Trump realized his campaign was in danger of humiliating defeat after the Access Hollywood tape. So what to do? Discredit the outcome. According to an NBC-SurveyMonkey poll, 45 percent of Republicans, primed by Trump, might not accept the results of the election. Might that make it all the harder for Clinton to govern? What did he care? Trump was prepared to pull down the temple’s pillars.
Hands down, the nearly two-week span between the first two presidential debates culminated in probably the most disturbing and extraordinary weekend in all of presidential campaign history. What set it all off was the release late Friday afternoon, via The Washington Post, of a tape, mainly audio, of the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States bragging about how he sexually assaulted women.
The debate took place against the backdrop of an essentially tied presidential race. But while Trump was clearly winging it after the beginning, Clinton had an effective plan that she executed flawlessly. Her strategy was based on her belief that she could defeat Trump in the election on the basis of his character and personality.
Within the space of less than two weeks the political talk switched from Clinton having a possibly unbreakable grip on the Electoral College vote to how much Trump has gained on her. How did this happen? Why isn’t the far more qualified candidate creaming an opponent so clearly unfit for presidency? What is it about Clinton that puts so many people off?
When it comes to lying to the public and the press, Trump has Clinton beat hands down, and a growing number of journalists are becoming troubled by what they recognize as their own double-standard in dealing with the two. Clinton’s deceptions, essentially on one subject, have invited a great deal of scrutiny while Trump has engaged in such a torrent of prevarications that they can’t be kept up with.
In Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton needed not a makeover but a stripping away of the layers of self-protectiveness and caution. Throughout the week, the momentousness of the history being made competed with the Clinton campaign’s quite evident strategic goals. But then, when the first woman presidential candidate appeared on the stage to claim the nomination, the importance of that moment was impossible to dismiss.
The strategy and tone that lay behind this week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, and that have lain behind Donald Trump’s campaign from its outset, reflect a strain that has existed in the Republican Party for nearly fifty years. That is, to play on the politics of fear, hatred, and race.
The week that began with our annual national celebration ended in a cacophony of charges and misdirected attacks and the prospect of more ugliness as the two most disliked candidates in our history seek an acceptance that keeps eluding them. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both came face to face with their deepest and possibly fatal flaws.
The tipping point on whether to try to deny Trump the nomination could occur if his poll numbers threaten to take down members of Congress. “There’s a direct correlation between tolerance for the insane things Trump does…and good poll numbers,” Dan Senor, a confidante of House Speaker Paul Ryan, said last week. “The moment those poll numbers drop tolerance goes down.”
It’s by now clear that the presidential election of 2016 is something larger than and apart from just another quadrennial contest for the highest office; it’s a national crisis. The crisis will last as long as there’s a possibility that someone totally unsuited for that office could win it.
The agonies this country’s two major political parties are going through were foreshadowed last fall, but in both cases it’s worse than anyone expected. The rebellions by anti-establishment populists on both sides have produced two divided parties. And in the case of the all-but-official nominees, Trump and Hillary Clinton, we have the unusual situation of two imperiled candidates.
The long arc of Trump’s thinking makes it less surprising that a reality television star and wealthy businessman is a nominee for the presidency. Trump’s pasting his name on everything he can get his hands on has had a long-term political as well as economic purpose. Trump is the first brand to run for president.
With finalists in both parties questioning the legitimacy of the presidential nominating process, the 2016 election is once again presenting the country a hitherto unimagined spectacle. Though each likely final candidate will have a clump of strong supporters, most people will be casting their ballot for the one they dislike less. That’s not the healthiest start to the next presidency.
Trump commented on Wednesday that if the nomination is taken from him, “You’d have riots.” If he is the nominee there remains that possibility of a third party formed, among other things to give Republican politicians a place to go until the storm blows over. But whatever ultimately becomes of their candidacies, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are atop movements that won’t go away.
The first half of March 2016 may well go down as the turning point in this election and one of the most consequential periods in the history of nomination politics. It could presage the death of the traditional Republican Party and the birth of a third party. For the Democrats, it may show that the party’s split runs deeper than many have recognized.
The collapse of the Republican Party, which has been foreshadowed since last fall, if not before, is now taking place before us. The probably unstoppable candidacy of Donald Trump—who won seven states on this so-called Super Tuesday—bears witness to the broad rebellion against the Republican Party establishment.
This country is facing the extraordinary situation of an election year in which control of all three branches of government is up for grabs. The confluence of a Supreme Court vacancy—a seat that could be the Court’s deciding vote—with presidential and congressional campaigns raises the stakes to an unusual height.
Clinton’s campaign is now shadowed by the questions of whether the FBI director will recommend prosecution for mishandling classified information, a standard that requires knowledge and intent, and if that happens, what the Justice Department and the White House will decide.
In the presidential campaign, both parties are so divided as to raise the question of whether any victor will be able to govern. The anger, fear, resentment, racism, and frustration that are playing into the current political climate make for a situation prone to undermining our democratic system.
Though Jeb Bush set out to run for president with the line, “I am my own man,” he has discovered that being George W’s brother is quite a burden. What is arguable about the events of 9/11 is whether they could have been stopped; what isn’t arguable is that George W. Bush didn’t try. The 9/11 Commission avoided assigning individual blame in order to get a unanimous report, and it deliberately avoided saying whether the attacks could have been prevented, though it was apparent that some commissioners believed this to be the case.
Though the turmoil over the House leadership will end at some point, and there will be a presidential election in November 2016, less clear is whether this country will be governable, or whether the inchoate rage felt by so many will be contained. One might wonder how John Boehner survived as long as he did.
The presidential campaign has gone from peculiar to worrisome. This isn’t only because of who’s ahead in the polls at the moment, but also what an accumulation of polls and anecdotal evidence tell us about the state of the electorate, and what that portends. Of big concern is whether there can be any mediation between the “governors” and the stronger-than-ever anti-government forces. Will whoever is elected be able to govern?
There are numerous uncertainties about what will happen on November 8 of 2016, but one thing is not in doubt: it will be a very peculiar election, and not just because there are, as of now, so many candidates. It’s also that some candidates were running before they announced. And it will almost certainly be the most expensive election in history, with the wealthiest in the land able to have more influence than ever.