Sherlock Holmes famously solved the mystery of the Silver Blaze by noting the dog that didn’t bark in the night. It strikes me that in this wild and woolly campaign cycle there have been numerous dogs not barking in the night, or in the daytime either.
Start with the race for the Democratic nomination, which has not unrolled as predicted. Every observer knows Hillary Clinton’s numbers have been falling and Bernie Sanders’ numbers have been rising, leading her in Iowa and New Hampshire. Every observer is waiting to see if Joe Biden will run, perhaps in time for the Democrats’ first debate two weeks from now.
But the other declared candidates have gone nowhere. It’s perhaps not surprising in the cases of the maverick Jim Webb and the former Republican Lincoln Chafee. But Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, with a pleasant demeanor and a solid liberal record, is the sort of candidate who would have a serious Democratic contender in cycles past.
He’s been out on the trail, but the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal, Quinnipiac and CBS/New York Times polls put him at 0 percent. The pollsters are having a hard time finding anyone who backs him.
Cynical conclusion: in a party consumed with identity politics, there are constituencies for a woman and a self-proclaimed socialist, but not for a cisgender white male, even one who increased spending and effectively supported same-sex marriage. Sympathetic explanation: Democratic voters are attracted to longtime champions of identity politics and uninterested in new faces.
In contrast, on the Republican side, even in a field of 15 candidates, almost all have some perceptible support. But past performance is not proving a guide to current results.
Rand Paul, for example, was expected to at least match the showing of his father Ron Paul, who got at least 10 percent (rounded off) in 29 primaries in 2012. But the younger Paul’s domesticated libertarianism and non-interventionist foreign policy is attracting only 2 percent nationally and 4 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Cynical conclusion: Ron Paul’s tattooed and dope-smoking fans aren’t interested in a domesticated version. Sympathetic explanation: Paul’s anti-interventionism lost its appeal when ISIS started beheading Americans.
Iowa Republicans are also showing little enthusiasm for the candidates who finished first in their 2008 and 2012 caucuses. Mike Huckabee is polling at 4 percent there, Rick Santorum at 2 percent. They aren’t duplicating their previous appeal to evangelical Protestants, who have been a bigger proportion of turnout in Iowa than any other non-Southern Republican contest.
Cynical conclusion: Religious conservatives don’t stay bought. Sympathetic explanation: Religious conservatives look for candidates who share their values, but don’t stick with those who proved incapable of winning nominations.
Of course, one might also say that these Republicans are just being overshadowed, maybe temporarily, by outsiders who haven’t held political office — Donald Trump especially, and also Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. The race is far from over; maybe they’ll do better later on. And maybe Martin O’Malley will catch on, too — although when pollsters take Joe Biden off their list of candidates, he currently rises from 0 to 1 percent.
The dogs that aren’t barking tell two different stories about the parties. Democrats, who like to think of themselves as open to new ideas, are sticking with old ideas and causes. Republicans, who used to fall predictably in line, are off on a wild fling.
There’s another dog that isn’t barking as well, on the issues front. House Republican rebels may have pushed Speaker John Boehner out, but, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page notes, federal spending during — and because of — Boehner’s leadership has been essentially flat for four years, the only time that’s happened since World War II. It fell from 24 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 to 20 percent in 2014.
What’s interesting here is that no one seems to care. Republican rebels don’t, and Democrats who push for more spending behind the scenes aren’t making a public fuss about it. It’s reminiscent of Britain, where the Conservative-led government cut nearly 1 million public sector jobs in five years. But Labour never raised the issue in this year’s campaign and Conservatives gained seats.
Cynical conclusion: No one really misses anything when government spending is cut. Sympathetic explanation: In any large organization there is always room for squeezing out unneeded blubber. That non-barking dog may be something to keep in mind as our campaign continues.