As you read this, I’m in Cancun, explaining to Mexican and Canadian officials how America got into this lose-lose of a presidential election.
My speech writes itself. “Tedious” and “vulgar” are English-Spanish cognates. “Terrible” and “horrible” are the same in French.
Now, the bad news: My ballot just arrived in the mail. For months, I’ve joked that I’d use this trip to answer some questions. Beginning with, why did I buy a return ticket to California?
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Here’s the problem I’m having. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, has run a terrible campaign. He may be the only person I know who actually lost mental acuity when he gave up marijuana.
The highlight of Green Party nominee’s Jill Stein’s campaign? Being escorted by police off the campus that hosted the first presidential debate, plus an arrest warrant for civil disobedience during a protest against a pipeline in North Dakota.
That leaves us with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I won’t waste much space on The Donald, save for asking whether it’s better to be outraged last week, when that audiotape was released, or to hold out for the next shoe to drop (which started Wednesday with The New York Times report about two women who accuse him of touching him inappropriately). We still have three more weekends for more skeletons to come tumbling out of the closets at Trump Tower.
Like Hurricane Matthew, the man has already left a trail of destruction during his 16-month fly-around of America. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich all let Trump get in their heads. The devastation reaches beyond Trump’s rivals. The schizophrenic approach by Fox News to covering his run prompted a rift between the network’s Trump boosters and bashers that may never heal.
Clinton, however, fails what I call the Jackie Robinson standard. Next April marks the 70th anniversary of Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Today, we remember the Dodger great as a man of unimpeachable character.
If Clinton breaks the hardest, highest glass ceiling next month, how will history remember her? We don’t know how her presidency would turn out. But she would enter office dogged by serious character questions – and little indication that she plans to kick her penchant for secrecy and obfuscation.
Rather than Robinson, she’s more like Barry Bonds – tiresome and polarizing.
When it comes to politicians, personal behavior and fitness for holding office, we keep moving the goalposts.
Next year marks another anniversary – 30 years since a Washington Post reporter asked presidential candidate Gary Hart: “Have you ever committed adultery?”
The question triggered a chain of events that are still unfolding. Hart never overcame media reports that he’d cheated on his wife. Four years later and perhaps regretting their Hart burn, the media didn’t make life as miserable as they could have for Bill Clinton. They made up for it with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky.
A few years later, California held a recall election during which Arnold Schwarzenegger faced a crisis. Just days before the vote, the Los Angeles Times ran a long exposé on Schwarzenegger’s ungentlemanly past.
He survived that iceberg – even used it to his advantage, one might argue – with a quick apology, assisted by Maria Shriver’s swift rush to his defense and his supporters screaming media bias.
Trump, who was on the receiving end of Schwarzenegger’s scorn last weekend, continues to water-ski among the same icebergs, perhaps fatally wounded for his tawdry past.
Let me be clear: I’m not defending Trump in any way for his abhorrent words and piggish behavior.
But for future elections, we need to decide: What levels of lewdness and infidelity are deal-breakers? Just suggestive words or actual deeds? Does disqualifying misconduct need to be private, public or prosecutable?
Now then, whose name should I write in on my ballot?
I’m taking requests.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.