Presidential campaigns are fun, aren’t they? I’ve witnessed quite a few, especially if you include the 1940 contest between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie.
As some may recall, FDR crushed Willkie on Nov. 5 of that year, an event that was naturally overshadowed by my birth on the same morning. My father, a staunch Republican, was deeply dismayed, especially since he had extracted a promise from his liberal spouse not to support “that man in Washington.”
My mother kept her promise. When the daily newspaper published election results by precinct, North End voters had gone strongly for Willkie, with Roosevelt a distant second. A single voter had cast her ballot for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate — yep, it was my mom.
In 1948, Harry Truman’s train made a whistle stop at the DRG&W Depot downtown. I was there, thanks to an indulgent father who thought his son ought not to miss an opportunity to see the president. Twelve years later, as a then-ardent young Democrat, I met Sen. Jack Kennedy at the state Democratic convention in Durango.
If politics is show business for ugly people, then presidential elections are a combination of the Oscars, the Olympics, the Super Bowl and a really nasty high school. Most of us manage to get over the injuries and insults of high school, and it really doesn’t matter who wins the other competitions — but president of the United States?
The fate of the nation is at stake. This is a profoundly serious competition, and we should expect each party to nominate a serious, thoughtful person. We don’t need jabbering ideologues, preening egotists, posturing lightweights or ambitious brand-builders.
That said, let’s look at the field.
Let’s start with Hillary. Like Cher and Madonna, Hillary doesn’t need any other signifier. She’s been a significant political player since her 1969 graduation speech at Wellesley. College president Ruth Adams introduced her with these words.
“In four years she has combined academic ability with active service to the college … during the past year as president of College Government and presiding officer of College Senate. She is also cheerful, good humored, good company and a good friend to all of us, and it is a great pleasure to present to this audience Miss Hillary Rodham.”
In the 46 years since, Miss Rodham became Hillary — a woman as despised and as worshipped as Roosevelt once was, a woman who has withstood continuous attempts to demonize her for a quarter of a century, a person of the utmost seriousness. Looking forward to the 2016 elections two years ago, Newt Gingrich observed: “We (Republicans) have no answer to Hillary.”
Is that still true? It seems clear that Democrats have no reasonable alternative, unless some mega-scandal suddenly engulfs their all-but-anointed leader. And despite the continuing efforts of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” to take her out, that seems unlikely.
Among the teeming masses of Republicans yearning to be nominated, who could defeat her? Let’s start with the ones who couldn’t.
Count out Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.
Democrats would be delighted with any one of them — they’re all eminently trounce-able.
Not so Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker. Any one of the five could be an attractive option for unaffiliated and moderate voters. All of them are significantly younger than Hillary, and none except Walker have a combative, ultra-partisan image that will be difficult to shake in a general election.
As the only woman in the Republican sweepstakes Fiorina has a certain edge. Hillary v. Carly — now that’d be fun to watch.
Rubio’s personal story is inspiring, but can three years in the Senate qualify him for the presidency? Kasich seems like a mensch, but can he veer far enough to the right to get the nomination — and did he start too late?
Jeb Bush has been out of politics for eight years since serving as Florida’s governor, busy doing nothing. But he has the money, the name and a serious mien. Seasoned political observers may remember that Jeb was thought to be better qualified for the presidency than his bro — so maybe it’s his turn.
For the moment, the race is the political equivalent of preseason NFL games, featuring eager rookies who get a lot of press and never make the team.
But if you prognosticate, you’ve got to make a pick.
My pick: It’ll be Hillary v. Jeb. The winner? Hillary by a nose.