Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Donald Trump wins
Donald Trump is going to be elected president on Nov. 8.
At least I think he will. I'm not the flippin' Delphic oracle. But that seems to be the direction we're heading, and Monday night's debate only reinforced that belief. Hillary Clinton was vastly superior, yet it was a draw, I am certain, in the minds of Americans. Each candidate spoke to his or her audience, which had only scorn for the other.
And then there's Richard Nixon.
I pulled down Elizabeth Drew's book on Nixon, part of Times Books'' series of brief biographies, The American Presidents.
And I happened upon this sentence: "Nixon had transformed the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party that welcomed racists and despisers of big government, setting in motion a Republican conservative ascendancy."
Yes, the past is not prologue, necessarily.
But it is a hint.
All those commentators decrying — correctly — how Trump is the worst candidate in modern history are missing the point. Yes, Trump is terrible. But Nixon was pretty bad too. He had been a congressman and a senator and Eisenhower's neglected vice president (is there any other kind?) for eight years.
But he was also seen as uniquely unqualified, a House Un-American Activities Committee's henchman, there for the jobs too unpleasant for Joe McCarthy to handle himself. During the 1960 campaign a Herblock cartoon had shown Nixon emerging from a sewer while someone in a gleeful welcoming committee shouted, "Here He Comes Now!"
His opponent, Hubert Humphrey was enormously qualified. Also vice-president, but with none of the drawbacks and personal deficiencies of Nixon. Humphrey was the mainstream politician from Central Casting.
Just. Like. Hillary. Clinton.
As with Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party passion had been drained by more dynamic opponents: Eugene McCarthy, whose candidacy fizzled, and Robert F. Kennedy, who would have probably taken the nomination had he not been assassinated.
Nixon was law and order. Humphrey was violence in the streets. There was a third party candidate attractive to those disgusted with both.
When the smoke cleared, Nixon just barely won: 43.4 percent of the vote, to Humphrey's 42.7 percent, with George Wallace earning 13.5 percent of the vote.
So if — when — Trump wins, we can't be surprised. It has happened before.
And the truth is, Nixon wasn't so bad, as presidents go. Which leaves hope for Trump. As a man who constantly shifts position, who makes vows today and abandons them tomorrow, denying he ever made them in the first place, he could be among the great Democratic president ever. We just don't know, and to be honest, I doubt it. More like one of the great disasters. Either way, I have a feeling we're going to find out.