On one day last week we had two fine debates among 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls, with a sad but understandable omission. American employment, just about out of the news otherwise as well, was essentially absent from the candidates’ Thursday discussions. I’m not going to fight that, so here are my views on what’s happening with this bunch of people who now number enough to make up two football teams.
Donald Trump, as my wife Mary put it, is still sucking all the air out of the room. The press, as well as a remarkable number of scarily likely voters, is infatuated with him, to the point where we’re seeing major-press articles about what he does at home and about the statuses of his TV ventures. He’s not lasting much longer at his lofty polling level, though, for two main reasons. First, George Will beat him up but good yesterday in the Washington Post, calling him “incorrigibly vulgar,” “no conservative,” and per his column’s title a “counterfeit Republican,” and pulled his punches even less when describing Trump’s recent and forecasted words. Will, since he excels like no other public figure at being the only adult in the room, is taken seriously, especially by his and Trump’s party’s leadership. Second, if gravity doesn’t bring Donald’s numbers down, he will find out just how difficult it is to be a front-runner. His intimidation won’t carry him through even the inoffensive questions that will pour in about him and his policy positions, and his veneer of supporters won’t be able to protect him. Temper tantrums from those aspiring to the highest office in the land won’t exactly be seen as seemly.
When this drunken binge by a quarter of the population gives way to its inevitable hangover, the path will be reinstated for (speaking of adults in the room) Jeb Bush, whose audience will let him make the case for being the true presumptive nominee. How well he does at that will determine how much scope there is for his true competition, which is still Scott Walker (despite his stupid approval of a quarter-billion dollar basketball arena) and the invisible but still present Marco Rubio.
At the next tier, the Republicans certainly have bench strength. Waiting in the wings, but probably not truly able to put themselves in the top group, are the sensible, thoughtful, and superintelligent Ben Carson and the clear-thinking Carly Fiorina. Chris Christie also belongs here, though the forthcoming public disgust with bullies such as Trump may give him too much, in conjunction with Bridgegate, for him to overcome.
On the other side, Hillary Clinton is in real trouble. She made the wrong decision about her email mishandling – this far from the primaries, she should have put all of her cards on the table without being forced – and that isn’t her only problem. Not since the death of disco have I seen such a juggernaut resented by so many in the shadows. If my mother, a well-educated woman from the Northeast whose first presidential vote was for Adlai Stevenson and has never made one for the other party, is leery and distrusting of Clinton, then what kind of people are in Hillary’s core constituency? Rush Limbaugh made an interesting point this week, suggesting that Bernie Sanders’ phenomenal appeal might be coming from the same thing that propelled Obama into office eight years before, namely dissatisfaction with the same presumptive nominee. Her latest sportsbook.ag odds have lengthened to 13 to 10 against, which I suspect are much too short. Joe Biden, almost certainly a target of passionate Democratic elders these past few weeks, will probably get in the race, as the longer he takes to decide, the more time he puts between himself and the death of his son. The refreshingly forthright Sanders has not yet peaked, and in the absence of Biden will continue to be the chief recipient of disaffected former Clinton supporters.
So what about jobs? It will take a recession to put them on the presidential candidates’ front burner. Some Democrats have mentioned the excellent idea of a national infrastructure project, but as I still see no takers for that among Republicans, it has become a partisan issue. Otherwise, we’re going nowhere with this permanent crisis which has slightly abated but hardly disappeared. At least, though, our candidates are giving us some kind of show to watch.