According the Pew Research Center, 2016 was a big year for people turning out for the presidential primaries. More than 57.6 million people voted between the Democratic and Republican contests, a number that fell just short of the 2008 record.
Think about that.
With over 28% of eligible voters casting ballots this past spring, it is crystal clear that there were quite a lot of people who wanted a say in who the 45th President of the United States would be. So I remain baffled at recent polling data reported in the Washington Post that shows so many people are dissatisfied with the two candidates they have to choose from this November. OK, so exactly who were over a quarter of American voters going to their polling places to vote for? If the current narrative is to be believed, they must have been voting for Ferris Bueller or Santa Claus, because according to the Post’s research, and who am I to question this august publication, neither Trump nor Clinton are likely to change Americans’ generally pessimistic feeling about the state of American politics after November. This malaise is probably not helped the infinitesimally small chance of any third-party candidate successfully winning White House…and this was before the Libertarian candidate for President shoved a grenade into his campaign on national television by admitting he had no idea what Aleppo was. Ouch. It would seem that the guy from behind the deli counter and the neighbor’s cat are re-emerging as America’s best hope at ending the hyperpolarization and gridlock in Washington. My apologies go out to delicatessen proprietors and feline lovers everywhere.
So what happened? Well, as it was, it appears that neither Democrats nor Republicans had much to complain about during the primaries, with a grand total of 23 major candidates who announced their intention to seek the nomination of one of the two parties. Republican voters are in the worst position to bemoan their nominee for President in 2016. There were twelve candidates for GOP voters to pick from when the primary season began in Iowa on February 1, 2016. An additional five candidates dropped out before the primaries even began and that may have made a significant difference in who the nominee would ultimately have been if only support for those five had been greater. Yet they still wound up with Donald Trump…but how? This was a guy who seems to have based his quixotic campaign for President in 2012 on demands to see Barack Obama’s birth certificate and college transcripts and ended it only when NBC renewed Celebrity Apprentice for the 2011 season.
The answer was disturbingly simple. The GOP establishment assumed, incorrectly, that Trump was going to be a flash in the pan; a fringe candidate who would quickly wither away under the unforgiving scrutiny of the press due to his total lack of policy proposals and sheer naked bigotry. But the base of the party, who the GOP had inadvertently yet carefully cultivated to be drawn to authoritarian loudmouths courtesy of a steady diet of Fox News and right-wing radio fed over the span of nearly 20 years, loved and adored him. He was entertaining. A real celebrity running for President! He was giving the people what the Roman satirist Juvenal called bread and circuses…and were they ever happy! The activist Republican base wanted only two things in their candidate: someone to spout unceasing hatred of the Democrats and loudly marginalize people who the right-wing media had long deemed undesirable. Anyone who would assume that mantle in the most vocal way would have little trouble getting the nomination. It was amazing to watch. Nobody knew how to deal with him. I almost think some of the other candidates in the GOP failed to confront him simply because they were afraid that either Trump himself or one of his supporters would actually physically assault them. It was, to coin a well-worn phrase, a disaster. The Republicans had 17 total options and the one candidate who absolutely could not be managed or controlled by the party elite, who would not stay on point, who was actually a Democrat as early as 2008, is the guy they picked as their standard bearer. When the Dallas Morning News hasn’t endorsed a Democrat for President since Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, not even fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but nevertheless feels compelled to endorse the one now because of your current nominee, you know you have a problem and a big one. Well, he’s yours now. Have a blast.
As for the Democrats, only six major candidates were ever in the running for the nomination and that number was quickly whittled down to two after Iowa was all said and done. But I have yet to hear of a single Democrat who laments the fact that Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee or Lawrence Lessig didn’t make it to the primaries. As for the eventual nominee herself, I sometimes wonder whether the opposition to Hillary Clinton lay almost exclusively in the common perception that it was “her turn” to be the nominee. Let no one deny that long before she even announced her candidacy, there was a general consensus that her nomination was “inevitable” and that any challengers would be squashed like a bug. Maybe so. The problem is that people generally dislike the feeling of entitlement for anybody. Nobody likes a coronation.
