The magical quality for candidates in the 2016 presidential election seems to be authenticity. Or so the pundits say. How else does one explain the emergence of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?
The American public has always elected the person it thought was more authentic in relationship to the other candidates. And therein lies the problem of our two most notable baby-boomer candidates, who nine months ago I predicted would flounder.
At that time I wrote in another oped that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush had been off the campaign trail a long time and already appeared stale. But it was really much worse.
As everyone knows, the Clinton campaign has been haunted by the issue of her use of a private email server while secretary of State. Putting aside the merits of the issue, the candidate reacted the way the Clintons always do. First they make light of the issue, then they deride the merits, blaming it all on politics, then propose that they would do things differently, followed by an admission that they made a mistake and, finally, a full-blown apology. If she reversed the order of this oft-repeated pattern, maybe she would not be in her current predicament.
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Last week Clinton strategists leaked to the press the umpteenth retooling of the campaign. Presumably the campaign will be doing things in a way to make its candidate appear more authentic. So let’s see if we can understand this: Hillary Clinton, who has been in the national public eye for over a quarter century and is 68 years old, is actually going to change how she appears to the American electorate.
It just may be that a majority of the American people don’t trust Clinton because they feel like they know her. Incredibly, she can still win the Democratic nomination. After all, Bernie Sanders may be authentic, but he is a socialist and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley’s campaign remains a mystery.
Clinton has probably built a firewall for Super Tuesday, but there will still be a bad taste in voters’ mouths. Which leads us to that other dismal baby boomer candidate — Jeb.
Poor Gov. Bush, trying to be a grown-up in a race where the base of the party may be confusing celebrity with authenticity. One would feel sorry for Bush except for the audacity and arrogance of his campaign. First, he criticized Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. Bush proudly claimed he doesn’t derive his environmental policy from the pope, forgetting that he used his faith as a reason to have the government forcibly keep Terry Schiavo alive.
Then there was his awkward position of being the only person on the planet who said they would get the United States involved in Iraq again, followed by blaming the mess in Iraq on President Obama.
And notwithstanding his sincerely emotional defense of his family, it doesn’t take a political science major to know why his campaign posters don’t have his last name on it. His competitors took every opportunity at the debate to remind voters of exactly who his unpopular brother is. It is ironic that the governor announced he would run with joy when fun seems to be the last thing he is having.
Bush had a good second debate on Wednesday, but a glib failed CEO, Carly Fiorina, crushed it. Additionally, Bush was surrounded by an entertaining demagogue in Donald Trump; an eloquent younger Floridian, Marco Rubio; a genial empty-suited Ben Carson; and actually someone more qualified than Bush, Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich. Right now, Bush is poorly positioned in the first four primaries: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
The establishment types may soon start running to Kasich, the man the Democrats should fear the most. He has a record of moderation and effectiveness. But the question remains, is there any room for a John Kasich in the current Republican Party?
When campaigns try to present a contrived image of their candidates, all it does is make the candidates appear inauthentic and once that happens it’s over. Clinton and Bush have served their country well, but they should have known they weren’t remotely ready for the grind of a presidential campaign.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, a former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.