Washington,DC-It took me considerable time to appreciate just how strange this presidential election has been.
Being enough of a historian to recognize that finding something new under the sun is unlikely, I recalled the seriously dirty elections of the past and the ad hominem commentary that characterized them.Thomas Jefferson accused of having sexual intercourse with his slaves.Andrew Jackson characterized as a wild man from out of the West who would militarize the United States. Jefferson denounced him as “one of the most unfit men I know for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws or constitutions. He is a dangerous man. " Lincoln described as a “shambling ape."Grover Cleveland accused of fathering an illegitimate child with a prostitute.Ronald Reagan excoriated as a political lightweight actor upstaged by a chimpanzee in the movie “Bedtime for Bonzo.”
Consequently, I viewed much of the Republican slanging as risible albeit reprehensible. And I seriously regretted trashing Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment”—thou shall speak no ill of any other Republican.
Observers have bewailed Trump as a terrible choice for the Republican nomination. But it was not for lack of qualified alternatives. Clearly Republicans believed that, given an “open presidency,” history was on their side with Democrats unlikely to get a third mandate. Consequently, they advanced 17 candidates featuring a wide range of former and current senators and governors, a female former CEO, and a world-renowned African-American pediatric surgeon. And billionaire Donald Trump, who was viewed more as comic relief for his tag phrase, “You’re fired” on his TV show “The Apprentice.”
But the “serious” candidates missed the changing tides. They discounted/dismissed the angst viscerally projected by those who believed millions of “illegal aliens” (What don’t you understand about illegal?) and porous borders threatened U.S. sovereignty. And the presence of these aliens combined with “unfair” trade agreements had cost them the good manufacturing jobs now moved overseas. Plus the “illegals” competed for remaining jobs at wages far below those of the lost manufacturing jobs. To recall a phrase, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Trump vibrated to their discord.
Additionally, Republican candidates seemed disconcerted by Trump’s in-your-face personal insult tactics. He was not playing by “League of Woman Voters” (or normal debate format) rules. So it was “little Mario” Rubio with descriptions of the size of one’s hands as a euphuism for another body part. And Jeb Bush “lacked energy”—presumably because he wasn’t screaming insults. And he connected Senator Cruz’s father with JFK’s assassination. And former HP CEO Carly Fiorina was “ugly.” This was reality show in political costume—and Trump was its master.
By "Super Tuesday” on 1 March, it was clear Trump would secure the Republican nomination. Anticipating defeat, Republicans needed to focus on saving the House and Senate.
In contrast, the Democrats anticipated a Hillary Clinton “coronation.” After being thwarted by Obama in 2008, it was “her turn”—and the lure of electing the first female president would galvanize the electorate. But a funny thing happened…Bernie Sanders. A not-even-a-Democrat, left wing socialist from Vermont entranced youth. Hillary was yesterday’s woman, their mother’s candidate, and a reminder of the lies-lies-lies associated with her husband’s presidency when oral sex and the Oval Officer were conterminous. Ultimately, Hillary beat back the challenge but revealed political fragility, particularly associated with her casual handling of classified e-mails on a personal/nonsecure computer while she was Secretary of State.
The months following the respective party conventions have been brutal. No charge has been too scurrilous to omit. Decades of Trump’s alleged invidious activity with women have dribbled out. (Why none of them bit his tongue remains puzzling?) Clinton’s alleged failures as SecState (Benghazi, Iran, Syria, etc) have been enumerated. The media—implacably pro-Clinton—have excoriated Trump in every edition, amusingly calling on Republicans to reject Trump (when not even a Second Coming endorsement would persuade them to support a Republican).
Moreover, e-mail has again risen with 650,000 found on the computer of Clinton’s closest aide’s husband—prompting the FBI director to reopen the investigation he had previously concluded by clearing Clinton of any illegality. Absurdly careless, but not illegal.
The conclusion is a choice between the two most distrusted candidates in modern political history. The level of distrust is palatable.
A Clinton victory remains likely, given Democratic domination of key Electoral College states, but her victory is more likely to be a “reloading break” than creating political comity.