Enter Bernie Sanders. Once decried as a heretic by many progressives for openly suggesting President Obama be primaried from the left during his bid for re-election in 2012, he became a darling among those seeking somebody other than “the chosen one” on the Democratic ticket. In any other year, he probably wouldn’t have even made it past the first few primaries. Even his announcement wasn’t taken very seriously: a hastily arranged press conference in Washington on April 30, 2015 after which he just walked back inside and returned to work. But looks can be deceiving and it turned out there was a genuine desire for somebody to stand in opposition to “The Clinton Machine” (remember that phrase?) and at least give her a run for her money. At worst he could pull her a little to the left. At best he could secure the nomination so why not? And so there was much crying, screaming and gnashing of teeth in the Democratic Party. Had it not been for Sanders, Clinton could have strolled through the primaries, secure the nomination and have all the time in the world prepare for the Republican nominee who was certainly not going to be Donald Trump. Wasn’t it supposed to be Jeb Bush? Things never work out the way anybody plans. I think many progressives came after Clinton because they simply wanted a choice and to be honest it could have been anybody. The base of the party just lucked out with Sanders. But the race to Philadelphia became so embittered that even now so many Democrats remain upset and therefore ambivalent about their choice in November. Remember, it wasn’t just the GOP waving signs that said “Never Hillary”. She isn’t electrifying. She isn’t revolutionary. But like the Republicans, she’s yours now. Have a blast.
I really don’t believe Americans are that pessimistic about their choices at the ballot box this year. My impression is that because of a very tumultuous primary season for both parties, coupled with very early conventions, we are just getting worn down by the near saturation coverage of who the final two are. In this nonstop blitz of talking heads analyzing every move each candidate makes, more warts are coming out than most of us are prepared to tolerate.
The Republican Party clearly has the most amount of buyer’s remorse. Donald Trump’s persona is no longer the hard and practical businessman who talks tough and channels the anger of the common man. Now he’s just a blithering idiot; a bombastic demagogue with little or no grasp of domestic or foreign policy and completely uninterested in the nuances and complexities that are a part of national governance. In short, we are being confronted with terrifying reality that the man the Republican Party chose as their candidate in 2016 is in no way qualified to be the next President. He is in constant state of agitation; always appearing unhinged, unbalanced, unprepared and sometimes just good old-fashioned nuts. Is this an act? Does he even want the job? It would certainly be a step down in both pay and residence as far as what he is accustomed to. Donald Trump has been vilified by the press and 99% of the time rightfully so. But whether he believes it or not, there is such a thing as bad press and his will hang around his neck like an albatross until Election Day.
As for Hillary Clinton, she is more than qualified for the job, but as her round-the-clock coverage continues, she is actually emerging as a fairly dull candidate. She has strong and sensible policy positions and would make a highly effective Chief Executive. Regrettably, it also makes her stunningly boring for a television audience that craves political intrigue. Hence, this ceaseless obsession with emails and trying to find something, anything to make her interesting to the mainstream media. Nothing makes for good ratings like scandals. But I’m curious to know when Americans suddenly became fixated on the idea that everyone running for higher office must be pure of heart in word and deed? Hillary Clinton is often called “untrustworthy” and “a liar” with little evidence to support anyone’s contention that whatever lies she may have told or whatever breaches of trust may have occurred in her years of public service actually disqualify her for the Presidency. That is the perception, however, whether she likes it or not, and like Trump’s perceived lunacy, it’s a problem that will dog her to Election Day.
America, for better or for worse, these are the people you have picked. These are the candidates you wanted. You had plenty of other options earlier, but as I once wrote, only one of these two has any mathematical chance of becoming the 45th President of the United States. You can’t go back in time and it’s a hell of a wait until 2020. Election Day is coming up fast and it is ill-advised that any American relinquishes their sacred right to vote in these uncertain times and just sit at home. So choose…
But choose wisely.