Axiom 2: In politically unsettled times, such as we’re experiencing today, the nation often opts for experimentation.
If Trump’s presidency is the product of referendum politics, then it also is a product of the country’s willingness to try new things when the political class screws up. Hardly anyone thought Trump could be elected because few analysts sufficiently took into account the degree of ennui and anxiety in the land. But to many Americans, that ennui and anxiety rendered thinkable the prospect of a Trump presidency, whereas in normal times his boorishness and repellent traits would have made him entirely unthinkable as a president.
The campaign of 1980 was also waged in unsettled times, with raging inflation mixed with economic stagnation, sky-high interest rates, and fears of Soviet expansionism. Yet the conventional wisdom was that incumbent Jimmy Carter would likely win reelection because challenger Ronald Reagan was just too erratic, too extreme in his conservative views, and too much of a lightweight. But Reagan won big, not because the electorate suddenly turned conservative in its collective political outlook, but because the incumbent had squandered his claim to the job and because unsettled times called for trying new things, meaning a new president.