Gun­ning for fun in ’16

Snark and snipe mark the open­ing of cam­paign hos­til­i­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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