on its heels in 2016, there are several interesting storylines which actually have a lot in common when you look closely.
Let’s start with the obvious: Donald Trump, the gift that keeps on giving.
Jokes aside, his candidacy teaches all kinds of important lessons for those that care to look beyond the circus show.
Chief among the cardinal rules:
Never Underestimate Your Opponent.
Trump enjoys a level of support within Republican grassroots that is puzzling party leaders and mainstream media alike. But that’s the point.
Regardless of what you think of Trump, he capitalized on something that was already there: Deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and an eagerness for someone, anyone, willing to take it on directly.
The fact that party leaders and the mainstream media still don’t get it just reinforces their cluelessness.
I’m not a Republican, but I do speak fluent Republican. Allow me to translate:
The conservative grassroots really wanted Sarah Palin at the top of the ticket against Barack Obama in ’08, but were convinced by the party that John McCain—a man the grassroots had loathed and mistrusted literally for decades—was more “electable.”
In 2012 they again listened to party leaders, holding their collective noses and voting for One Percenter Mitt Romney —original author of what would become Obamacare!
I doubt Republicans will end up nominating Trump, if only because the sheer weight of media opinion against him is so enormous.
But in any case I feel sure that conservatives will refuse to listen to the Republican establishment this time around.
The culture will drive the politics.
Meanwhile, the halls of social media echo with the sound of liberals laughing with triumphal glee at the possibility of Trump being the Republican nominee.
To these liberals I solemnly present the second cardinal rule of politics:
Be Careful What You Wish For, Because You Usually Get It.
Combined with rule number one, it can be a real killer.
I’ve lost count of how many times Democrats have assumed some election is a slam-dunk because they were running against a “crazy, insane” Republican, only to get a thorough butt-whipping at the hands of said “crazy, insane” Republican.
(There are currently 31 Republican governors and only 11 Democratic-controlled state legislatures, and Republicans also control both houses of Congress. So we can clearly see who tends to get the last laugh.)
Democrats are going through their own Trump moment, albeit with much less of a carny atmosphere. Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton is rapidly bleeding support to Bernie Sanders in a way which deeply concerns party leaders.
While Sanders represents the first genuine heartfelt embrace of traditional, old-school Democratic Party economic policy since maybe the Kennedy administration, it’s also true that he is a literal Socialist, as in with-a-capital-S.
As with Trump, it remains to be seen whether the establishment and the media will take Sanders seriously no matter how well he polls.
The bottom line—which doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out—is that Americans across the board seem to really dread the predicted Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush matchup, and many are acting accordingly to keep it from happening.
Now to Savannah: the only candidate who has filed papers to challenge Mayor Edna Jackson’s reelection is Murray Silver, who declared around the first of the year.
But rumors have swirled for almost that long about a mythical late entrant to the race who would upset the whole apple cart.
Many folks hoped O.C. Welch would be that deus ex machina, but he long ago missed the deadline for City residency.
I’m not sure what Welch was really up to in flirting with a run he must have known he couldn’t legally make, but the end result was, as Silver himself has written, getting Silver to take the bait in a very bitter, very public vendetta between the two which made Mayor Jackson look positively stateswomanlike in comparison.
There are at least two other rumored candidates thinking about a mayoral run, the most public of which is former state legislator and retired WTOC TV news anchor Sonny Dixon.
In what’s become the norm locally these days, Dixon openly mused on his Facebook page (which, significantly, is a verified Public Figure page, not a personal one) about running, asking friends what they thought.
Needless to say, most were very supportive. Dixon says he’ll wait until he’s back from vacation to decide... which is pretty brilliant marketing when you think about it.
Dixon built his TV career on portraying an aw-shucks good ol’ boy Everyman—his picture is next to the word “folksy” in the dictionary—but Sonny’s no dummy, and his candidacy would be no joke.
He already had a career in politics once before, and the particulars of that career seem to work in his favor for a City run.
Dixon was a conservative Democrat while representing West Chatham in the Georgia House of Representatives for eight years. He got out of politics just before the mass exodus of white Southern Democrats to the Republican Party.
In other words: Dixon can convincingly appeal to local conservatives, but because he never formally switched parties he’d also be able to tell a Democratic-leaning audience he still knows and respects Democrats.
Dixon could also represent an inside-game threat to Jackson, in that the local powers-that-be—the Chamber, SEDA, the Port, the tourism agencies, etc.—might see him as a credible alternative who is already a card-carrying insider.
Simply put, of the shortlist of potentially game-changing late entrants to the Savannah mayoral race, Dixon is the one with by far the most widespread name recognition and the most plug-and-play instant ability and expertise to rewrite the whole script.
I have no idea what he’ll decide, and this shouldn’t be taken as necessarily an endorsement, but I do admit the politics junkie in me is rooting for Dixon to throw his hat in the ring.