Electile dysfunction*

The survivors
The survivors  (for the moment) on the Blue and Red teams

| The 2016 presidential campaign has been going on, seemingly, forever. Starting with over a score of candidates, the race has narrowed, squeezing out most of the crazies but leaving deeply flawed front-runners on both sides.

This is a weird election cycle in many ways, but one of the oddest things is the inversion of favorability ratings. Pollsters always ask people if they have a "favorable" or "unfavorable" view of so-and-so. On both the Democratic and Republic sides, the frontrunner has much higher unfavorable ratings than favorable. In both cases, more than half survey respondents have an unfavorable view of the candidate; pollsters call this being "under water" (like your mortgage, if you owe more than your house is worth).

Favorability ratings
RealClearPolitics.com favorability averages (as of 22 Apr 2016)

Ironically it is the trailing candidate on each side who is viewed most favorably in that race. Only Bernie Sanders and John Kasich are viewed positively by more people than view them negatively.

So, the frontrunners are viewed unfavorably overall, but people reward them with the most votes. The candidates on each side with the highest unfavorable ratings are rewarded with the most votes and delegates, by a lot!

delegate count
RealClearPolitics.com delegate count as of 23 Apr 2016

Even Marco Rubio — who dropped out long ago — has more delegates than John Kasich, still in the race.

Is this a great country or what?

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Shifty. As Hillary has herself admitted, she is not a "natural politician" they way, say, her husband Bill is. Bill can walk into a room and light it up and hold forth as the center of the universe. Hillary is much more the policy wonk, the good schoolgirl who always does her homework, including extra credit.

Hillary can't fire up a crowd's imagination because she won't let herself dream big. She's a "progressive who likes to get things done." Fair enough, but promising baby steps is not exciting, especially when the other candidate is talking about taking giant steps, who has the audacity to dream Big. Hillary seems to see governing and politics as a series of steps, A to B, to ... What she can't bring herself to articulate is where all those baby steps get you, the grand achievement at the end of the process. My suspicion is that she can't make the leap.

Her campaign is uninspired. "Fighting for us" is an insipid slogan. Fighting for us to get what? Her speeches are larded with references to "breaking down barriers." Does she want to be president or a one-woman wrecking crew?

Her biggest flaw, however, is that people simply do not trust her. She has the Kerry problem: There are so many things she was for before she was against them. This constant tacking makes people think she's just waiting to see which way the wind blows before she makes a commitment. And the splitting of hairs when discussing issues or answering questions adds to the perception that she's shifty.

The tic that really gets my goat is her habit of delivering a good line in a speech and then nodding her head approvingly while people cheer. Rather like a Hillary bobblehead doll.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

The rumpled curmudgeon. Bernie is the crabby uncle of the campaign who knows for certain what needs to be done and doesn't mind telling you at full volume.

His campaign is based on lofty aspirations: a single-payer healthcare system, wrenching politics back from the moneyed .1%, free public education through college, raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, combatting climate change, reducing wealth inequality, etc., etc. These are big, bold, audacious goals. His website, berniesanders.com, lists more than two dozen (but first you have to get past the page asking you to donate!).

Bernie draws thousands and thousands of excited people to his rallies, many of them young. The central premise of his campaign is a "political revolution" in which millions of people become activists and pressure office holders to enact progressive reforms. Sadly, those millions are not coming out to vote; while Republican primaries have broken one voting turnout record after another, the Democrats not so much.

My fear about Bernie is that he wouldn't be able to execute on all those promises and a Sanders presidency would be marked by failed expectations. (Sound familiar?) Reportedly he has been very effective in the House and in the Senate at advancing his positions by adding amendments to bills. That may be. In the case of all his grand, some would say grandiose promises, what Hillary said about Barack Obama might be apt: He's got a good speech.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The showman fascist. I confess, I was one of those who said Trump wasn't serious about running for president, that the early popularity deriving from his celebrity status would fade away and he'd drop out. So sue me, I was wrong.

Throughout his campaign — starting from his announcement in Trump Tower when he announced that people immigrating from Mexican were bringing crime and drugs and were rapists — Trump has made one outrageous statement after another. I've lost count but thankfully some folks at the Washington Post are keeping track: Softening on Trump? Remember this

Trump has proven himself an absolute master at dominating the news cycle. Whenever anything happens that might draw attention away from him, he yanks it back with another outrageous statement. He says he's self-funding his campaign, but in reality he's not: he doesn't really have to spend on his campaign because the news media give him so much airtime and so many column inches in print. Now that's shrewd.

He has also been the master of labeling his opponents. "Low energy" Jeb never recovered from the sobriquet, nor did "Little Marco" Rubio. "Lyin' Ted" Cruz is still resisting but his days may be numbered.

