Bush Fatigue, Clinton Fatigue

They say you can get “chicken fatigue.”  It happens when you’ve eaten a lot of chicken, and suddenly you just can’t bear the thought of choking down another bite of it.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton must feel like the last drumstick right about now.

hillary-and-jeb-bushToday is a big day for Bush and Clinton.  For Bush, it’s the South Carolina primary; for Clinton, it’s the Nevada caucuses.  Both started out the 2016 race as apparent lock-cinch winners, dubbed by pundits and Beltway insiders as the presumptive nominees.  As designated front-runners, they raised huge sums of money and seemed to have every advantage.  But it hasn’t quite worked out.

Bush has been knocked down into the single digits, eclipsed by the bizarre Trump phenomenon, and just doesn’t seem able to take off.  If he does poorly in South Carolina, where he’s spent lots of money and brought in his brother and mother to campaign, he’s probably finished.  As for Clinton, she’s struggling to break through against a surprising challenge by Bernie Sanders.  Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be getting a run for her money from a septuagenarian socialist?

Why has this happened?  Obviously, part of it is that Bush and Clinton just aren’t great candidates.  Bush doesn’t seem to be able to identify a good, compelling reason why he should be President, and Clinton is weighted down by baggage, like the ongoing email investigation, and bad decisions, like the continuing inability to deal with being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs, where one attendee said she gave “pretty glowing” remarks about that Wall Street firm.

I think part of the reason, too, is that a lot of Americans have come to realize that they are tired of the Bushes and the Clintons.  We feel like they’ve had their moments in the sun, and now it’s time for somebody else to have a turn at the wheel.  We groan inwardly when we see people like Bill Clinton giving another speech, or think of the possibility that the Bush crowd or the Clinton crowd could be back in the White House.  Enough already!

This has been a weird and astonishing presidential election so far, but the struggles of the Bush campaign and the Clinton campaign really shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s just a case of chicken fatigue writ large.

 

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W’s Return

Yesterday former President George W. Bush returned, briefly, to the national stage.  He was campaigning for his brother, Jeb Bush, who is hanging on for dear life and hoping to make a good showing in the South Carolina Republican primary.

According to press reports, the former President gave a short speech that endorsed his brother and described some of the qualities, like integrity and judgment and character, that he believes are needed in a good President — implicitly drawing a contrast with the blustery bombast of Donald Trump, without mentioning Trump or any other Republican candidate by name.   “W” also recounted some memories from his former campaigns in South Carolina and added some of his trademark self-deprecating humor.

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush Campaigns With Brother George W. BushIt was a bit jarring to see news reports of George W. Bush at the podium.  I hadn’t seen him for a while, and of course he looked older, and thinner.  Since he left office seven years ago, former President Bush has consciously avoided the public eye and maintained a pretty consistent non-partisan, apolitical tone.  His speech yesterday sounds like more of what we’ve come to expect from him in his post-presidential years.  He was there to support and help his brother, but he did it without attacking other candidates by name or, for that matter, mentioning President Obama or criticizing the Obama administration.

George W. Bush remains a figure to be mocked and reviled among some on the left side of the political spectrum; seven years later, he’s still blamed by many, inside the Obama administration and out, for virtually all of our current problems.  Now Donald Trump has joined in, by repeating the debunked conspiratorial theories that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to maneuver us into an unnecessary war and ignored clear intelligence that America would be attacked on 9/11.

Through it all, former President Bush has publicly remained above the fray, no doubt believing that, having served in the nation’s highest office, former Presidents shouldn’t engage in rancorous partisan politics or bash their successor on talk shows.  It’s an old school approach that speaks of personal humility and properly recognizes the dignity of the presidency.  His ego obviously doesn’t compel him to stay in the media spotlight.  Instead, he’s taken to painting, he’s written a book about his Dad, former President George H.W. Bush, and he’s focused on charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Yesterday, George W. Bush listed some of the qualities we want in our President.  I think the former President’s personal conduct since he left office illustrates those qualities — and draws a pretty sharp contrast with the vulgar, egotistical, limelight-loving loudmouth who currently is leading in the polls.

