Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Stepping back a bit from day-to-day politicking, the 2016 election may be boiling down to a voter assessment of a candidate’s vision versus his or her flaws.
This could explain the inexplicable appeal and resiliency of the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump candidacies. It also could explain the political woes of expected GOP favorites Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.
Sanders offers voters an American vision of greater socioeconomic fairness, even if his policies sniff a little of socialism.
Trump paints a picture of a man of action amid a splatter of insults and provocations.
Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic presidential frontrunner despite her own challenge to overcome her flaws with a compelling vision. One of her flaws is a political background noted for finding a safe middle ground, not always the moral high ground. In a phrase, she doesn’t project a vision.
Jeb Bush struggles to escape the family business reputation as he also attempts to persuade Republicans that a far-right candidate is doomed in a general election. So far, that prediction hasn’t transformed into a vision.
Trump has a visionary slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Hillary and Jeb use their own names as logos.
Trump frames the GOP presidential content between him and his 16 opponents as one of competence versus politics as usual; straight talk versus double talk. Trump says you can trust him to stare down the Chinese, but you have no idea what President Trump would do when he actually was face to face with his Chinese counterpart. Despite doubts, his expanding cadre of followers shares his vision. His opponents view him as a nightmare.
Sanders talks of leveling the economic scales, up to providing free college tuition at public universities for everyone. He offers no tangible explanation of how he would accomplish that goal, let alone pay for it. His fervent followers share his vision. His critics see his vision as a nightmare.
Clinton and Bush trade barbs, cash in on long-time, faithful supporters, but don’t exactly come across as visionary. It’s as if the historical consequence of either’s election – the first woman, the third member from the same family – is the main message. Clinton even admonished a young critic that visions are for dreamers, not for elected officials.
This is not to discount the substance of the Clinton and Bush candidacies. They talk about policies and social goals with knowledge, acuity and experience. They just don’t have the same vision-thing going on as Trump and Sanders.
Walker has trouble stating a clear view on almost every tough subject. Rubio has fallen in love with his fresh face. Christie wants to be the prosecutor who torments Clinton. Entertaining, but not visionary.
Ted Cruz expresses a vision that seems more like a daydream. He regularly spouts all the things he will undo on his first day in the Oval Office. It is a long list. Apparently Cruz will be worn out because he never gets around to describing what he would do on Day Two.
While few believe Sanders could be nominated, let alone elected, the Vermont senator with a New York accent impresses people with his sincerity. He believes what he says, and what he says isn’t always popular. His vision is to move America toward a different economic path, regardless what you call that path.
Trump’s motives may be muddier and his political performances more calculated. You have to wonder after listening to Trump whether he is running for President or auditioning to become a late night talk show host. How many presidential candidates ask a stranger in a crowd to hop on stage and pull his hair to prove it isn’t a toupee.
As Trump sucks up air time daily with his running commentaries and over-the-top bombast, nobody else gets a word in edge wise. He wins. They look like losers. And he keeps eating up the clock. We may not be in this election’s fourth quarter, but we are approaching half-time with Trump in the lead and the rest also-rans.
Sanders and Trump have what most observers would call serious political flaws. Too old, an indulgent temperament, an extreme political viewpoint and bizarre hair. But their flaws melt away in the heat of their respective visions.
Voters are disgusted with politics as usual. Sanders and Trump are anything but usual. They stand for something. In this election cycle, that is what voters want to see. Sanders versus Trump in a general election. Hard to imagine. But everyday, less impossible.