Unlike the other candidates, Trump has never worked a single day in government. But never mind, his operating assumption seems to be that if he tells someone, some country, to do something they will do it. His speeches are substance-free. He just asserts, over and over again, that if we just elect Trump he personally will make everything wonderful. He builds up people's fear to make himself all the more necessary to protect them.

Aside: The registration on one of Trump's plane expired on Jan 31, at the FAA has grounded it until it is renewed (NYTimes).

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz

Lyin' Ted. Ted Cruz seems almost uniformly despised by other politicians in his party, and he wears their loathing as a badge of honor. Al Franken, senator and former SNL cast member, described Ted Cruz at a recent event as "the lovechild of Joe McCarthy and Dracula" (Washington Post).

He is as far-right as you can get and is clever at coming up with turns of phrase that cloak odious proposal in anodyne language. One of his favorites is "religious liberty" that, in his mind at least, gives him license to discriminate against all who don't share his constricted version of religion. Ted has waded in up to his crotch in the "bathroom laws" controversy that has swept so many conservative states.

Whereas Donald Trump is simply a loose cannon, Ted Cruz is a heat-seeking missile. He is an incredibly disciplined candidate and has fielded an awesome campaign organization. He recently managed to scoop up all the Colorado delegates without a caucus or primary and has shown that while Trump may be the frontfunner, Cruz is fully capable of eating his lunch.

Frankly, Cruz scares me more than any of the other candidates, even Trump. He's smart enough and ruthless enough to get his way before people can catch on. Not only does he, indeed, look like Joe McCarthy, but he has the dark, paranoid mind of Richard Nixon. We should be afraid. Very afraid. And afraid is just what Ted Cruz wants us to be.

The tic that Cruz has that drives me up the wall is this: When he gets off a good line in a speech or a debate, he simply cannot resist a smug little smirk of self-congratulation.

Aside: The National Inquirer now claims that the "mystery man" in a Lee Harvey Oswald photo is actually Cruz's father (Enquirer, Miami Herald).

John Kasich
John Kasich

John Kasich

The adult in the room. John Kasich has the knack of sounding reasonable. While Trump is angry and bombastic and Cruz is dark and menacing, Kasich offers a sunny, optimistic persona. Of course, it doesn't take much to sound reasonable compared to those two.

But if you listen carefully to what Kasich says, you realize that this is someone going into battle with a very dull sword. A lot of what he says is just mush. He's often insulting to women, but in the nicest possible way. Recently a college student asked him what his plan was to ensure that Social Security would still be viable when she reached that age, and his response amounted to Don't you worry your pretty little head about that, my dear.

And if you look at what he has actually done as governor of Ohio, it is definitely a mixed bag. On the one hand, he did agree to the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare giving coverage to Ohioans who would otherwise have none. On the other hand, he has signed repressive anti-abortion laws that drastically reduce women's healthcare services.

Math was obviously not Kasich's strong suit. He has zero chance of being able to win the nomination outright, but he soldiers on. I guess he thinks that when it comes to the convention, it will be so hopelessly deadlocked that neither Trump nor Cruz will be able to secure the nomination. And then in some magical way, the convention then turns to Kasich and dubs him the nominee. Could happen. Probably won't.

Kasich acts like a teddy bear, but his campaign action plan is all about "Dismantling Washington & Reclaiming Our Power, Money and Influence" (JohnKasich.com).

This election is very dicey. 

On the Democratic side, Bernie risks stubbornly continuing on and leaving his supporters angry and frustrated. If his supporters don't get their way they may stay home on election day, risking a Republican win.

On the Republican side, Trump might actually pull this out. I now think that there's a lot of whistling past the graveyard when it comes to Democrats thinking that Hillary against Trump would be a shoo-in. And if it's not Trump but Cruz against Hillary, noone should underestimate someone who has already shown a propensity for dirty tricks to get his way.

Lessons to be learned

What I truly wish would happen is that smart people in politics would think about what has happened this season and take appropriate remedial action. Something like 80% of survey respondents say that the US is "on the wrong track." That's no longer a flashing yellow caution light — that's flashing red lights, sirens, emergency signals interrupting your TV broadcasts. Bernie and Donald have tapped into the profound discontent and frustration so many people feel, that big money does control our government, the middle and lower classes have gotten the shaft from business and from government, it's wrong for a CEO to make obscene piles of money while line employees have to use food stamps to feed their families and work two or three jobs.

Somebody smart needs to figure out how to acknowledge those inconvenient truths and propose a way forward, short of blowing things up.



*The term "electile dysfunction" is borrowed from the Kinsey Sicks.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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