If this presidential campaign is Hillary Clinton’s to lose, she and the fates seem to be working awfully hard to make that happen.
Ms. Clinton has all the credentials and smarts one could want in a presidential candidate, and she is running against a candidate who has none of the former and precious little of the latter. Not that Donald Trump isn’t a formidable candidate. He prevailed with relative ease in besting sixteen opponents for the Republican nomination, and he has secured the loyal (even rabid) following of somewhere around forty percent of the electorate.
But Trump lacks anything close to a legitimate résumé for the office, and he has shown essentially no interest in schooling himself on the issues on which any responsible candidate would be expected to develop some expertise. And he is, to be charitable, prone to speaking too candidly, or, to be blunt, capable of insulting just about anyone who dares to disagree with him. Add to those deficits his propensity to lie whenever he wants to or feels the need to (without any sense of compunction or even of awareness that he is doing so), and you have a candidate Clinton should be beating handily. He maxes out at forty percent, and she scores the biggest landslide victory in over thirty years.
But the possibility of a Clinton landslide is hardly in the conversation now. Instead, after the latest Clinton gaffe and the botched handling by her staff (and her) of her illness (claimed to be some type of pneumonia, coupled with dehydration, as I compose these thoughts), the expectation is that the already close race will possibly even tilt to Trump when the new polls (taking last weekend’s events into account) are released in a few days.
Now I’m not about to predict a Trump victory at this point, but I will confess to being more than mildly concerned about the quality of the candidate he is running against. As I learned when I worked on the campaign staff of Michael Dukakis in 1988, being qualified to run for president (he was) and even being qualified to be the president (he was) does not equate with being a good candidate for president. Dukakis (sadly) was a poor candidate, and I’ll confess he wasn’t helped by his staff (myself included).
Hillary Clinton has continually showed herself to be very much in the Dukakis mold as a candidate. She just doesn’t seem to get it in terms of the basics of appealing to the electorate. Instead of being open, candid, and self-deprecating in a very humanly understandable way, she insists on trying to be a politician, which, especially in this electoral environment, is exactly what doesn’t sell to a large swath of the voters.
She insists on shunning the press, fearful of the tough questions she’ll get from reporters on things like her stupid e-mail server and the silly Clinton foundation claims, which only adds to the negative perception many in the public have of her. Her most ardent admirers defend her stance on media relations by pointing out that she is continually attacked by the reporters and columnists who seek her answers to the tough questions they ask.
Well, yeah. That’s pretty much the name of the game if you want to be president.
Unless, of course, you are Donald Trump. Then you get the alternate journalistic approach, the one that says, let the candidate say whatever he wants; it isn’t your responsibility to follow up on clear misstatements. That’s the approach Matt Lauer took in the foreign policy “debate” last week, when Trump lied about a number of points (his position on the invasion of Libya being the most obvious). For whatever reason, Trump is rarely hit on the lies he spews; maybe it’s his charming personality.
In any event, as the campaign wends its way towards the debates, the voters are seeing Hillary Clinton at her worst (sick and initially trying to hide that fact, and trying to walk back saying that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorable”), as Trump finally manages to stay on message and look like a real (dare I say responsible?) candidate for a brief period.
And so Clinton faces a serious threat to her election, to wit: herself, while the country faces a serious threat to its continued adherence to time-honored ideals and beliefs, to wit: the election of Trump. Hillary may well recover from what will then be regarded as a low point. She may regain her health and her vigor, become far more open to the media and more candid about herself and her past mistakes, become, simply stated, more likeable. And Trump may revert to form, showing himself again to be the offensive, uninformed, bigoted, xenophobic, sexist narcissist that he is. The polls may once again point to a Clinton landslide, and all will end up well with the world (at least in terms of America’s noble experiment in democracy).
Or Clinton’s slide may continue, while Trump’s new-found discipline finally starts to convince reluctant Republicans and independents that just maybe he can “make America great again” (whatever that means). And the country would then face a presidential administration led by a man who has no well-considered idea of what to do about anything of consequence, who claims that climate change is a hoax, who promises that ISIS will be defeated within a month of his taking office, who proposes tax cuts and military spending increases that would bankrupt the country, who would welcome the spread of nuclear weapons, who insists that undocumented immigrants and their entire families will be “humanely” sent out of the country, who wants to stop the entry of all Muslims into the country, and who firmly believes he is better at everything than anyone else.
As things now look, and based on the miserable campaign she is running, it may take a minor miracle for Hillary Clinton to be elected president. But if she loses, a Trump presidency will be a major disaster for the country.