Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hurray for long presidential campaigns -- Sept. 24, 2015 column


Brandishing poll numbers that still show him leading the Republican presidential pack, Donald Trump said in South Carolina Wednesday, “If we could call for the election tomorrow…Let’s do it! Do it tomorrow!”

In his dreams.

You can’t blame Trump for wanting the voting over already.  The Trump surge was the story of the summer, but there are signs it may have peaked. He still leads in the polls but isn’t gaining. His last debate performance was just OK. There are empty seats at some of his events. He’s thin-skinned about Fox News and conservative pundits. He bristles at questions about details of his plans.

Time is on the side of those who are waiting for Trump to self-destruct. His campaign of cuts – Carly Fiorina’s face, Hillary Clinton’s shrillness, Marco Rubio’s sweat – is bound to wear thin.

Democrats just hope he keeps talking. Every minute the media covers Trump or Pope Francis or anything else is time not spent on the troubles facing Hillary Clinton -- her own sinking poll numbers, the emails, trust, women, Bernie Sanders and maybe Joe Biden.

In a new book titled “Unlikeable – The Problem with Hillary,” former New York Times Magazine editor Ed Klein says Clinton suffers with headaches, insomnia and depression. A Clinton spokesman said Klein’s claims are bogus.

Our much-maligned, seemingly endless presidential campaign season does work: It gives candidates plenty of rope.  In four months – only four -- voters will start having their say. The dates could change, but the Iowa caucuses are now set for Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary Feb. 9.

A disadvantage of the long campaign is the tight focus on the horse race. We know that poll numbers are not predictive; they’re a snapshot. But they’re news.

Trump may be a natural at campaigning, but even hot air balloons eventually come down. Yes, some mainstream Republicans fear that he could be a latter-day Barry Goldwater, who captured the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 only to lose 44 states that November. But he also could be a Rick Perry in 2011 or Rudy Giuliani in 2007.

In September 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was leading in the Republican presidential race. Four years earlier, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani looked unstoppable.  

Each election cycle is different, so we can’t rely on past performance as a guide. 
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looked strong early, but he may be a Bush too far. The outsiders – Trump, retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina – are big now, but will voters really choose another president who lacks experience governing?

The two 2016 Republican candidates who have left the stage – former Gov. Perry and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin – actually had governing experience, a liability in this year of the anti-politician.  

Perry probably thought the statute of limitations had run out on his gaffe during a debate in November 2011 when he could not remember the third federal agency he would eliminate as president. It hadn’t.

Walker’s star faded as Trump’s rose. At 47, Walker could run again. He made his departure seem ordained.    

“I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field,” he told reporters. “I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner.”

No one else seems so inclined. A Muslim civil liberties group urged Carson to give up his quest after he said that no Muslim should serve as president. He says he’s now raising money so fast it’s hard to handle it all. Carson since has retreated, saying he could support a Muslim president who put the Constitution before religion and rejected Sharia law.

The other GOP hopefuls are current and former governors and senators, able politicians who in most years would be contenders. Today they’re barely registering in the polls. But they’re hanging on, waiting and hoping that Trump’s train loses steam.    

The winnowing process has started and likely will last a while. We’ll all be better for the long, arduous, annoying way we choose our nominees for president. I’m just glad the election isn’t tomorrow.     

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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