New York Times columnist David Brooks recently called for a Republican presidential candidate who could move the nation beyond ideology and toward accomplishment. Since Brooks saw no such person on the horizon, he invented one — an action-oriented CEO of a major company whom he described as “a sensible version of Donald Trump.”
Like most of us media weasels, he doesn’t much like the current GOP lineup.
But like ’em or not, one will take on the Democratic nominee next November. As the field narrows, the choice probably won’t be the current front-runner.
The soft-spoken Dr. Ben Carson has done extraordinarily well in the GOP Soapbox Derby.
Like Donald Trump, he’s unqualified to be president by any conventional metric. He has no experience in government at any level; he surpasses even Sarah Palin in cluelessness, but he’s perfectly at ease on the campaign trail.
Above all, he’s not a politician.
“Politician” has been a term of opprobrium in American politics at least since Andrew Jackson ascended to the presidency.
By the 1870s, Thomas Nast’s appropriately vicious caricatures of William “Boss” Tweed further marginalized those who sought elected office.
Want the respect and affection of your fellow Americans? Be a surgeon, a firefighter or a police officer. Join the military, be a CASA volunteer or take Shakespeare’s advice and get thee to a nunnery. But mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be politicos.
Want to feel marginalized? Try journalism, used car salesman, investment banker or — worst of all — politician. I’ve been three of four (I wasn’t good enough to sell cars). You can cheerfully admit to being in the first three categories, but no sane politician admits to being one.
As far as I know, no man has ever been elected to the presidency who proclaimed himself a politician. Similarly, no man has ever been elected to the presidency who wasn’t one.
And that might not be a bad thing. We want our presidents to be cunning, resourceful, informed and smart. We want them to be confident in their judgment, sure of their principles, steadfast in their patriotism and calm under fire. We want them to guide, to inspire, to lead and above all, not to do anything that might seriously displease us.
That’s an impossible role for most of us. We’re all flawed creatures, beset occasionally by failure, depression, bad hair days and flatulence. Yet we expect our candidates to be irreproachable — but with warm human touches.
No one can do that … except actors.
Ronald Reagan was effectively on-stage for most of his adult life, and instinctively adapted to his role — as corporate spokesman, as California governor, as presidential candidate and as president. He improvised his lines when he needed to — notably during a debate with other Republican candidates during the 1980 New Hampshire primary.
Exasperated by sniping from his opponents, he silenced them with a single phrase: “‘I paid for this microphone.’’
It was a movie-star moment; not quite Jimmy Cagney’s “You’ll never take me alive, Copper!” or even Humphrey Bogart’s “We’ll always have Paris.” But that flash of steel showed Americans a side of Reagan that seemed decisive and presidential.
So who are the best actors in this year’s show, the two who will face off for the prize almost exactly a year from today?
In the real world, Hillary Clinton’s chances of getting the Democratic nomination are comparable to the chances of the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl — last February’s Super Bowl.
Democrats may love Bernie Sanders, but they want to win.
Similarly, Republicans love Dr. Ben, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — but they want to win. That’s why Marco Rubio, the smart, smooth-talking, media friendly young U.S. senator with a notably thin record of accomplishment will get the GOP nomination.
For those of us with long memories, it’ll be 1960 in reverse. Republican Richard Nixon, the controversial, scandal-tinged vice president opposed Democrat Jack Kennedy, the charismatic Massachusetts senator.
That was the year of the first televised presidential debate. Nixon looked like an unshaven mafioso, while Kennedy glowed with youth, energy and optimism. Like Reagan 20 years later, Kennedy understood and inhabited his role. He was quick, agile and articulate, while Nixon seemed plodding and partisan.
Clinton versus Rubio — now that’s a matchup. It’s Peyton Manning versus Andrew Luck, Meryl Streep versus Jennifer Lawrence, John McCain versus Barack Obama.
Whatever the result, it’ll be entertaining. And pay attention … after all, the fate of the nation is at stake.