Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Eight People Walk Into A Bar

The Iowa weed-whacker has started to clear the underbrush.  Huck, O’Malley, Rand Paul, and Santorum have felt its cold steel. Whack, Whack, Whack.

So, where does that leave us? The Hawkeye State has spoken, and the die has been cast, the narrative is written. Hillary Clinton takes it (the caucus, the nomination) after an exhilarating, brave effort by Sanders. Clinton’s candidacy still hangs by a thread, although eventually she will prevail, limping her way to the convention, which will be so unenthusiastic that they cancel the balloon drop when the balloons go on strike.   On the other side of the island, Cruz, Trump, and Rubio shall battle for the right to put on the red tights and cape to slay the Evil One.  Trump, of course, will eventually implode due to lack of ground game, ego breakdown, and an onslaught of Bible-bearing legions with Southern accents.  Then, that Son of the Sunshine State, the inexhaustibly charismatic and articulate Marco-The-Magnificent, will rescue the Republic (and the Republican Party) and order will be restored to the land.  The tears of a grateful nation will follow.

As someone who had planned on writing about this through November, I find myself incredibly deflated. 2016, I had thought, would provide me with an almost inexhaustible amount of material.  This just isn’t fair.  If we already know what is going to happen, I will be forced to return to reading Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome for material.  In all honestly, once you’ve seen the Colosseum, the placing of the laurel wreath on Marco’s head doesn’t pack the same emotional punch.

As a matter of self-preservation, I am going argue the contrary.  I don’t quite believe it all.  Let’s start with the Democrats. I am aware of the enthusiasm gap.  In my neck of the woods (pretty liberal woods, but Realpolitik liberal woods) I know no one who is jazzed about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.  Sanders will take New Hampshire, he is gaining a great deal of admiration, and support, especially from younger people (including my daughter), he may begin to define a new type of political activism for the future (not bad for a 74-year old with funny hair) but the Bern is going to burn out.  Hillary Clinton will be in Philly for a flaccid fete with deflated fifty-somethings.

It sounds plausible, but I think there’s something missing—Benghazi and the emails.  The GOP plans to beat her with a club—a few candidates are even promising jail in 2017 if they are elected.  Maybe they do succeed and drive her from the race, and Biden/O’Malley
steps back in.  Or, it’s just more of the same—the leaks, the accusations, the coordinated news stories and editorials.  Will this damage Hillary, who already has truth and authenticity issues?  Absolutely, and she deserves some of it.  But, I have a strange feeling this may be more invigorating than enervating.  Democrats need a little steel in their spine, and ten more months of dirty pool may cause them to hold their collective noses and march to the polls because they will have finally figured out how high the stakes are.  That does not necessarily make for a win, but it means a fight, something Democrats have forgotten how to do.

As for the Republicans, I’m not buying into the “triumvirate” concept quite yet.  It’s early February.  It’s Iowa—a state that has a unique combination of very conservative conservatives and very liberal liberals.  And, Cruz and Rubio benefitted from special circumstances that may not happen again.  On Sunday, Cruz had hundreds of pastors at hundreds of pulpits pushing for him. And Teddy played a nasty little game, telling Carson voters at various caucuses that Carson was dropping out.  How much that influenced people is hard to know, but it was a brass knuckles play.  Rubio spent so much time proclaiming his faith, that I thought he was running for Pastor-in-Chief. Trump made two mistakes—the debate, and the failure to mount a ground game. None of the above are likely to happen again without a reaction.

Yet, suddenly, there’s a rush to close the dance card.  Cruz and Trump fear is driving the Establishment to Marco.  Endorsements and money are piling in, and the powers that be are starting to pressure the others to clear the floor.  Kasich himself has admitted he needs to do well in New Hampshire or go home.  A week or two, and it should all be over—Marco does well in New Hampshire, becomes Crown Prince, and the rest of the Governors do the obligatory curtsey? 

It’s certainly possible, and maybe even probable, but I question the wisdom of betting it all on Rubio.  Marco has a monumental ego, and doesn’t mind showing it.  He lacks judgement and maturity. His take-a-lap speech after finishing third in Iowa was an extraordinary exercise in unjustified self-love.  He has been curtly dismissive of Jeb Bush, and as poor a candidate as Jeb is, he belongs to a family that has been in politics, at the highest levels, for more than 60 years. You don’t manage that without having the deepest set of contacts, and the longest possible memories. And Rubio and Christie have visceral dislike for each other—should Rubio become the nominee, Christie’s comment “This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble” is going to be seen and heard again. 

And, the Governors don’t want to go. Sour grapes on their parts? Absolutely—all three would be far better Presidents than Cruz, Trump or Rubio, and it has to be killing them.  It’s one thing to lose to a competent man like Romney, or a war hero like McCain—but entirely another to be forced to watch, and even support, a trio of peacocks like these. 

But that’s the harsh reality of this, and if you don’t have a thick skin, don’t get into the game. The Presidential nominating and election process is essentially a search for a good-enough combination of ideology, temperament and ability. The particular ratios of those three qualities can vary from season to season, but “good-enough” means whatever concoction that gives enough people just enough confidence for someone to get to 270 electoral votes. It’s “preponderance of the evidence” not beyond a reasonable doubt.  Think of it as a reality show, where you have half an hour to pick a roommate for the next four years. 

Eight people walk into a bar in a small town in New Hampshire.  Ted Cruz takes a quick look around to see who might be watching, then knocks back a shot, stiffs the waitress, and gives the finger to a lumberjack in a union cap while getting into his limo.  Trump offers to buy the place, saying he loves the antlers over the door, and with a little sprucing up, it is going to be great. Sanders goes over to Cruz’s waitress, slips her a five, and a Bernie bumper-sticker. Christie orders a boiler-maker and gets in a shoving match with a patron over an order of wings.  Rubio seems to have made off with your girlfriend.  Kasich nurses a Rolling Rock and reminisces about the days when his coal-miner grandfather drank beer from a pail.  Hillary asks for a double, finds some middle-aged people, and they all wonder where the good times went.  Jeb sits alone at a table near the back, asks for a menu, and then orders club-sodas for the house. 

Now, pick one.

Just where is that weed-whacker?

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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