In my last blog post, I promised to take a look at the candidates for President. The Republican field is still too big to fit in a short summary of all candidates, so I’ll look at the Republicans in their own post, then follow with an examination of the Democratic field.
This is not an easy task. Republican candidates in the 21st century have campaigned as pragmatic, thoughtful friends of the “working man” and governed like military overseers of a country whose progressive impulses must be shattered, in some cases by stealth (e. g. the constant warnings of catastrophe to the Social Security system) or by direct action (e. g. the Bush tax cuts of the early days of his administration, dressed up as much-needed relief to the “job-creating” class: they did create jobs, but most of them were not in the United States). Thus, for me, these candidates (and Bush as President) have always seemed unmoored to reality and unconcerned with the plight of millions, provided the donor class was kept mollified. This year is no different.
Let’s look at the remaining contenders, one at a time.
He made a small splash by winning the Iowa caucus in 2012 and becoming a sort of standard bearer for evangelicals. Why he is still a candidate now, only he knows, but I guess it’s fun to travel, stay in hotels and appear on TV for a while. He doesn’t seem to have any other employment prospects. Verdict: Legend in his own mind. May be hoping for a call to run as Vice-presidential candidate.
She has made some headlines for…well…being female and appearing mostly lucid in debates. There is no doubt she is intelligent and capable, but those who think that success in business will mean success in government are not likely to know a lot about either. High point: calling out Donald Trump for misogynist comments. Low point: just about everything else, especially her condemnation of Planned Parenthood and doubling down on it when she was informed that much of what she was saying was just not factual. Verdict: no chance, but, like Santorum, may be hoping for a phone call for VP. Her chances are better than his.
He’d be a more viable candidate if…well, to tell the truth, I don’t know what would make him more viable. His speeches and his positions on almost anything seem to be designed to appeal to some portion of the right wing that votes its religious impulses–and those impulses include a lot of self-righteousness. He constantly demonstrates a pedantic self-love and head-shaking condescension for anyone else (except Kim Davis). Verdict: soon to go back into cryo-sleep or something and wait for a call to return to the Fox “news” network.
Another one who seems destined to resurface every Presidential election cycle and cause some excitement, as John McCain famously put it, among “…college kids in their dorm rooms.” His stance is libertarian, which appeals to numerous voters, but it is a limited appeal, since it is more abstract than concrete. There will probably always be a flurry of speculation and interest, but it will probably fade as things get more reality-based–as in, when people start to cast votes. Verdict: no. Not going to happen.
In any other election cycle, I would say this is a really viable guy, as in, he might be able to appeal to a lot of people who don’t necessarily identify as Republicans. He has taken mostly reactionary positions, and worked for a time on Fox “news,” so many would call him a conservative. On the other hand, as governor of Ohio, he accepted the expansion of Medicaid for his constituents under the Affordable Care Act, allowing them to reap the benefits of (shudder) federal subsidies for health care insurance, for most of today’s Republican base an unforgiveable embrace of all things Obama. There are other instances where he has seemed all too willing to govern according to pragmatic principles rather than strict ideology, so he would have a lot of fences to mend within his own party. Verdict: Too early to say. Should he finish as high as or higher than Bush, Rubio, and Christie in Iowa and New Hampshire, he could have real staying power.
Dr. Ben Carson
A lot of early enthusiasm has dissipated. He never had a real chance at winning the nomination, but was the “shiny object” of this cycle’s silly season. Undoubtedly a very intelligent and capable neurosurgeon, he has shown nonetheless the perils of “dabbling” in politics at the highest levels, where his lack of depth has been all too evident. Verdict: Probably has earned high book sales and appearances on Fox for life, but for the big prize: No.
The “big and tall” size Governor of New Jersey is abrasive and condescending toward the media and at times toward other candidates. He suffers (within the party) from pictures of him greeting Obama when the latter came to New Jersey with a promise of federal aid after Hurricane Sandy. The nerve. He has executive governing experience, and was a US attorney. He has been linked to an unseemly chain of events that culminated in massive traffic snarls in a New Jersey town where the mayor had the effrontery not to endorse Christie for a second term as governor.
A mixed bag, all in all. Like anyone with a record of governing, Christie is stuck with it, and the extended tantrum his party has had and continues to have over two presidential terms for Barack Obama drags on him. Part of the remaining “eastern Establishment” within the GOP sees him as a savior against the barbarian Trump. Verdict: Not likely, but still a chance. He faces a situation like an NFL team in the 17th week: if he pulls off a win where he isn’t supposed to, and if a lot of others stumble, he could still sneak in.
