Well, the silly season is thoroughly upon us and, though hard to believe, it’s even sillier than usual. The leading Republican is P.T. Barnum; the leading Democrat is Madame Chiang Kai Shek. Only in America.
Our P.T. Barnum, like the first one, is a self-promoting populist showman, financier, and sponsor of beauty pageants who has made a ton of money. Our Madame Chiang, also like the first one, is devious, power-mad, scandal-prone, and able to attract large numbers of Americans who know this but don’t care.
Things are so crazy now that polls indicate up to 20% of Democrats might vote for Donald Trump. Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio still might elbow him aside, however, and Hillary Clinton is under investigation by the FBI and may well be indicted.
In 1945, Boston Democrats re-elected Mayor James Michael Curley while he was under federal indictment for bribery and mail fraud; and, earlier in his career, he won a seat on Boston’s Board of Aldermen while he actually was in jail. Hillary might tap into that same reservoir of political flexibility if she’s forced to change from an orange pants suit to an orange jump suit, but probably not. If an indictment does derail her nomination, who would step in? Sanders? Biden? There’s always Al Gore.
As for The Donald, “establishment” Republicans are embarrassed by him. He’s arrogant, bombastic, and crude. But regular folks like it when Trump delivers his unapologetic, if sometimes incoherent, lectures on the issues of the day. Nikki Haley called him “an angry voice.” He responded, in effect, “Hell, yes!,” and voters cheered. Lots of Americans, your humble correspondent included, relish the fact that he doesn’t take any crap from politically correct journalists, condescending academics, or the racist bullies from #BlackLivesMatter.
Trump, in fact, does have a genuinely populist appeal similar to that of Bernie Sanders (who also is unapologetic and incoherent) though Sanders won’t be his party’s nominee any more than Hillary will be Miss Congeniality in Trump’s next Miss Universe pageant.
And speaking of Hillary, polls consistently show that voters think she’s a “strong leader” but also that she’s dishonest and untrustworthy because of Benghazi, the emails, and the Clinton Foundation. Her supporters can’t say why they think she’s a strong leader, however, because they can’t cite any actual accomplishments. That’s because there are none. Hillary is all “I am woman, hear me roar” but has never gotten a job on the strength of her own achievement. This great, independent, feminist icon has always piggy-backed on her husband’s career.
The New York state Democratic Party handed her its senate nomination (and, thus, the election) in 2000 and Barack Obama handed her the SecState job in 2009 solely because she was Mrs. Bill Clinton. She did nothing in the Senate and was a disaster as SecState. Some icon!
So Democrats are watching her incredible shrinking presidency slowly disappear again as it did in 2008 when Old Hope-and-Change came out of nowhere and took it from her.
For now, we have the Showman versus the Dragon Lady. God help us if we can’t do better than that though we might take some small comfort from the fact that this has been said of other elections.
Interestingly, the original Barnum became a successful politician, serving in the Connecticut state legislature and as mayor of Bridgeport. The original Madame Chiang, however, always lived in the shadow of her husband despite her attempts to forge power on her own.
As a manager, Trump knows how to gather qualified people around himself and let them do their jobs. Clearly, he would be a better president than Hillary. But that isn’t saying much. The craziness of this campaign season doesn’t speak well of the current state of America’s political culture and doesn’t bode well for our future. Whoever is elected this year, it is troubling that we have come to this.