When you were growing up, your parents might have been very pleased to see you following the news in a presidential election year. You could talk about Social Security lockboxes, nuclear freezes, bending the “cost curve” and all that. But this year, you might feel obliged to mute the television if your kids come in the room. Welcome to the “yuck” election.
Flights aboard a convicted pedophile’s private jet, the “Lolita Express?” Check. A candidate who allegedly pretended to be his own publicist to brag about his romantic exploits? Check. Accusations of “lewd” bikini behavior and counterclaims of hit-piece journalism? Check. Alleged corruption at a family foundation. Check. And all in a three-day span.
Now, this says a great deal about the attrition of political reporting in the click-bait era. It also certainly speaks to the numbing of America’s central nervous system as it relates to the conduct of its leaders.
And it unquestionably reveals that both presumptive major party nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are arriving in the general election with enough baggage to sink the Bismarck. What we don’t know is whether it matters.
It may be as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday that in 2016 “nothing applies.” Under this argument, both parties are nominating candidates who are viewed negatively by majorities of Americans and who are broadly seen as being untrustworthy, therefore likability and trustworthiness are out the window. After four presidential election cycles that were, to varying degrees, about character and/or fitness, we will have one that’s sort of post-morality.
In this telling, scandal inflation will render individual embarrassments meaningless and the candidates, deprived of the ability to impeach each other’s character, will have to fight over issues – finding substance underneath all of the mud at the bottom of the swamp. At least that is certainly what pro-Trump Republicans are banking on: a low-turnout election in which grossed-out swing voters stay home and Trump’s devoted army of supporters can deliver an outsized electoral wallop.
Democrats, meanwhile, are going to do their best to make Clinton a normal candidate, who may be uninspiring but can deliver stability and sound judgement. In the Democratic version, the race becomes what Republicans tried to avoid in the primary: a referendum on Trump.
That will be made harder by Clinton’s elevation of her husband to chief economic adviser, but it is hardly out of the realm of possibility. Trump, after all, might like the idea of an election all about him.
In this scenario, the visceral reaction against Trump causes voters to overlook Clinton’s baggage and swing hard against the GOP to not only keep Trump out of the Oval Office but also punish Republicans for supporting such a candidate.
The peril for Clinton is that voters might find her just as lacking as Trump.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”