 

No. 9 (Bad) Dream

The Republican presidential candidates had their ninth debate last night, in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was a train wreck.

Donald Trump dominated because he was willing to be even more rude and bombastic and bizarre than he has even been before.  He was like Trump, squared.  With his florid face neatly matching the red backdrop, Trump routinely interrupted and talked over other candidates, called people liars, made sophomoric snide remarks, and actually voiced the paranoid theory that the administration of George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to engineer the Iraq War.  Trump’s inability to give any specifics on what he would do to deal with any policy issue — other than hire “top men,” build a wall, and engage in trade wars — was more exposed than it has ever been before.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in GreenvilleI wonder when, or whether, Trump voters will awaken from their dream and realize that this ill-mannered, poorly informed, red-faced yeller is not suited to be our President and represent our nation in communicating with foreign leaders.  Last night Trump displayed, over and over again, a temperament that is unfit for high office, but his supporters have given his antics a pass before.  Perhaps the best evidence of how angry and marginalized Trump voters are is that they are willing to support Trump even after he obviously embarrasses himself.

Among the rest of the candidates there was a whiff of desperation in the air.  Campaign money has been spent down, and candidates feel that now is the time to step out and make their mark.  After South Carolina the field is likely to be winnowed further, and the logical person to go is Dr. Ben Carson, who really should have been winnowed out already. Carson is more well-mannered than Trump — of course, a caveman would be more well-mannered than Trump — but he appears to have only a tenuous grasp on some issues and seems to be wholly ill-suited, by training and knowledge, to serve as President.

I thought Marco Rubio won last night’s bad dream of a debate, by staying above the fray on the Trump sniping and giving thoughtful, cogent answers to a number of questions.  I thought the brouhaha about Rubio repeating himself in the last debate was overblown by the media — every politician up there repeats the same lines, routinely — but in any case last night’s performance should lay to rest the silly notion that Rubio is some programmed robot.  I thought Ted Cruz fared poorly, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich had their moments.  Kasich is still trying to follow the “Kasich lane” and is relentlessly staying on message as the positive candidate, while occasionally throwing in classic Midwestern phrases like “jeez o pete” and “dollars to doughnuts.”  It’s not clear whether that will sell south of the Mason-Dixon line, but Kasich has, at least, been very effective in staking out his own, unique persona among the remaining candidates.

We get to take a break until the next debate, which will be held on February 25 in Houston, Texas.  That’s good, because we need one.

Jeb! Jeb!!! Jeb?

It hasn’t been a strong 2015 for Jeb Bush.  In fact, it’s been pretty dismal.

At the beginning of the year Bush had raised a lot of money and was the presumed, faraway front-runner among the punditry, but since then he’s seen Donald Trump steal his thunder, and his less-than-optimal debate performances have left him staggering and declining steadily in the opinion polls.  You now see stories about how Bush is trying to “reenergize” and “rebrand” his campaign, which usually happens only a few weeks before a failed campaign finally clanks to a halt.  Bush’s decline is probably the reason for the Washington Post story today that the “GOP Establishment” — whatever that is — is panicking that either Donald Trump or Ben Carson might actually win the nomination.

And then there’s his campaign logo:  Jeb!  He had the same logo with the exclamation point when he ran for Governor in Florida, but now it looks sort of desperate and needy.  If he’s trying to reenergize his campaign, you wonder if he’s going to add a few more exclamation points to make his name look even more exciting!

I don’t know what Jeb Bush’s campaign style was like when he won the races in Florida, but in this cycle — so far, at least — he comes across as a kind of gray, distracted figure who likes to talk about policy issues.  If he were your neighbor, you feel like you’d see him wearing a button-up sweater and raking leaves every weekend, and you’d just give him a wave and try to avoid getting into a conversation because you’d spend 15 deadly minutes listening him talk earnestly about some arcane issue the zoning board decided.