The pre-emptive favorite at the beginning of this campaign, and the champion money raiser of all. He has shown little appeal to the GOP voters, though. Many are tired of the Bushes. Others fear the name factor will damage the party in November. He has had lackluster debate performances, and generally stirs no excitement. Biggest gaffe: statement during a debate that his brother had “kept us safe” during his presidency. Also has a record as a governor, in Florida, but that is now ancient history, and the “successes” thereof were probably more a result of the real estate bubble than of anything he did. He has a Mexican wife, and speaks good Spanish, both of which might be assets in most years. In 2016, they have become proof of love for foreigners. Verdict: No, no, a thousand times no. But the eventual nominee will ignore Bush at his (or her) peril. He still has much influence over many big-name Republicans and the donor class, and will need to be soothed.
He’s young. He could bring Florida’s electoral votes to the GOP, where they haven’t gone for the last couple of cycles. He has a great biography as a son of the Cuban diaspora who made good in Florida politics. He’s a strong debater.
He’s also a doctrinaire reactionary. He hates the diplomatic opening to Cuba. He has fudged the story of his family’s immigration to the United States (they actually left Cuba in 1956, three years before Castro came to power). He has held elected office, first local, then state, and then federal, virtually continuously since he graduated from law school, and he suffers from allegations of fiscal irresponsibility (a foreclosure and some dubious use of a party credit card) as well as a basketful of speeding tickets. I am truly perplexed by the seeming fascination of some in the Republican Party with Rubio; his largest seeming qualifying factor for the Presidency is that he really wants it. Verdict: Maybe…but I have real doubts. Perhaps in another cycle. He seems poised to leave the Senate after 2016, presidential candidate or not, so he may be planning books and TV appearances. I hear that can be really lucrative.
Currently the subject of a debate over whether he is even eligible to be President of the US, Cruz is even a stranger attraction than Rubio, and was elected during the “Tea Party” ascendancy, with strong support from that group.
Because Donald Trump, birther-in-chief, raised the “natural born citizen” clause in the Constitution to question Cruz’ eligibility, the issue has gotten legs, and each day brings new opinions on the Net as to whether he is actually such a citizen. I’m not a Constitutional scholar, but I would guess that “natural born citizen” distinguishes such a citizen from a “naturalized” citizen. Cruz, if his mother was still a US citizen at the time of his birth, “transmitted” that citizenship to him from the moment of his birth. That would do it for me, but the Supreme Court may decide otherwise.
Assuming he gets over that hurdle, is Cruz a viable candidate? He is a bit of an extremist, taking the US government to a shutdown or two and the brink of a couple more over paltry issues. He was for immigration “reform” before he was against it. Some evangelicals love him. Senate colleagues of both parties uniformly can not stand him. Virtually no top-ranking Republican has endorsed him, because they think Cruz at the top of a national ticket is a sure loser. Polls keep on telling us he has a chance to beat Trump in Iowa.
At this point, I have to admit, I just do not get the appeal Cruz has to any voter, unless that voter is a narcissistic nihilist, and wants to see a like-minded person running the country.
Verdict: Honestly, no idea. I am dumbfounded by the very possibility, but this is 2016, when conventional wisdom means nothing and historical antecedents, not very much. He may have best chance after Trump at the nomination, but I do think that might trigger a national Republican implosion or schism. Stay tuned.
The presumptive front-runner at this point. I don’t want to add to all the ink he’s gotten. But I will make a couple of points.
As I have said before, virtually all of Trump’s campaign promises can be disregarded out of hand. He is not going to build a beautiful wall or any other, let alone make Mexico pay for it.
The man is a showman, a carnival barker, with few convictions other than that everyone should be paying attention to him, and he will say absolutely anything to further his ambition.
Plans? Specifics? He has none. At all. If needed, he will hire people to carry the heavy intellectual load for him.
He envisions his name in history books and on libraries.
All that said, and with his three marriages (supposedly a taboo with the electorate) and his several bankruptcies, he is the overwhelming favorite, and frankly, the GOP deserves him and its own current inability to inject any sanity into this race. They have spent years devaluing sanity in campaigns, preferring to use fear and other emotional response (hatred, bigotry) as winning strategies. Years of this produced candidates like Sarah Palin, who was at first well-regarded for her “plain talk.” Harry Truman was a plain talker in the truer sense–he spoke the truth, even when it was not pleasant. Palin and Trump are just people with no filters, who say whatever comes into their minds.
Verdict: Sure, why not? In my (ever-humble) opinion, he has a more than 50% chance of securing the nomination.
Next: the Democratic candidates…