I have just marked my ballot in the 2016 USA election. I’m voting early, so even though it’s not the “Eve” of formal election day in November, it’s sort of the “eve” or later for me.
Ugh. What a mess. All through this US Presidential election “season” – which is to say the last year or 18 months – I’ve found myself wondering “How in the world did we get to this point?”
Democrats– For the Democrats, I suppose there was a certain inevitability to Hillary. That was also supposed to be the case in 2008, but that year produced a candidate that was more attractive to Democrats and so Obama was able to overcome the “inevitability” of Clinton – with relative ease, as it turned out. Not so, this time. Hillary filled those years since 2008 building a resume, like an earnest student seeking to impress her prospective employers with her well-roundedness and achievements. Through her public offices and her foundation, she stayed in the public eye and at the center of party politics and fattened up her personal wealth and political capital.
Inevitable? Despite all that, if there had been another “Obama-like” candidate this year, she would have been beaten again in the primaries. She, and her story, are just so unappealing that a credible alternative could have won. But, the field of announced candidates (remember them? I can’t name them all…) did not have a credible alternative and when Joe Biden announced he would not run, then the race was mostly over. The only truly remarkable aspect of the Democrat primary process was that an unknown Socialist like Bernie Sanders would have given her as much opposition as he did. Its due in small part, I think, to Sanders himself, but in large part to the macro trends in the electorate and the disdain that a significant minority of the Democrat party faithful has for Clinton.
Are you Surprised by ANYTHING she says or does? No one is, or should be, surprised by any of the revelations about Clinton that have arisen or re-emerged during the primary and general election campaigns. The “old” Clinton scandals, Benghazi, the email server, the smarmy, but typical “inside baseball” of party politics and intrigue, the general “I’m above the law and those rules don’t apply to me” attitude. This doesn’t surprise those who love her or hate her – we’ve know this generally for years and the WikiLeaks revelations from hacked emails only confirm and add details to the story of her character. It’s hard to imagine any revelation we could hear about her at this point would change anyone’s mind – not even that 5-15% of the electorate that will chose the president. You know what you’re getting with Clinton, both in terms of her character and her policies. In the end, I think a large part of her support comes from those with the “Never Trump” sentiment.
Republicans – For the Republicans, it’s a different story, but one with some themes also found in the Democrat primary process. As the various candidates announced they were running, I was pleased and excited about the depth, breath and quality of the field. Wow! There was every sort of candidate you could imagine. For those who think diversity is one of the highest values, we had that in spades – blacks, browns, women, men, old, young, religious and not, insiders, outsiders, Easterners, Westerners, Southerners, Midwesterners. Etc. Those who complain that there’s never any “real” choice and that all of the politicians are “the same” could not have asked for a better group than those 15 (or more?) candidates. (Remember that we had too many bona fide candidates to fit them all onto the stage, so we had to have JV debates for the lower-polling folks!)
Wasn’t Bush “Inevitable” Too? The early theme that the media and pundits pushed was that 2016 was destined to be another “Bush vs. Clinton” event. Jeb Bush had an operation that paralleled what Clinton was doing with the Democrats. He was supposed to be “inevitable” as well. Bush was never my favorite, but early on in the process I concluded that I could accept as the GOP nominee Bush or any of the other sitting or past governors, although some were much stronger than others. I accept the conventional wisdom that US senators are traditionally at a disadvantage compared to governors in terms of campaigning and governing. And, given that this person would be running against a very unlikable Clinton, just about any of the governors could have won the general election.
So many fine alternatives, but we got Trump. But, as the field narrowed, the governors fell away. Then I convinced myself that Rubio was the best of the remaining choices, although he is, in various ways, a “Republican Obama” – good-looking, smooth talking, with an interesting personal story and a record of having achieved nothing. Rubio melted down, and then in the end, it was Cruz, Kasich and Trump. Around this time, I realized that there was not a happy ending in sight.
Cruz is too narrow, doctrinaire and unlikable. Kasich has some admirable traits, and a better resume for this job than just about any of the others, but this was not a year when strong resumes would prevail. Until it narrowed down to those three, Trump was never someone who I imagined could obtain a majority of the GOP primary electorate.
Failure to Rally behind One Strong Candidate. In hindsight, it’s clear that the reason Trump won is because there was not a single person in the 15+ candidates who could assemble the majority of voters needed to beat the 25-40% who truly supported Trump. Had Kasich not selfishly stayed in to the end, perhaps (but only perhaps) Cruz could have won over enough of the doubters. But the process and mindset changed at a certain point and at that stage, a sense of resignation and futility took over. No one other than Trump could achieve a majority, so the rest of the folks folded their tents and went home. Today, despite severe misgivings, most Republicans will vote for Trump. (A recent poll said 74% of Republicans will vote for Trump vs. 78% of Democrats who will vote for Clinton. I suspect that many Republicans are embarrassed to say publicly that they will vote for Trump and the real number is higher.) And this is true even for the evangelicals who are truly conflicted about what to do.
Are you surprised by ANYTHING he says or does? Trump – or at least the Trump we see campaigning for President – is a disaster. Say whatever you like about his devoted supporters, but it’s certainly easy to conclude that HE is “deplorable.” But I’ve been disappointed to see some of those who supported him earlier drop away because of the dirty talk caught on tape and revealed in October. I’m disappointed because I can’t see how the revelation that he said crude things was the least bit surprising. He’s a serial adulterer on his third marriage with a full and undeniable record of standing for everything OTHER THAN “family values.” We may not know much about what Trump would do as president, but we certainly know about the man’s character. Like Clinton, many of Trump’s personal and political attributes are off-putting and worse. If you vote for Trump, you do so not because you admire much of anything about his character or values. In the end, I think a large part of his support comes from those with the “Never Hillary” sentiment.
In the end, you choose. So, that’s how we got here. Pundits say we’ve never had an election where both candidates were so disliked. That’s true, at least in my voting lifetime. Part of that is because the candidates themselves are so weak, and part of it is because the culture and media delight in tearing them down and exposing every real or imagined flaw. How could we NOT have a low opinion of them both?
But one of them will be our next president.