Jeb Bush would be a fine candidate if candidates just took a closed-book test on their knowledge of the issues — but of course they don’t.  A big part of campaigns is getting out, connecting with the people, and charging them up about why electing the candidate is essential to the future of the Republic.  Can Jeb Bush do that, with or without the exclamation point?  He sure hasn’t shown it to date, and his failure to knock Trump or Carson out of the race and show them up as know-nothing amateurs has got to be a source of concern for his advisors and supporters. If he can’t make Donald Trump look out of his depth, how would he fare against the Democratic nominee?

So Jeb Bush is left with money, and an exclamation point.  But political punctuation can only take you so far.

Surprising Shrinkage

The Republican field in the presidential sweepstakes is shrinking.  Yesterday Scott Walker made a surprisingly quick exit from the race, following Rick Perry’s departure a few days earlier.

Walker’s exit was apparently due to the modern political trifecta of failure:  lack of money, falling poll numbers, and perceived gaffes.  Walker got into the race with high hopes, as a successful governor in a purple state whose budget and tax cutting efforts were applauded by many conservatives.  He did well for a while, but never really seemed to get much traction, his numbers fell as new candidates entered the race, and although he was in both of the “top half” Republican candidate debates he didn’t make much of an impression.  He left the race with a call for Republicans to back a candidate with an optimistic approach to the issues.

It’s hard to imagine that politics could get more front-loaded than it has been over the past few election cycles, but it evidently has.  This year we’re seeing serious candidates drop out after only a few glitzy debates, months before any actual voter has a say in a caucus or primary.  It seems crazy — but it just reaffirms the power of TV, polls, and campaign contributions.

The departure of Walker and Perry may say something about the mood of the electorate as well as the new reality of the political process.  Both Perry and Walker were successful governors of significant states.  Right now, however, voters seem taken with the non-politicians, with Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Dr. Ben Carson leading the way.  If voters aren’t interested in electing someone with experience in governing, that’s not good news for John Kasich, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal — or Jeb Bush.

Did Walker panic, or simply make a wise decision to pull the plug on a campaign that turned out to be a dud . . . or does it mean something more?  In any case, if this trend keeps up we’ll soon be able to squeeze all of the remaining Republican candidates into one debate.

The Republican Hair Club For Men

Say what you will about the Republican candidates for President, but you have to concede one thing:  they are displaying a fantastically diverse set of hairstyles.  With 16 men ranging from 40s to nearly 70 in the field and not a chrome domer in the bunch, the GOP guys have beaten the odds.  In fact, it’s so statistically improbable that you have to wonder if it isn’t random chance and instead was the a plan of a shadowy, secret organization . . . .

Chairman TRUMP:  OK, I’m calling this meeting of the Republican Hair Club for Men to order.  Gentlemen, congratulations on a good first debate.  Governor Bush, do you have a report for us?

Gov. BUSH:  Yes, Mr. Chairman.  As you all know, our plan was to subconsciously appeal to the deep-seated hair fantasies and vanities of the American male by presenting candidates who cover the broadest possible range of different coiffures short of outright baldness  And I’m pleased to say it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.  Our studies show that not only did that first Fox debate achieve record ratings, but the vast majority of men who tuned in really were just checking out our different stylings.

Sen. CRUZ:  And I’m betting a number of those viewers saw the benefits of Brylcreem, didn’t they?  The success of Mad Men made American men recognize that “a little dab’ll do ya” is a darn good look.  In fact, you might even say it’s slick.  Get it?

Chairman TRUMP (sighing):  Senator — we get it, we just don’t want it.  I’m from the “wet head is dead” school myself.  And I know Governor Bush prefers his distracted professor look, Governor Walker has the “boyish front, bald spot in back” ‘do covered, Dr. Carson’s strongly representing the short hair contingent, Senator Rubio and Governor Huckabee are displaying the benefits of a razor cut at both ends of the age spectrum . . . .

