For a moment, let’s step back from Hillary vs. Bernie, and Trump vs. … well, Trump, and address what might be the more important question – at least as it pertains to all of the rest of us.
Are the 20 candidates who started this presidential-election process the absolute best we can come up with? Or, as one friend recently said to me: “We’ve having a presidential election and the roster of candidates is worse than the Lakers’ roster.”
There are quick, talking-point answers to that question, of course: For the Democrats, the prospect of the Clinton coronation was proffered as a foregone conclusion and likely tamped down expectations. Understood, in theory. Maybe not so much in reality.
And, cutting across both parties, there’s this other interesting phenomenon – namely, that the candidates generating the most excitement and attention as well as significant support – Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – can easily be seen as “primary candidates” only. You know, intriguing “diversions” who could never get elected in a national election.
A momentary aside: Despite the fact that many commentators link these three to voters’ “never-before-seen” disdain and disgust with the status quo, the respective manias we’re experiencing with each aren’t necessarily new. Think Gene McCarthy …
From the Los Angeles Times:
Sanders’ ideas have stirred the ideological fervor of old progressives and young millennials, just as Eugene McCarthy once did when those old progressives were young students protesting a war.
… or George McGovern, Ronald Reagan (the first time around) or Howard Dean and others.
From USA Today:
Dean himself has jumped into the comparison game.
“There’s certainly an insurgency,” Dean said of Sanders in a recent Washington Post article. “An attractive candidate is basically calling out the Democrats, much the way I did in 2004.”
But, stepping back, one (at least this one) still can’t get away from the fact that the weakness of the overall field is startling in a country of 320 million-plus people. (Look, Canada, with its population of less than 40 million, now has Justin Trudeau and … uh, never mind.)
Moving back to the U.S. …
On the Democratic side, we’ve addressed the Bernie phenomenon above. As for Hillary, short and sweet might be best – damaged; defensive; feeling of entitlement; doesn’t connect with a large proportion of people … including those who probably will end up voting for her.
From The Hill:
“Her challenge remains the same as it always has been — show voters who she is and reveal the person beneath the candidate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “To win people’s trust and to generate enthusiasm, she has to let some of her character come out.”
“She has so many qualifications: experience, knowledge, partisan skill,” Zelizer said, adding that the likability factor “is what she needs to work on.”
And then there’s Martin O’Malley. Could O’Malley have been a more-compelling figure, given that he’s been angling for this opportunity for eight years? Or is Martin O’Malley, unfortunately, simply who we always thought he was – and nothing more?
Are Gavin Newsom, Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo simply too damaged?
Is Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service,” unfortunately John Hickenlooper, the self-described “recovering geologist now on loan to public service.”
Is it too soon for Corey Booker and either of the Castro twins from Texas?
Did Jerry Brown shed his Gov. Moonbean too late in life?
From the Los Angeles Times:
To watch Jerry Brown is to marvel at just how many political lives he can squeeze into his years on stage.
This Brown, who Thursday put on a conservative suit and tie to read his speech, was inconceivable in 1992 when he was storming the country in a black turtleneck — his ranting and ultimately unsuccessful presidential campaign spurred by anger and little else.
On the GOP side, the dearth of candidates was not a problem. But, similar to the Democrats’ issue, the Bush coronation that many expected got derailed because the candidate has warts – or simply was doing something he really didn’t want to do.
Quickly, working through most of the group: Ben Carson leveraged his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast evisceration of President Obama into a presidential run that mystifies many; Marco Rubio is doing well at times but still seems as if he’s on the stage four years too soon; Cruz is busy being Cruz, and arrogantly believing his shtick will translate into a national campaign; Bush is flummoxed; Carly Fiorina quickly rose to prominence and then quickly disappeared; Chris Christie and John Kasich, representing the GOP’s grown-up lane, are at the respective edges of the stage screaming and trying to get attention; Rand Paul is not understanding that his attention-getting antics on the Senate floor were years ago and he isn’t being noticed. (I’ll leave out those who sat at the kiddie table at the debates. Nothing new to say about that other than George … George Pataki?)
So a vacuum was created and Trump was more than happy to jump into it, full throated and with a clever strategy in his pocket. The strategy: play to people’s emotions with bumper-sticker proclamations, jingoistic talking points worthy of the old No-Nothing Party.
From The New Yorker:
He is the latest representative of an anti-immigrant, nativist American tradition that dates back at least to the Know-Nothings of the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties. On the other hand, Trump is a twenty-first-century celebrity politician who ruthlessly exploits his fame and his insider knowledge of how the media works to maximum effect.
He also possesses a dedicated avoidance of real issues. All of this buttressed by a vapor-like debate strategy that emphasized the message that he is positioned at the center of the stage because his poll numbers are the best.
(Another aside: One can’t help but wonder when poll numbers became a credible substitute for credentials, as in, “Of course, I’m qualified, my poll numbers are higher than anyone else on the stage.”)
And, so, we move forward with the expectation that Iowa and New Hampshire will start to bring us clarity. Unfortunately, as things become clearer, all we will find out is that the final two unfortunately came from the original list of 20. And, unlike the Lakers, we won’t even get a draft choice or be able to sign a free agent.