Given the opportunity, I’d support New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a moderate and sensible conservative, for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott would be an acceptable alternative. But as I’m reminded by my 30-year-old son Nicky, who follows politics fairly closely—at least when the streets are hot—and in 2015, predicted Donald Trump, even after the New York celebrity’s mocking of Sen. John McCain, would win the presidency, Americans now live in a post-traditional political world. That means someone like Sununu, in the now-unlikely event he runs, could follow Jimmy Carter’s mid-1970s example and travel throughout the country from now until next year’s primaries, and still never rise above four percent in the thousands of (mostly useless) polls that are published.
It's not that I lose sleep over this twisted, upside-down reality—like much of American life, politics is cyclical (I hope!) and a return to the norm may occur in four or eight years—since there’s not much anyone not in a public or clandestine position of power can do. Give credit to the committed volunteers (mostly young) for certain also-rans like Marianne Williamson, Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and so on—and let’s be honest, that kind of door-to-door canvassing and organizing meet-ups with “ordinary” voters is a social activity—but electorally, it’s a losing cause. Ask the men and women who toiled for Maryland’s Martin O’Malley—usurped by the out-of-nowhere fan clubs bestowed upon Sen. Bernie Sanders, “The Bern”—how that worked out (although I’d bet more than a few of them got married and/or made valuable career contacts). I’ve seen enough presidential administrations in my lifetime to know that they come and go and the United States isn’t much changed by a single president, that now more than ever—to reprise Nixon’s slogan from 1972—the real power isn’t in the Oval Office but in quarters, near Washington, D.C., that pull the strings.
Nevertheless, at my age it’s difficult to throw out all the political history and a nugget or two of wisdom gained over the years. At the end of January, I spoke at length to Nicky about how Gov. Ron DeSantis, smartly not reacting to Trump’s insults—some work, like Meatball Ron; Ron DeSanctimonious falls flat—and like George W. Bush in 1999 raising so much money before even announcing a presidential bid to scare off competitors, would lap Trump. I rattled off the reasons: landslide win in Florida last November, in comparison to the GOP’s surprising stumbles in most of the country; age (44 compared to Trump’s 76 and Biden’s 111); an athlete and veteran who was a diligent student at Yale and Harvard Law; an intelligent and supportive wife; and a record of not going overboard on Covid lockdowns. He panders to social conservatives, has a vile stance on immigration, same as Trump, so that’s a wash.
Nicky, exasperated, just said, “Dad, none of that matters anymore. It’s not 1968 or even 2012. Trump’s nuts, but that’s why he’ll win… who does the worthless media still focus on?”
I thought about it, especially after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s grandstanding on the very shaky Stormy Daniels hush money cover-up, which Trump has exploited for maximum publicity, and concluded that Meatball Ronald can’t compete with this once-in-a-century pop culture/political phenomenon. (As of this writing on Wednesday, no indictment has been issued.) Trump’s rally last weekend in Waco, on the 30th anniversary of the Branch Davidians shoot-out, was a success, not for anything the candidate said (same old me-me-me baloney) but the symbolism of Big Brother Governance.
The Democratic strategy in the no-longer nascent campaign is baffling. No one believes that Bragg acted alone in bragging about the possible indictment over the flimsy Stormy Daniels business-as-usual gray-area crime. The media’s a different story: as always, self-interest tops ideology, so it made sense that liberal outlets bashed DeSantis when he was polling well, and then pivoted back to Trump.
As I’ve written before, the media and Trump are unspoken allies; he wins the presidency, and “news” outlets reap the digital revenue and notoriety. But the Democratic National Committee? You’d think—and maybe I’m wrong—they’d like to win next year, but caretaker, barely-coherent Biden is still slated to run. Political pundits and analysts spend far too much time over-interpreting Biden’s win in 2020; it’s almost completely ignored that the Covid election was an anomaly, that if Biden had to speak in front of people every day, instead of waging an early-20th century style sit-at-home campaign, Trump would’ve won reelection handily.
Common sense says: offer the nomination to Michelle Obama—59, smart and extremely popular—on the pretext “your country needs you” and watch as she creams Trump. Maybe that’s the June surprise: but it’s probably too logical to occur. Why would Michelle—fabulously wealthy, living in fabulously ritzy homes and with the ability to snap her fingers and arrange a fabulous TV interview (or lucrative corporate speech at $1 million a pop, because everyone needs pocket change)—agree to take on a challenging, time-consuming job? Fair question, but the presidency is a narcotic, and making history as the first female Commander-In-Chief must be something she at least entertains while poolside in a fabulous Hawaiian resort. (This scenario isn’t one I favor, although Hillary Clinton’s head exploding would be a silver lining.)
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023