Sen. PAUL (interrupting):  And don’t forget us Kentuckians who want a haircut that reminds everyone of Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap!

Chairman TRUMP:  Still having a bad day, eh?  Yes, Governor Kasich?

Gov. KASICH:  To add to Governor Bush’s report, I wanted to note that the polling data is showing that my little surge in New Hampshire is almost entirely attributable to my coiffure.  I was going for a rumpled, devil-may-care look, but in the North Country where they hibernate for most of the winter, it’s been interpreted as “bed head.”  It just shows the political value of an ambiguous, multi-purpose styling that covers a number of bases.

Sen. RUBIO:  That’s an excellent point, Governor.  And it reminds me:  the barbers, hair stylists, and product manufacturers that have been of our strongest supporters have identified a gaping hole in our coverage of the spectrum of men’s hairstyles.

Dr. CARSON:  It’s the mullet, isn’t it?

Sen. RUBIO:  Precisely.  How about it, Governor Christie?  As the representative of the Garden State, you’re the logical choice, aren’t you?  Of course, you’d have to get a tattoo and maybe a piercing, too.

Gov. CHRISTIE:  I think you’re confused there, Senator.  I could see it if you were asking me to adopt a greasy or spiky Jersey Shore-type cut, but a mullet really is more of an Appalachian look, so I’ll have to defer to Senator Paul to take his tousled ‘do to the obvious next level.

Gov. WALKER:  Speaking of the next level, Mr. Chairman, when are you going to share with us your secret about how you hold that extravagant mane of yours — whatever it is — in place?  Is it a gel or cream?  Is it some kind of top-secret spray?  Lacquer?

Chairman TRUMP:  Sorry, boys — but that information is more classified than the email found on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Gov. HUCKABEE:  It’s about time that someone talked about the opposition!  I suggest that each of you stop this orgy of self-congratulation and think for a minute about the Democratic front-runner.  Let’s face it:  Secretary Clinton, alone, has covered more hairdos than our entire group.  She’s had short cuts, long looks, hair flipped up at the end, hair curled under — I’m sure if I did enough internet research I could find an ’80s big hair coiff and maybe even a beehive in her past, too.  It’s incredibly impressive.  She’s just one woman, yet she’s managed to span virtually the entire spectrum of women’s hairstyles!

Chairman TRUMP (suddenly somber):  He’s right, men — we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.  This meeting is now adjourned.  Senator Cruz, could you clean off the back of your chair before you go?

Debate Download

God help me, but I watched the Republican debate tonight.  UJ — who for some mysterious reason lacks a functioning TV — decided he wanted to come over and watch the debate, and Kish and  I watched it with him.

My thoughts?  The Trump balloon popped tonight.  The forever-frowning Donald looked like a self-mocking SNL skit up there.  He’s a pompous blowhard who obviously doesn’t know much about the issues at a granular level, and it shows.  When he talks about how his businesses are taking “advantage of the federal laws” he’s not exactly speaking to the lives of normal Americans.  I think we’ve seen the scowling, high water mark of the populist uncandidate.

As for the rest of the field, I thought Ben Carson was a clear loser until the last few questions, when he recovered somewhat.  I was surprised by how well John Kasich fared.  I thought Chris Christie and Marco Rubio did well, and I have to believe that the evangelical element poses clear upper limits for Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.  Jeb Bush seemed to flounder a bit, Scott Walker is Everyman, and Rand Paul looks likes he’s wears a wild animal pelt on his scalp.  Let’s see . . . have I forgotten anyone?

I’ll say this for the Republican debate tonight:  I’m not sure you’re getting much nuance and sophistication in answers that are limited to 1 minute — or in some cases 30 seconds — but it was fast-moving.  What does it mean?  I think nothing.