Being the first in a series of posts and commentaries on the 2016 Presidential Campaign
I’ve been holding off here on commenting on the presidential campaign since so far, it’s been too uncertain with candidates coming and going, and the standings in the polls changing so often. But now as the primaries are starting, things are getting serious, and it’s time to take a look at the main candidates.
Personally, I consider myself to be a little “left of center”, a moderate liberal or a liberal moderate if you will. I’m not registered as one, but I almost always vote Democratic. So all my thoughts will be colored that way, despite my efforts to be as fair and even-handed as I can.
In alphabetical order, here’s what I have to say on the four main candidates:
While Hilary Clinton can be said to have ridden her husband’s coattails to power, she does have the most experience in national and international politics of any of the candidates. And she has shown over her independent career that she is capable of handling the job. Politically, her experience has made her the most pragmatic of the candidates. She seems the most able of them to actually succeed at the job of president. However, her experience with her attackers on the right wing (almost all of the attacks have been without good cause) has given her a “prickly” personality. She generally responds to attacks by lashing back. Attempts to soften this look fake. You need some “charisma” in order to succeed as a leader, and Clinton has very little. And all the lingering criticism and suspicion will no doubt cripple a Clinton administration. Also, it’s not a good thing to even give the appearance of dynastic politics. You can accept having members of the same family hold office in Congress and in state governments, but when it comes to the White House, seeing the same family name again and again is not what a democracy is supposed to be.
Ted Cruz is what the Tea Party has wrought. Originally, they were a justifiable protest of excessive taxation and inefficient government bureaucracy, and the belief that the federal government was controlled by “insiders” to the detriment of the general public. But this movement quickly became controlled by the extreme right wing, which turned it into a modern “Know Nothing” Party. Anti-immigrant and evangelical Protestant, anyone who isn’t like them is The Enemy. Unfortunately, instead of trying to moderate his positions and attacking the extreme statements of Donald Trump, Cruz has doubled down and is echoing Trump’s “platform” hoping that imitation will help him steal some of the limelight. Appealing to your base is fine in the primaries, but when it comes to the actual election, you’ve got to make your case to the people on the other side. Cruz is going to find it extremely difficult to make that turn.
I must confess that I know very little about Bernie Sanders. So far, I’ve been thinking of him as one of those “Internet Darlings” like Ron Paul and Bitcoins. Fun to talk about, but completely unable to make it in the real world. I see Sanders as an idealist, describing things that Should Be. In fairness, some of those ideas of his really should be the way things are. But in a practical matter, it’s going to be almost impossible to bring them to fruition. Sanders can win the nomination, especially if the right-wing attacks on Clinton continue, but he and his fans will have to understand that in government, there’s a vast difference between what is desirable and what is possible.
Donald Trump ™ is an egomaniacal bully. There’s no way to put a finer point on that. He’s ridden the wave of voter anger and frustration so far, and used his not-inconsiderable charisma to paper over his many flaws, but what he’s shown so far in the campaign is actually dangerous on the international stage. You can disagree with them as much as you like, but you have to treat other nations and their leaders with the same amount of respect as you would like to receive. This is a guy who insults and threatens people willy-nilly, including nobodies on Twitter when they make honest mistakes about his bankruptcy filings 1, gave land to the state of New York with the condition that they make it a state park and name it after him (and only after he wasn’t able to use the land the way he wanted) 2, charged people an exorbitant amount for a “university” where they are supposed to “learn” his “business secrets” 3, and when caught making statements that are outright false 4, seems completely unable or unwilling to admit his error 5. To be fair (which is really, really hard here), his entire career at this point is all about the Trump ™ brand – and to protect that brand identity he has to ignore all the challenges and criticism, no matter how valid they are. But that’s no way to become a president – or actually serve as one. It’s true that you sell the sizzle and not the steak, but you better at least be serving people hamburger 6. So far, Trump ™ hasn’t shown that there’s any sense of rationality or even coherence behind his pronouncements. He’s appealing to the basest nature of Americans. Shouldn’t we want our candidates to appeal to what is best in us?
6. “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
– Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal