The second-place presidential challengers in both major parties are actively seeking contested conventions.

Interestingly, both sport some legit outsider cachet — being senators on the outs of their respective parties (Sanders by being an independent socialist, Cruz by being a Tea Party Republican) — but it is worth remembering that the GOP front runner has even more claim to outsider status, having never worked in government in any capacity. Further, the GOP frontrunner is bringing in voters from outside the normal party fold. The fact that he turns off even more voters is, well, problematic for his candidacy. The Democracy’s frontrunner is her party’s chosen Favorite Daughter, the heir apparent, an old-time government hack with a disastrous track record but all the insider cred one might hope for. She also has huge disapproval, too, though not quite as large as the Republican frontman’s.

If one or both parties go into contested conventions, the complexion of one or both could change.

At present, the old Democracy is the party of government employee unions, higher ed enclaves, major media cheerleading, and minority special interest groups, and serves as the dominant arbiter of insider power (which is why it is so heavily funded by big businesses), based on interest group access to direct government policy. Its ideology is conservative in that it aims to consolidate existing power structures along political lines. Its adherents seem oddly uninterested in shoring up the stability of its major policy institutions, however, having just risked even more instability by engaging in a major increase in the scope of government, in the health care industry. (The why of that, below.)

By term of art, the party is “progressive,” in that it supports causes loosely associated with the left and its socialist obsessions. But, with the exception of Obamacare (the latest program), these institutions are not new and thus no longer revolutionary, but quite establishment. This gives the movement its conservative feel. The recent rise of Bernie Sanders’s more radical socialism threatens to destabilize the party’s hold on power by unhinging the establishment institutions — but it also exhibits strong conservative streaks. Like so often happens on the left, the younger generation of activists now promotes a culture of censorship and outrageously authoritarian moralizing, one that reminds me of the more dogmatic conservative hectoring I grew up with.

Mrs. Grundy has become Ms. Grundy.

The Republican Party is in almost complete disarray. Since the Reagan era, it has existed as a loose union of at least three distinct groups:

  1. The traditional business interests, hovering between Main Street and Wall Street officially, but in actuality between those trad businesses and the Pentagon insider complex;
  2. The libertarian contingent, a small but influential cadre of limited government enthusiasts and their Ordinary Joe Citizen (and occasional business leader) sympathizers; and
  3. The social conservatives, dominated by Protestant evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons, whose main interest in politics is what the libertarians often characterize “private morality.”

Into these three groups migrated the cadre of neoconservatives, disaffected liberal intellectuals mainly concerned with foreign policy. What politicians have done is appeal serially or simultaneously to all four — logically an impossible task, but then politics is not logic — and then, when in power, betraying them all … except the neocons and the military industrial complex.

The series of betrayals led first to the Tea Party revolt, and now to The Donald.

The two are quite distinct.

Outwardly, the Republican Party is conservative. But the truth is, with the exception of the smallish-but-powerful libertarian contingent, the party is also ideologically (term-of-art) progressive. Only the libertarians say they want to dismantle the welfare state (and much more) of federal government. The rest of the GOP blithely pretends to be for a strict construction of the Constitution. But that is pretty much the same way that the Communist Party of China is communist, or in the way a Unitarian believes in God.

Arguably, the main line of Republicans can be distinguished from Democrats in policy terms by their greater commitment to the financial stability of Progressive and New Deal institutions. (The Democrats, being culturally closer to socialists, and who because of reasons of culture think of themselves as “radicals,” are more heedless of questions of financial stability, and do indeed like to scratch the itch of progressively putting more and more of society under the rubric of political governance, which is ipso facto destabilizing, except at the extreme of totalitarianism — see Stalin or the Inca for examples.)

The social conservative wing of the GOP has been most betrayed by its leaders. This should hardly be a shock: socially conservative mores cannot thrive in the context of a well-developed welfare state, which has as a major function the replacement of men as providers in marriage with the State (taxpayers) as providers for mothers and children regardless of marital status. There are a dozen other reasons social conservatism is a lost cause, but the continued existence of the welfare state is the biggest.

The libertarians are the next most betrayed. And this is as easy to explain, for the logic of government involvement in a post-Constitutional state is Special Advantage — precisely what libertarians are against. Politics, the art of “compromise,” exists to wheel and deal special favors. Besides, the military-industrial wing relies almost entirely on not thinking carefully about government spending.

So, GOP voters flail about. And I haven’t even talked about the foreign war/terrorist problem or the illegal immigrant issue.

It is interesting that Trump appears to be slated for the contest this autumn. As near as I can make out, he is a maverick moderate Democrat, the kind hardly welcome in the Democracy any longer, but self-packaged in a stand-up comic act. He is unique enough, however, that he might buck all the odds and even become president, for, as I have said before, he is unpredictable in normal terms. His appeal transcends the GOP’s core constituencies, what with his combination of Big Biz protectionism and half-assessed “commonsense” foreign policy.

He is The Mule.

And Hillary’s the Ass.

Spectacularly corrupt and incompetent, she nevertheless benefits from the leverage of her husband’s expert political networking, and from the fact that she is a putatively powerful woman at a time when women are beginning to think in class terms. But really, her stint in the Senate was unexceptional, and her work as a Secretary of State helped destabilize the mid-East in ways that make the word “blunder” seem like a euphemism.

Of course, the two contenders at the margins of credibility, Cruz and Sanders, are surely worse.

Ted Cruz, a hyper-intelligent Tea Party pugilist, has something rare in politics: courage. But he has only begun his fight, and has little to show for it. And, what is more, he is not blessed with either personal charm or masculine pulchritude. He looks like a cartoon villain, with eerie shadows of Nixon running across his lower face.

And Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He has a portrait of Eugene V. Debs on the wall of his Senate office, has defended “bread lines” in practice and theory, and has praised Castro and the Sandanistas. Worse yet, he does not understand the economies of the countries he says our nation should emulate, Denmark and Sweden — both sporting freer markets than we can boast of. He wants “more regulation,” in the witless way that progressives always seem to push, but that is not what his beloved Scandinavia seems to have re-established.

On the face of it, none of these candidates could win, in a normal election. But America is on the brink of insolvency and loss of empire, and Americans are beginning to feel it. Anything can happen.

This will not be a normal election. It may not even sport normal, carefully orchestrated party conventions. We may get to see something like honesty burble to the surface every now and then.