|Jon Gidnick, Ventura, Calif.|
"I've never voted for a Republican," the registered Democrat told me.
"I like Trump."
Gindick plays and teaches blues harmonica. He emailed me after my column about the Donald Trump rally last Saturday in Phoenix:
"It's OK with me if you don't like Trump, but you should report on this other side of the story, too."
He wasn't the only one here or in Arizona who wanted to set me straight.
In Phoenix, I talked to a couple dozen people. Not all of them were parroting the Donald's name-calling and incendiary talk on immigrants. Many were simply mesmerized by Trump the unconventional, Trump the unpredictable.
The message of this campaign is that there's a hunger for nontraditional candidates.
Like Bernie Sanders, the status quo-bashing dark horse who's whipping up crowds that dwarf other candidates'.
And Trump, who breaks the mold and then kicks the pieces around gleefully.
Maybe some Trump followers just like his campaign's high-decibel spectacle. But others hear straight talk about problems that have them in a lather.
A waiter told me he thought Trump's trade restrictions would create more jobs at higher wages. A couple wearing matching red, white and blue shirts told me their healthcare costs had tripled under Obamacare — a program Trump says he'll shred.
To Gindick, Trump's remarks about criminals coming across the border were refreshingly honest, and not at all a condemnation of all immigrants or Latinos in general.
He thinks Trump's critics misrepresent him, that they're unfair in calling him a racist.
"I saw it as a huge lie being repeated by the GOP establishment and Democrats," he said.
He became even more of a Trump fan during one of the early debates, when Trump repudiated Jeb Bush for saying his brother George kept us safe during 9/11. He liked that Trump told Jeb that George had lied to us about weapons of mass destruction.
"The GOP booed him," Gindick said. "And he didn't care."
Trump challenged another GOP orthodoxy in a later debate.
"It was Planned Parenthood," said Gindick. "They were all in favor of getting rid of it, and Trump said, 'You know, Planned Parenthood is a good thing. I wouldn't fund abortion, but I would keep all those other things.'"
A social liberal and fiscal conservative, Gindick had found a candidate who wasn't pre-programmed. Not that there isn't a downside to spontaneity. Gindick didn't appreciate Trump's remarks about Ted Cruz's wife, and his vote is not locked up just yet.
But as he sees it, Hillary Clinton is another of the "neocons" who have led the U.S. into unwinnable wars, and he thinks Trump would be much less of an interventionist.
Some see Trump's rhetoric on Muslims and Muslim immigration as a recipe for more radicalization.
To Gindick, it's a smart reaction to the threat of terrorism.
Richard McCay, a Laguna Beach businessman who sent his own condemnation of my column, thinks the terrorist attack in Belgium this week is another reason for voters to seriously consider Trump.
"I think it plays right into his wheelhouse," said McCay.
In McCay's view, average Americans don't necessarily have an answer for the threat to global and national security. But neither does President Obama or any of the conventional candidates trying to succeed him, they figure.
"Something is happening," McCay said. "I think by sheer instinct the people have finally had enough. Only those with an interest in the status quo would want more of the same that Hillary Clinton or some Republican establishment candidate represents."
Take poverty, he said. It remains entrenched despite years of very expensive attempts to end it.
"The dial hasn't moved."
The national debt is soaring, and the borders are porous.
"The people are sensing it. They're saying to themselves, 'Nothing ever gets delivered,'" said McCay.
He concedes there would be risk in a Trump presidency, but McCay sees the candidate as a successful businessman and deal maker, and in McCay's mind that means he'd be more effective than Obama has been at negotiating with Congress to get things done.
McCay said he was president of the Republican club while a student at UC Berkeley, but he's an independent now. That makes him part of a growing army of those who don't fit comfortably into either of the declining major parties, voters for whom nontraditional candidates hold appeal.
Carol, a San Fernando Valley small-business owner who asked me not to use her last name, is hanging on to her Republican label. But it's an amended label: A pro-choice Catholic, environmentalist, gay marriage supporting Republican who regrets having voted for Obama and saw much to like in Trump from the moment he began running.
"I just felt like he spoke what was on his mind," she said. "I like that because a lot of politicians say whatever they need to say to get votes from the party they're in."
Carol said she believes in helping those who work, or make an honest effort to find work, and she believes in amnesty for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
But she's tired of paying for what she calls a sense of entitlement.
And she doesn't think of herself as racist for being opposed to illegal immigration or the social costs borne by taxpayers, or for wanting her government to aggressively screen Muslims who are in this country or trying to enter it.
"I don't agree with everything Trump says," Carol told me. And she's not even certain she'll vote for him.
But being rich doesn't mean he's out of touch with working folks, Carol said, just as being a Christian and Republican doesn't mean she fits neatly into anyone's expectations of how she should think.
That rebelliousness is the contagion of this campaign, and it brings me back to Gindick, the blues man.
Maybe one reason he likes Trump, the Democrat told me, is that he doesn't seem like much of a Republican.
"He's an honest broker, I think," said Gindick.
The musician added an assessment that I couldn't disagree with:
"He's a special cat.""
