About the only thing worse than seeing Christmas (sorry, "Xmas," to be politically correct) merchandise in September is presidential election coverage two years before the election. Not only has that coverage been meaningless, but, to make the sin mortal, many of the "experts" are completely wrong in their assessments.
Blame it on pundits’ short memories and the desire of networks to create, then sensationalize, juicy stories with no substance. The result is average voters tuning out, and the bases of both parties blindly leaping at red meat thrown out by candidates who think inflammatory rhetoric will win the nomination.
So let’s cut through the spin and analyze the races on both sides.
Democrats: This one is easy. Hillary Clinton rolls. Barring an indictment for using a private email server for her State Department work (an act of sheer stupidity, creating an issue where there wasn’t one), Clinton will cruise to the nomination.
First and foremost, she has no competition. Sen. Bernie Sanders (the Democrats’ Ron Paul) excites the extreme left, and articulates his positions clearly, so he will perform better than expected when the primaries start. But his support runs only so deep, and the Democratic rank-and-file sees Clinton, because of her name, background and fundraising prowess, as the candidate with the best chance to retain the White House. Joe Biden knew this all too well, which is why, despite the grandstanding, he never had any intention of entering the fray. About the only thing more annoying than the V.P. playing coy on running was the immense media coverage of such a no-brainer non-event.
Does Hillary have baggage? Of course, but much of that was aired in 2008. Her biggest negative is the massive money given by foreign nationals to the Clinton Foundation — people who had business dealings with the United States, and the State Department in particular. To say there were conflicts of interest would be a monumental understatement.
But Hillary will win the nomination, and likely the presidency, because of her secret weapon: The Republican Party. Leave it to the GOP geniuses to give Clinton exactly what she needed to jumpstart a thus-far lackluster campaign: A platform making her look incredibly presidential. And that’s exactly what they did.
The marathon congressional hearings on Benghazi allowed Hillary to showcase endurance, poise under pressure, the ability to think quickly on her feet, and, perhaps most of all, her sense of humor — all attributes Americans look for in a leader. The kudos she received (even begrudgingly by many conservatives) bolstered her national standing, and she scored points because of the (correct) perception that she was the victim of a witch-hunt (as embarrassed U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy made clear by proudly stating that his Benghazi Committee took a toll on Hillary’s poll numbers).
Cost of fruitless investigations and ridiculously long hearings: Millions. Taking hard-hitting shots by angry, politically motivated Republicans for 13 hours, yet emerging unscathed (and as a much more likeable person), courtesy of a GOP that still doesn’t understand that there’s no smoking gun with Benghazi: Priceless.
Republicans: Since there seems to be more GOP candidates than the population of Wyoming, and only a few can win the nomination, we’ll look at the major players:
• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should have been on the list, but encountered a smorgasbord of problems that eliminated him from contention. The two biggest? His appearance for one, and he’s wrong that weight doesn’t matter. It does. Americans may be obese, but they don’t want their leaders to be. Second, his involvement in Bridge-Gate, as he either knew about it, or should have. Both negatives combined to bring the curtain down on Christie’s bottom-dwelling candidacy.
• Jeb Bush, the establishment’s choice all along, has raised significant money. But his candidacy has been sinking because A) the forgotten ones (the rank-and-file) prefer elections over coronations, B) Bush is Romney-lite, but even stiffer (if that’s possible), C) the Bush name is toxic, even to many Republicans, and D) he has come across as woefully unprepared. Jeb’s fundraising has now taken a nosedive, he’s slashed staff payroll, and he finds himself floundering without direction. If, by some miracle, he squeaks by, he will get steamrolled by Hillary.
• Unfortunately, Rick Perry dropped out, which has been a serious blow to the late-night comedy shows.
• Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the Tea Party favorite, which would be great if there were a Tea Party. But there’s not, and his insane antics (pushing a government shutdown over Obamacare, hanging his House colleagues out to dry in the process) make him unelectable in a general election.
• Ben Carson, the unexpected new frontrunner has as much chance of getting the nomination as Bill Cosby. Despite being vastly out of his league, he remains near the top of the polls, perhaps because some polled Republicans don’t want to be perceived as bigoted (even to themselves) if they support someone else. How else to explain backing someone who doesn’t understand the difference between the debt ceiling and the budget; stated that he would not visit the victims’ families in the wake of the Oregon mass shooting ("I would probably have so many things on my agenda"); and, asked what he, if president, would be doing as a Category 5 hurricane approached, answered, "I don’t know."
The fact that Carson is polling high shows how absolutely meaningless such barometers are. Look for Dr. Carson’s campaign to go on life-support when the primaries begin, as the GOP electorate awakes from its boredom-induced anesthesia.
• Donald Trump will ultimately fall, a descent entirely of his own making. While some of his positions are simply egomaniacal (taking credit for Ford Motor Co. not relocating to Mexico), many are common sense ideas (such as building a border wall, and the Middle East being better off with strongmen such as Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi in power — ideas that have appeared in this column years ago).
But he has acted more like a reality-TV entertainer than presidential candidate, and his insults, which made for good theater during the slow summer news cycle, have grown old. People want a tough-as-nails leader, but one who also shows compassion. And Trump seems wholly incapable of admitting when he is wrong, doubling down on boneheaded statements, or blaming "interns" for such mistakes instead of manning-up.
Trump also made a huge error by not spending $100 million on a nationwide ad campaign showing a kinder, gentler Donald Trump. Since he is the only one who could afford such a blitz, he could have defined the campaign, leaving his opponents powerless to respond. Incomprehensibly, he did the opposite, putting away his checkbook and accepting campaign contributions. That sent the message that A) he’s too cheap to spend his own money, making many question his commitment, and B) he can now be bought by deep-pocketed special interests, just like all the rest. In doing so, he lost his biggest trump card, and he will fade away as more viable candidates emerge.
Who will they be? Watch Marco Rubio (perhaps the candidate with the greatest Reagan-esque vision), Carly Fiorina (who, more than anyone, can nullify Hillary’s gender advantage), and, as a dark horse, John Kasich (a successful governor of electorally-critical Ohio, who also brings Washington experience). Or maybe, with so many candidates and an ornery electorate, there could be a brokered convention.
But one thing is certain: If the GOP remains the Party of No, without bold ideas, they’ll be calling Hillary "Madam President."
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]