Voting is soon to commence: Curb your enthusiasm
ERIC SONDERMANN Ews@ericsondermann.com Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and The Gazette newspapers;t Ews@ericsondermann.com; follow him at @Ericsondermann.
We live in an era of the perpetual presidential campaign, yet it seems somehow strange that actual voting is just around the corner.
The Iowa caucuses — this year for Republicans only — are but six weeks away. The New Hampshire primary will follow eight days later. That brief interim should give mathematically-challenged Iowans time to tabulate their results.
South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan will be heard from in February. All of this leads up to Super Tuesday on March 5, when voters in 16 states, including Colorado, will have their say.
This is about to get real, folks. Even if it feels like the country is in a state of suspended animation, watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion.
The constituency out there eagerly awaiting a Donald Trump versus Joe Biden rematch is perhaps the size of those lining up for a self-help book on nail fungus or leading the charge for a return of Prohibition. The prospect of one more reality television show — how about a Teenage Bachelor? — is appealing by comparison.
In a nation of 333 million people, this is the choice staring at us? Are Kim Kardashian and Caitlyn Jenner unavailable? Where is Michael Milken? Can we draft Casey Anthony or the Octomom? Could O.J. take a break from his search for the real killers?
Hyperbole aside, you get the point. The enthusiasm is rather limited for a grudge match next November between an aging, multiply-indicted Trump and a tired, aged Biden.
Given the centrality of the marketplace to America’s operating system, it defies logic that the country could be forced to select between two pastprime politicians with a deficit of market appeal.
In Democratic Party circles, the prevailing attitude is one of denial. Despite repeated indicators of Biden’s perilous political condition, the talking point reads, “What problem?” Those messengers sounding the warning are dismissed as overly anxious bedwetters.
Across western democracies, this is a tough time to be an incumbent executive. Ask Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz or Rishi Sunak or Justin Trudeau. Economic unease is high coming out of the pandemic and on the heels of worldwide inflation. Conflicts in Ukraine and now in Israel add to the disquiet.
Complicating Biden’s lot is a Democratic Party increasingly (I might add, embarrassingly) divided over the administration’s support of Israel in its hour of crisis. Young voters do not show the same kind of attachment to Israel as do older generations. Even if such young voters will never check the Trump box, a lack of excitement and engagement can be almost as deadly.
Democrats are counting on the ship being righted by the time next fall rolls around. Once it is confirmed as a binary choice, no matter how weak their horse might be and what questions linger around his capacity, they have faith that Trump is unelectable and that the country will again reject his menace.
And then there is the abortion issue in the continuing aftermath of Dobbs that continues to ring the victory bell for Democrats sometimes even on difficult turf.
That is the theory among Democrats in spite of troubling poll after poll. Republicans clearly have a different take.
Within GOP ranks, the sense is that the country has reached a conclusive judgment that Biden is incapable of a second term. Kamala Harris is off-putting as a replacement. Moreover, even among those who acknowledge Trump’s abundant warts, including that minor matter of standing by while the Capitol was ransacked, there is a belief that voters yearn for a return to the more robust days before Covid’s arrival.
The cherry atop the Republican playbook is that Biden has passively allowed his party to drift to the cultural, faculty-lounge left in a manner that seals his fate among that remaining cadre of centrist, persuadable voters.
Wise Democrats might cogitate on that fact that theirs was once the party of the working class. That day is long past, no matter how many times loyalists cite the two decades old book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas.” They continue to miss the fact that voters are not exclusively economic creatures.
New York Times columnist, David French, as principled a conservative as you will find, recently presented the scary scenario that would lead to a Trump victory. In French’s formulation, Trump secures the Republican nomination based on “love” and triumphs next November due to “hate.”
More precisely, despite it all, the largest share of Republicans adore their fearless leader. After multiple opportunities to detach from Trump, their fealty has only grown. That is enough to ward off Nikki Haley, Ron Desantis and other contenders, and secure Trump’s third consecutive nomination.
As French presents it, that is when love’s opposite enters the equation. Polarized, tribal, party loyalty being what it is, even those Republicans who never signed onto the Trump train will hold their noses and pull the party lever next November out of hatred for the other side.
The previous 800 words are all predicated on this dismal reencounter between Trump and Biden. But what if that is not inevitable? What if the coming year holds a steady diet of curveballs? Suppose there really is a chink in Trump’s armor among Republicans. Suppose that Desantis hangs him out to dry in Iowa, or just comes close. And that Haley then exposes his weakness in her native South Carolina.
Suppose that Trump is convicted in one or more of his criminal trials. Would the GOP really nominate a felon? Would the country elect one, even given Biden’s frailty?
Suppose Biden suffers a significant health scare. Or that Trump does. Neither is outside the realm of possibility. Mortality tables being what they are, at the risk of being morbid, what if one of these candidates is not with us a year from now?
Suppose an independent, bipartisan, No Labels ticket of Manchin-romney or Manchin-cheney were to become a viral sensation and fill the dark void.
Suppose Trump exits the race whether due to defeat or an adverse court ruling or as part of a plea bargain. What then becomes of the whole rationale for Biden’s candidacy?
Here’s paging pitcher Greg Maddux and his arsenal of curveballs. A whole lot of disenchanted voters are counting on something out of the strike zone.
The Gazette, Colorado Springs