By Donna Brazile
There were two Republican debates this week, one year out from the election. The fourth major Republican presidential debate was supposed to whittle down the number of candidates, but instead, the lesser polling candidates -- former Govs. Jeb Bush and John Kasich, along with Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz -- turned in strong debate performances.
Rubio and Cruz increased their grip on footholds near the top tier. Meanwhile, business mogul Donald Trump may have slipped (mostly from delivering insults that the crowd booed), while former neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson kept his place at the top, despite a media dustup over his biography. But what was significant about the Republican debate was how much it sounded like the Anti-Federalists at the Constitutional Convention.
The Anti-Federalists waged a strong battle in many state legislatures, including tactics such as preventing a quorum, to stop the creation of a strong federal government. Today's GOP candidates seem to want to continue the struggle.
Cruz promised to abolish the IRS, and the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development. Sen. Rand Paul said, "I want a government really, really small. So small you can barely see it."
Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Trump each emphasized that their first acts, taken together, would be to repeal the entirety of the Obama administration, especially those regulations put in place to prevent a repeat of the 2008 recession.
"Dodd-Frank is a great example of how socialism starts," Fiorina snapped. About Obamacare, she opined, "Let us try the one thing in health insurance we've never tried, the free market." (Which was all we ever had before Obamacare).
David Frum, the senior editor of The Atlantic, tweeted, "Will there one day be a candidate on that stage who lives in America, not the conservative ideological bubble?"
With the exception of Bush, Kasich and Rubio on some issues, five of the eight candidates for president on the Fox Business Channel's main stage were to the right of former Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party's 1964 nominee.
After the night's rules were explained, moderator Neil Cavuto said, "It sounds like a game show, but it's not." By the end of the night, writer Jeffrey Smith tweeted, "It's all fun and games until you remember: these are real people, real candidates, that real people support and (will) vote for. #GOPDebate." Indeed.
For well over a decade, every major national poll has shown that voters feel the nation is still "on the wrong track." The divide between Republican and Democratic voters is so wide, it's easy to see why each would think that the other's way of governing has sent America shooting off the rails.
Real Clear Politics' average of several polls' data revealed that 64 percent of the voters believe the country is on the wrong track. A CBS poll found that 53 percent of the public are dissatisfied with Washington, but are not angry; while 27 percent are both unhappy and angry. Republicans are the most likely to be angry (34 percent), while only half as many (17 percent) of the Democrats feel that way.
We don't know the winners yet and we cannot predict the eventual outcome. It's still dating season. And voters like to shop around. But here's what's driving this unpredictable season, especially with conservatives:
There are genuine anxieties driving the feeling that the country is on the wrong track. To paraphrase my raging Cajun friend and colleague James Carville, "It's still the economy, stupid." From stagnant wages, rising income inequality, growing debt and more, these issues are cleaving divisions in the Democratic Party, where Sen. Bernie Sanders has said that he's ready to highlight real and sharp differences with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Voters want change. Many don't understand that dysfunction in Washington is a direct result of the extremes on the left and right that, in turn, prevent common agreement on issues. We have turned our two major parties into minority parties, causing more moderate voters to huddle, almost shaking, in the middle, not quite knowing what to do.
With one more year before we head to the polls, it's time we pay attention to the candidates, watch the debates, look at the websites, ask tough questions, donate, volunteer and yes, get ready to vote. The last time I checked, it's still we the people, not we the parties or super PACs, lobbyists or even pundits like myself.
The greatest fear I have this cycle is that after a long, uncertain, unpredictable and volatile primary season, many of us will give up and stay home. Don't do that.
The process of choosing a candidate who shares your values and believes in the future of our great nation will continue throughout this next year. In order for us to become a more perfect union, we must remain engaged. The outcome is up to us.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.