Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton, a no holds barred cage match to the death**.
This should be fun. Clinton is very much “the devil you know.” She’s the closest thing the Democrats have to Bob Dole in the sense that her candidacy feels as though it’s a result of it being her turn as much as anything. I like Bernie Sanders, but I’d wager that a stronger Democratic candidate would have put him away a long time ago. She’s been in the public eye for decades, but it’s hard to remember any time she’s every received much positive press. It’s hard to point to much in the way of achievements. She’s rightly perceived as elitist and she’s much more comfortable discussing the minutiae of policy than she is delivering a rousing stump speech.
On a broader scale, she gives every indication of being the next in an unbroken line of Reagan-ish presidents. She’s hawkish on defense, fiscally conservative, pro-Wall Street, but generally liberal on social issues. A Clinton presidency would likely look a great deal like a Reagan, Bush, Obama, or, um, Clinton presidency. Probably more like her husband’s terms than any other, not because she isn’t her own person, but because there would be an endless sideshow of fake scandals in the press***. If you like the way things are going now, and have gone for the last 35 years, then a Hillary Clinton presidency looks appealing.
Donald Trump offers a much greater opportunity for amusement. Like Clinton, one gets the impression that a strong opponent would have swept the floor with him. Instead, he squared up against Ted Cruz, whose “I’m Just Like Donald Trump But Not Donald Trump” marketing plan didn’t have any more appeal than the “I’m Ted Cruz” plan.
Trump’s campaign strategy of “saying whatever he thinks people want to hear” has been stunningly effective. There’s no compelling reason to believe that he actually believes anything he’s saying. Remember the jab against Cruz, suggesting that Cruz’ father was linked to Lee Harvey Oswald? Trump flat-out admitted that he didn’t actually believe it; he was just saying it because he thought it would be effective. Some people call that a clever use of “rhetoric,” but c’mon, he’s just lying. That’s what he does.
It’s hard to imagine what a Trump presidency would look like because he has no track record, he dishonest about his beliefs, and there’s little indication either party would work with him. It might just be a ridiculous side show, or it might be a complete train wreck. Sure, Hillary Clinton has been party to war crimes but at least she has the good grace to evade questions about them. Trump has stated that he admires war crimes and wants to commit more. His supporters have suggested that he’s only saying this to get votes, but even if that’s true, that’s hardly a reason to vote for him.
As for the campaign, it’s going to be really weird. Clinton is relatively easy to attack and, while you’d think someone like Trump would be, the fact is that it’s very hard to pin someone down when they’re not constrained by facts. Clinton can attack his terrible record as a businessman and he’ll just say something like “Hillary’s just a loser. I’m the richest, most handsome, most successful businessman in the history of the United states and she knows it.” It’s crap, but it’s really, really hard to deal with in a debate setting, especially when the moderators have been cowed into non-participation in the name of “neutrality.”
We just haven’t seen a candidate like Donald Trump before. Even Ross Perot had beliefs and scruples (not to mention the fact that he was a genuinely successful businessman). My gut feeling is that Trump’s negatives are so enormous, even greater than Clintons, that even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would get 40% of the vote against him. That’s a tough starting point. Maybe he can expand his support, maybe he can attack Clinton effectively enough to drag her down with him. There’s not precedent for this so anyone who claims to know how it’s going to play out has a better crystal ball than I do.
I’ll tell you this though: It’s going to be very, very amusing to watch.
* Barring a miraculous comeback by Bernie Sanders. I’m not holding my breath.
** Of one’s or the other’s political career, I expect.
*** While the real scandals are swept under the rug.