It happens every four years when each party begins its search for its best standard-bearer. For Democrats, progressivism has been the only objective in recent decades, and we are no better for it. For factions within the GOP, on the other hand, perfection has become the enemy of success.
Substance and superficiality are the yin and yang of our political minds, and we have entitled ourselves to want what we want, no matter the oil and water of the mix.
An anecdote making the point that superficiality—curb appeal—is not a new phenomenon involves the 1960 presidential debates between the then Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy. Those who saw Nixon badly perspiring, even on grainy black and white television screens, thought the cool Kennedy won the debate, while those who heard it only on radio swore Nixon performed in a much more impressive and presidential manner.
We get nutty about substance, too, and yet we allow State Media—progressive, “mainstream” news outlets—to selectively apply the standard for us. Their Machiavellian portrait of Nixon eased us into impeaching him for erasing 18 minutes of tape and lying about Watergate. By that measure, a Hillary Clinton who illegally maintained, then deleted thousands of emails from her server, mishandled classified information, endangered the lives of many in doing so, and who has serially lied about Benghazi, should have been driven from her candidacy for president over a year ago. Can anyone doubt a cover-up is underway? State Media will have none of it because she is their choice for president, and they will never shove a Democrat under the electoral bus.
Republicans are their own worst enemy, and the litmus tests applied to potential nominees by the various factions have made a November victory increasingly unlikely. GOP establishmentarians want someone with broad appeal who can win, and who will hold back the march of progressivism and the size of government. Conservatives insist their candidate pass every checkpoint on immigration, abortion, taxes, and all the rest. The pesky voters, of course, want something done, they want it done now, and they’ve given up on political niceties and policy perfection.
Consider the following: Of those who have polled reasonably well against Clinton, base voters rejected Jeb Bush because of his “weak” stance on immigration and Common Core. They rejected Marco Rubio principally because of his participation in the so-called Gang-Of-Eight immigration bill. Mavens are also cool to Kasich because he is “too moderate,” especially on immigration, and as a white male, he’s not on anyone’s checklist. Probably for reasons of fit and curb appeal, they also rejected good people like Carson, Huckabee, Fiorina, and Christie.
Cruz is admired by conservatives and evangelicals but rejected by others in large part because of a massive deportation approach and his razor wire personality. Trump, of course, is the exception to all rules because we only know where he stands this week on issues like immigration and abortion, to name the hottest two of all. Conservatives and establishmentarians reject him because he passes no litmus test whatsoever.
So conservatives have vetoed and establishmentarians have plotted, but the noisy voters keep speaking out. The results aren’t pretty, and State Media loves it. What’s amazing is that all of the above has dominated the nomination process despite recent, solid polling, showing illegal immigration nowhere near the top three concerns of most voters of either party. What’s important to large cross-sections of voters in both parties is what it usually is: the economy, jobs, and security.
Early on, I wrote several pieces unfavorable to Donald Trump, describing him as Hillary’s best strategy for success, and for that I endured the disdain of many. Later, respecting voters’ wishes in many states, my commentary shifted into neutral. Dr. Paul Kengor’s Trump Talk, recently published on Grove City College’s Vision & Values site, reminded me I should have trusted my first instincts. Further reflection has made “remaining silent” about Trump untenable.
Trump appeals to the Dorian Gray side of our national psyche, with ugly, snarling, and unrestrained demands for a solution to every problem. Promises of the best “deals” abound. Trump can also be in public what many seek to avoid even in private. Because of his unfiltered, uncivil utterances, siphoned from supporters’ crasser, thoughtless moments at the bar, the backyard barbecue, the spa, and the locker room, he is the only person on earth who makes Hillary palatable to Indies and loosely affiliated Republicans, most of whom would rather not vote for her. As to the “new” voters he’s brought to the process? They do not equal the majorities of every other demographic the GOP loses. It’s that simple.
For decades after Lyndon Johnson, Democrats fought for the soul of their party, and because they could not find it, the country was lucky enough to have the twelve Reagan-Bush years. Now it’s the GOP’s turn, and its soul is restlessly adrift in rough seas. Conservatives who have refused to compromise on immigration and other issues, and establishmentarians who have refused to heed the electorate’s will in 2010, 2012, and 2014 are just as much responsible for current voter dysfunction and wrath as Barack Obama’s abject ineptitude.
I understand and applaud a second ballot strategy because it’s all that’s left, but assume no Hollywood ending. If in search of the perfect nominee, Republican factions reject a reasonably conservative electable in favor of a near certain perishable, then let me encourage every reader to get used to a long parade of progressive polices, executive orders, and court appointments from “Madame President.”