Gunning for fun in ’16
Snark and snipe mark the opening of campaign hostilities
It’s the conceit of every generation to think in terms of hyperbole, that nobody has seen the trouble it sees. But the 2016 campaign for the White House promises to be as personal and divisive as any in a long time. The politics of threats, fireworks and innuendo have begun. The Democratic and Republican front-runners have been around for a long time, and have the help of longtime loyalists with a history of using every weapon in their arsenal to cripple and destroy.
Hillary Clinton labors under her considerable baggage, the smirk and snark that, in the words of one unkind pundit, reminds men of their first wives. The machine that she and Bill put together in the ’90s takes no prisoners. Mrs. Clinton herself devised the strategy that when the Clintons called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home they employ operatives to demonize the women he abused and to blame his zipper problems on a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” President Clinton always managed to come across as Bubba, a likeable rogue with an “aw, shucks” style that disarmed nearly everyone, a living persona of something from a place called Hope: “Whatcha gonna do with a good ol’ boy like me?” But Hillary, not so much.
Nothing since then has changed. Family operatives have put together a galaxy of groups to intimidate anyone who dares to examine either her or the record. One group of fans warns reporters to beware of certain words to describe her, words like “calculating” and “ambitious,” “crafty” or “scheming,” lest they be indicted for “sexism.” Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, was told to beware of the consequences of taking on Mrs. Clinton.
On the Republican side, wannabes are beginning to snipe and threaten each other. Friends of Jeb Bush, who was a mentor to a young Marco Rubio, are exploiting “opposition research” to argue that Mr. Rubio, as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, was not the conservative he now claims to be. (Unlike Jeb, you might say.) The Bush family has a strong view about the importance of loyalty and many Friends of Jeb regard Mr. Rubio as disloyal. Their differences are personal, not ideological, and the personal can get ugly in a hurry.
The competition among the other Republicans is the case in point. Gone is Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment, that “thou shall speak no ill of another Republican.” Ted Cruz wants to be seen as “the real deal” and is defining himself by attacking others as conservatives lite. In a recent email he argued that “I’m the only candidate running for President who not only believes in the constitutional right to keep and bear arms — but has a record of fighting for it, tooth and nail.” Fierce and imaginative, but not quite accurate.
This was his opening shot to separate himself from two other enthusiastic gun guys, Rand Paul and Mr. Rubio, who are eager to impress Second Amendment voters whose support could be decisive in several early primary and caucus states.
Half of those who watch NASCAR races are said to do so in anticipation of a crash, like wrestling fans eager to see a broken neck and boxing fans to see a concussion or two. If that’s true (we’re not saying it isn’t) aficionados of vicarious violence should settle in for a thrilling ride down the campaign trail. The rest of us are anxious to see a winner, whether in cast or bandages, capable of reuniting his or her party in anticipation of one of the most important presidential elections ever. And that’s no hyperbole.