- Fri, 12:09: Humidity is horrible here today. I'd take a temperature of 100 in Arizona any time over this.
In this election Hillary Clinton is the default presidential candidate, the person who will continue the policies of the current administration, by her own account. Given the high level of distrust, and low level of esteem in which she is held by a majority of the American people, Republicans simply had to nominate a not-Hillary, and would have likely cruised to victory in the presidential election. Almost any of the potential candidates could have filled this role, except for Donald Trump. He has managed to move the election dangerously close to being about not-Trump. The result is a clash between two negatives: not-Hillary vs. not-Trump, with the winner being the one who ultimately is perceived as less loathsome. Thus the campaign won’t come down to who would make the best president, but rather who would be worse, with people voting against a candidate rather than for one.
This foreshadows a nasty campaign and a relatively low voter turnout as people become turned off by the whole process. Hillary has to run on the notion that things aren’t so bad, and for that matter that she’s not so bad, which is a tough sell. But fate has rewarded her with an even more problematic candidate in Donald Trump. Although he actually has the upper hand on conditions, i.e. things aren’t so good, in the mind of the public, his problem is not his policies, such as they are, but his personality. If he continues to respond rashly to every perceived slight, if he continues to display a lack of self-control and elevates trivia to an unwarranted significance he will certainly lose. For he will have converted the election from being about Hillary to being about himself. Trump would probably have a better chance if he kept his mouth shut between now and November, because the only way he can win is by keeping the election about Hillary.
Despite the negative impressions they have generated, it is Trump’s outbursts that have attracted a significant segment of the population, which indicates just how alienated they are. They don’t care about propriety and temperament. They want someone who is so much of an outsider that he will upend the whole system. This makes him immune from almost any exposure of past allegedly dubious business practices. They are against the existing order and the way things are going for them personally, and Trump offers at least the possibility of change. But that base is not enough to win an election. That will hinge of people who are undecided as to who is worse.
Hillary, on the other hand, has to run against her own party if she wants to win, given how far left it has lurched. Her own primaries accentuate her weakness, being so objectionable that just about the worst candidate who could have opposed her came close to winning the nomination. She will win her party’s base, which may vote without enthusiasm, but that is not enough to win the election. She also has to convince and then add enough voters who think her opponent is even worse.
There is something wrong with an electoral system that winds up giving people a choice between the lesser of two evils. There are the Libertarian and Green party alternatives, and the former could get enough votes to affect the outcome, but the winner will still be either Clinton or Trump. We must ponder how it is that a country so fortunate, rich, and still full of promise could wind up with such a dismal choice. The saving grace is that the institutional structure is still strong enough to prevent anyone from mucking things up too seriously, given federalism and the separation of powers embedded in the constitution. The Framers understood the fragility of human nature, and designed a system that could withstand incompetence, stupidity, and egomania. Nevertheless even they might be surprised at the dismal choice we face more than two centuries later.
There is considerable anguish amongst the conservative intelligentsia concerning the rise of Donald Trump. Virtually the entire establishment of conservative leaders, intellectuals, and pundits are united in their distaste and opposition to his candidacy, based initially on the perception that “he is not one of us,” followed by a firm commitment to the notion that “he must be stopped.” That these efforts failed miserably may be a testament to the possibility that the extent of their actual influence may not significantly exceed the diminutive circulation of their magazines. It also may be indicative of the reality that many self-identified conservatives hold radically different views as to what conservatism consists of, given the widening breach between the mass following of Trump and the conservative elites. The latter may well have painted themselves into a corner, from which there is no easy exit, by constantly vilifying Trump. Furthermore they may increasingly come to be perceived as “liberals” by a runaway base that may well have held different views all along.
A case could be made that in this election Hillary Clinton is the conservative, given that she represents continuity, the status quo, the traditional political order, and that she is unlikely to upend the system in any way, notwithstanding her progressive posturing. In the area where presidents exercise the most power, international affairs, she is dedicated to the existing order that has been built up over decades and may be more hawkish than Trump in many respects. In fact given the way they have cast out Trump she would appear to be the logical alternative. The agony arises because these same conservative leaders have been implacable in their opposition to the Clintons over the years. I’ve never understood the intensity of that animus, at least on ideological grounds, given Clinton’s relative moderation, so it’s more personal insofar as many people think Hillary has a miserable personality and is basically dishonest. She may be an awful person, but we now have the spectacle of conservative elites actively opposing the Republican candidate for president which can only aide the election of the Democratic candidate they have loathed for decades.
They have been joined by some Republican politicians, former officials and a considerable chunk of the corporate establishment and wealthy that last left the party in droves when Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate. But these former officials consist almost entirely of people associated with the Bushes, who were ultimately disastrous for the country and the Republican party when in power. Their departure is no loss for a party that can hardly be considered the party of the wealthy any longer as it becomes more of a Republican Peoples' Party, in the European sense, with a working and middle class base. This is not simply populist irrationality that liberals of the left an right would have us believe, but a natural reaction on the part of people who have not fared well over the last few decades. The problem is that the candidate who has successfully channeled these sentiments, Donald Trump, may be woefully unprepared to actually govern. But at this point Republican elected officials can do little more than support the national ticket if they want to avoid disaster.
The net effect is that the conservative intelligentsia has been left out in the cold, with, from their standpoint, two unpalatable candidates. It is hard to see how anyone could support Hillary Clinton and still be a Republican. On the other hand, a process that began with 17 candidates, several of them attractive and well-suited for the presidency, has yielded what they regard as a populist interloper. Thus there is nowhere to go. This is a consequence of a deeply flawed system based upon primaries that few people vote in, an endless election campaign season, and mass media that exacerbate these conditions. Unless we reform the electoral system and give the power to choose candidates back to elected officials it is only going to get worse. Another electoral season is coming to a dismal end, so these days when I turn on the news I’m more interested in the weather.