Image caption: "“I like Trump,” says musician Jon Gindick, 68, a registered Democrat, above with his two Labradors at his Ventura home. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)"
Added: "Historic change in voter behavior," rise of independent and unaffiliated voters, Republican and Democrat parties are anachronisms:
1/26/16, Trump rally in Iowa City, Iowa: "Audience members wait for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to pass during a campaign event at the University of Iowa Field House, in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 26, 2016." photo, 1/28/16 McClatchy article.
1/28/16, "At start of campaign, the last gasp of political parties?" McClatchy, David Lightman
"The largest party in America now is no party — with the ranks of people calling themselves independents at the highest level in more than 75 years of polling. The parties do not control the message. People learn about politics from social media instead of traditional means such as mailings or campaign rallies. And the parties are no longer the sole banker of politics. Big-money interests now effectively create shadow parties with extensive networks of donors of their own.
The result: People are tuning out and turning away.
In 2012, average voter turnout for statewide primaries for president, governor and U.S. Senate plunged to its lowest level since the modern primary system became popular in 1972.
“No one likes political parties anymore,” said Jan Leighley, who studies voter behavior at American University, where she is a professor of government. “They no longer have to work through the political process,” added Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute.
It’s a historic change in voter behavior. The Democratic and Republican parties have dominated American politics since the mid-1850s. They grew and prospered as inclusive coalitions that tolerated diverse views for the sake of winning elections and then consolidating power....
“Americans’ attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls,” Gallup reported in January.
Just 29 percent called themselves Democrats last year, it found, “making it safe to conclude that the current (number) is also the low point in Gallup polling history.” Republican loyalty was only 1 percentage point above its recent low of 25 percent three years ago. The bloc of independents reached 40 percent in 2011, and it has stayed at or above that level ever since.
The parties’ challenge is clear in states of all sizes. In New Hampshire, site of the first primary election, at least 40 percent register as “undeclared,” meaning they have no formal affiliation with a political party.
In 2014, California had twice as many voters without a party affiliation as it did 20 years earlier. The same year, Florida had 47 percent more independent voters than a decade earlier.
Most indifferent to parties: young Americans. Nearly half the millennials identified as independents in 2014, Pew found, more than the combined total of those willing to be called either Democrats or Republicans.
“I never want to write down that I’m a Republican,” said Rebecca Sorensen, a sophomore at Penn State. She leans Republican but is reluctant to openly identify with the party because she supports abortion rights.
Historically, children adopted their parents’ political views, including identification with the two major parties. Not anymore.
Millennials get information from sources other than from family dinners, neighbors or campaign brochures. If something piques their interest, they turn to Twitter, text messaging, The Skimm and other modern forms of instant communication.
“If I want to know more, I Google it,” said Jayla Akers, a sophomore at Penn State University.
Political parties are seen as too narrowly focused, too interested in keeping incumbents in office.
They gerrymander congressional districts to maximize their chances so that election after election only a handful of House of Representatives races are true contests. Of the House’s 435 seats, 402 incumbents are considered safe bets for re-election this year, said the nonpartisan Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report....
It’s a far cry from freedom from party or faction that the Founding Fathers envisioned.
“This two-party system quashes independent thought and the courage to take a stance on positions and kills the free market of ideas our country was supposed to be founded on,” said Ellen Read, a political activist in New Hampshire.
Parties for generations did welcome differing views and broader membership.
“The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views,” Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, said in 1967....
Republicans once had a strong bloc of abortion rights supporters, for example, but in 1976 the party formally included in its platform support for a constitutional amendment “to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.” It’s now unmistakably the anti-abortion party....
Democrats also were critical of their own tactics....“It’s true that today’s multifaceted political landscape changes the footprint of national parties,” said Democratic Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But she noted that “in the primaries, we set the rules for the nomination and nothing can replace the unique ability of the national parties to effectively organize and mobilize voters,” and their role in the general election is so detailed it “cannot be replicated externally.”
While independents are gaining clout, so are the big-money groups that now operate as virtual political parties.
Take Freedom Partners, an organization sponsored by brothers Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kan. Last year, the group committed to spend $889 million on politics and policy in 2015 and 2016....
And the Koch network does more than just spend money. Twice each year it hosts about 400 executives, who pay dues of $100,000 each, for meetings on politics and policies....
Other alternatives to the parties also are gearing up. In that world, everyday voters ask, how can they ever be heard? Not through the Republican or Democrats parties, say increasing numbers of voters.
As Peter White, a cabin manager in Nottingham, New Hampshire, put it, “You feel the two parties both work for Wall Street and don’t care who wins.”"
"This version changes the reference to the rise in independents in California to say voters without a party affiliation."
Among comments to McClatchy article: No difference between Republican and Democrat Parties:
"Rip Torn" Parties, seriously I don't see any parties. I just see the Democrats and the Republicans feigning they are two different parties but in reality they are one in the same. The media keeps up the lie as they dupe the electorate."
"Walter Ziobro It's about time. The Democratic and Republican Parties have essentially been philosophically irrelevant since WW2. Prior to that, the Dems were the party of states rights, free trade, and Southern agrarian interests. The Reps were the party of federalism, protectionism, and Northern industrial interests. Since then, both have morphed so much that each has basically been turned inside out, and upside down. Good riddance to both."