|Conventions can be wild affairs.|
Being a pundit is harder than it sounds. Front runners today can easily be sidelined by the time the conventions finally roll around. Maine Sen. Ed Muskie was once a favorite of the Democrats back in 1972 until being ruined by a forged letter; businessman Herman Cain led the Republicans for a while in 2012. Other favorites who vanished include Sen. Henry Clay, the early leader in several campaigns in the 1800s, and Gen. George McClellan, the eventually Democratic presidential nominee in 1864 who was even thought capable of beating incumbent Abraham Lincoln. In more recent times, failed front runners include Sen. Howard Baker who was favored initially over Ronald Reagan in 1980; Sen. Gary Hart who also was the original first choice in 1988; Sen. John Glenn in 1992; Elizabeth Dole in 2000; New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008; and Gov. Sarah Palin in 2012.
They all faded away by the time delegates started to cast their ballots.
This year, delegates will have a plethora of candidates to consider since neither party has an incumbent in the White House now that President Barack Obama has completed his two allowed terms. The two top Democratic Party contenders for his post are Hillary Clinton, a former New York senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton has several strong assets. Her husband presided over one of the most successful recent presidencies with full employment, a robust economy, low inflation and no wars. Many folks likely would like to return to that scenario. She is seen as strong on terrorism and has demonstrated wide knowledge in the various debates. Her calm demeanor and grasp of the issues has outclassed any competitor so far. She is also a woman, which will attract female voters.
On the other hand, she has ties to big business at a time when voters seem to be leery of the status quo. She voted for the Iraqi war, which she says she now regrets. Besides, she has been targeted with fake issues like the complaints about her private e-mails and the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012. The Benghazi hearings have been exposed as a political sham; the emails controversy was muted by the revelation that multiple secretaries of state did the same thing, and that nothing secretive was compromised. Still, Clinton has been smeared by the charges.
Moreover, she is seen as a tired, old politician who represents the past.
Sanders has mounted a surprising challenge to her because of his strong points. He has attracted a large swath of dissatisfied Americans who want to change the political system. Their enthusiasm harkens back to the brigades of young people who helped elect Jimmy Carter in 1976. Sanders knows the issues and is demanding deep changes in how government runs, more help for the poor in our society, more payment to veterans and higher minimum wages among other issues.
On the other hand, he is a self-proclaimed socialist in a country deeply suspicious of socialism. It is erroneously seen as akin to Communism, despite such socialist programs like Social Security and Medicare. Sanders is also Jewish, and anti-Semitism is not a mirage in this country. Sen. Joe
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who was once
a favorite for the Oval Office, found his hopes dashed partly because of his
Moreover, Sanders would be 75 if elected, becoming the oldest president in our history. That’s a difficult barrier to overcome. Clinton is not young: she would be 69 when taking the oath of office, the same age Reagan was when elected. However, Sanders would be older that Reagan when the Gipper was re-elected in 1984.
In addition, he is an independent. While usually siding with the Democrats, Sanders must win Democratic Party delegates. A long-time party stalwart, Clinton will have no problems in that area. Sanders will.
Finally, Sanders is strident. He lectures people. That approach wears thin. Clinton is more conversational, an approach that served her husband well. She could even laugh at some of the nonsense questions posed by Republicans on the committee “investigating” Benghazi. Sanders would have been outraged. In a debate, he called for a “revolution,” a chilling term in an essentially conservative country,
I suspect voters eventually will prefer someone a little calmer as Commander in Chief.
Sanders and Clinton could split the vote. Neither is likely to accept the vice presidential position. Then, the convention will have choose one of them or opt for an alternative candidate. That’s how James K. Polk became president in 1844 and William Jennings Bryan emerged as the Democratic nominee in 1896. The others now running have no chance except as compromise candidates. Vice President Joe Biden, who was touted as an alternative, has declined to run.
Clinton, however, has the inside track on the delegates and is the likely winner. She will have to choose a younger politician, probably Hispanic, as vice president. Sanders, too, would have to select someone younger and Hispanic, especially since he has little support in the Hispanic community. He also has failed to win over Black voters so far.
Neither could afford to select a veteran politician like Biden as running mate. That would alienate too many voters. Besides, Americans want to feel confident in a vice president who might be president should something happen to the aging occupant of the White House.
The Republicans are fielding a much larger field. That portends a split convention with candidates scrambling to scrounge up support. I can’t believe any candidate will walk into the convention with sufficient votes. That includes today's front runners: industrialist Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Mario Rubio, Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz.
Each has strengths and weaknesses. Trump and Carson are outsiders, appealing to the same disaffected voters who are attracted to Sanders. Polls show Republicans are very unhappy with government and are backing those views by supporting these two candidates over political veterans.
Neither, however, has ever served in elected office or has built the kind of political networks that are working on behalf of their opponents. Trump is the best known, but he’s already 69 years old. He seems to be running his campaign like a reality television show with wild, unsubstantiated and seemingly racist claims – most recently that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, a claim refuted by all media reports – and by belittling his fellow candidates. Such an approach becomes annoying, even threatening, after a while.
Trump is already being compared to Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose hate-filled speech launched a dismal, suppressive era in the 1950s.
Trump has also shown little grasp of foreign affairs and domestic issues, opting for sound bites with few details.
Carson is also hampered by an abysmal lack of general knowledge, religious views that deny Climate Change and fundamental science as well as equally unverifiable claims about his early life. He has wilted under intense media questions, which he would continually face if elected. As a Black, he seems an outsider in the Republican Party anyway.
At 44, Rubio and Cruz are the youngest GOP candidates. Both are aiming at the same audience: the young conservative. Neither has shown much understanding of how to dealing with other countries; both have made serious gaffes.
In Cruz’ case, he couldn’t remember what five government departments he wanted to close among other well-documented misstatements. Rubio couldn’t even answer easy Fox Network questions about Iraq, eventually calling the war there a mistake and then reversing himself. Rubio, who has gained support recently, is also co-author of an immigration bill that Republicans abhor.
Both are the sons of immigrants, which would seemingly appeal to those voters. In fact, there are bound to be challenges to Cruz’ citizenship claims, reminiscent of similar attacks on Obama. However, both speak Spanish, which should draw some Hispanic voters.
Jeb Bush has long been considered the front runner regardless of the polls because of his political connections and because his father and brother were previously elected. On the other hand, he has to cope with their legacy. George W. was recently voted America’s worst president by more than 60 percent of historians; George H.W. was defeated for re-election in 1992 for trying to raise taxes after promising not to. He, too, has not fared well in historical analysis.
Moreover, Jeb’s campaign has shown no energy. At the same time, he has attacked women’s health issues, undermining support from half the voters while wavering on his endorsement of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that his brother initiated. However, Bush is favored by party leaders and has inroads into delegates. If he falters, Rubio would be the second choice.
Other candidates, such as Rep. Rand Paul, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rick Santorum have so far failed to gain any momentum. One-time favorite businesswoman Carly Fiorina has drifted back, hurt by her own misstatements and her spotty business record.
The convention should be wide open. Few of these candidates are likely to compromise. All seem driven by religious zeal and are convinced of their eventual election. Perhaps Kasich would accept the VP post, but, as Ohio governor, he also welcomed Obamacare, an anathema to other Republicans.
Regardless of his current front runner standing, Trump is not likely to win because some of his views are closer to the Democratic platform, and his outsider status guarantees few delegates. Carson, too, is unlikely overcome the latter handicap. The last time a businessman was nominated was in 1940 when Wendell Willkie was chosen in what was recognized as a failed cause against a popular two-term president, Franklin Roosevelt. As it was, Willkie died less than four years later.
The last non-politician elected president was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who could have run as a Democrat or a Republican and was popular because of his role in winning World War II. Every other candidate in both major parties since 1960 has been a successful politician who served in public office before entering the presidential fray.
If no one can gain enough votes, then a compromise candidate may emerge. Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia has been suggested as has failed 2012 nominee Gov. Mitt Romney, who has declined.
Regardless, the Republican Party is likely to be splintered since no candidate has widespread support. That does not bode well in the general election, regardless of who the Democratic candidate is. In addition, if denied the nomination, Trump has threatened to start a third-party campaign, draining votes from the eventual Republican candidate. He has also said he won't campaign as an independent.
No third-party candidate has won the presidency, including businessman Ross Perot, Gov. George Wallace, Rep. John Anderson, Socialist Eugene Debs and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. None is likely to in 2016.
From all available evidence, the eventual 45th president will emerge from the party conventions.
At this writing, Clinton has the inside track, but history has shown what can happen to front runners this far from the finish line.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history along with occasional forays into American culture. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons. His latest novel is Ice Flow, published by Bold Venture Press.
His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
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