The political conventions are over and now the general election campaign starts in earnest. Sort of. There has certainly never been an election like this is my living memory.
There have been some crazy ones. In 1964 Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, dogmatic like Donald Trump but without his innate nastiness. He went on to lose every state except his home state of Arizona, probably because he was publicly willing to proactively use our nuclear weapons. (You would think Donald Trump would take this as a lesson learned, but of course not.) It didn’t hurt that President Johnson was from Texas, so southerners had no reason not to vote for him.
The 1968 election was a pretty turbulent election too: riots outside the Democratic National Convention and literal fistfights inside the convention too. These were not helped by racial violence in our big cities and the assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The violence of that time was magnitudes worse than the mass shootings and targeted killings of police (and arguably blacks) of this and recent years. Hundreds died in these riots and whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. Richard Nixon rode a “law and order” platform to his election, in the process starting a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to handling crime still with us today.
The 1992 election was strange because independent Ross Perot effectively siphoned off Republican votes, giving Bill Clinton the presidency. George H.W. Bush would have won reelection if it had been a normal year, even with the recession. The 2000 election was weird because it was so close and was decided by the Supreme Court.
But this 2016 election tops all of these. You literally could not make this stuff up. If a year ago you’d have suggested that the Republican nominee shortly after his nomination would be criticizing the parents of a Gold Star Muslim serviceman whose son literally gave his life protecting our troops, no one would believe it. Today, political wonks and many average Americans spend their days with their jaws agape. Trump’s ego is apparently as boundless as his knowledge of current events and our constitution is full of ignorance. How is it possible that Trump would not know that the Russian surrogates invaded eastern Ukraine? The mind just boggles.
Still, after the Republican convention national polls showed Trump and Clinton virtually tied. Do people love Trump so much in spite of his racist blather that they will excuse anything? Or is it due to loathing of Hillary Clinton? The tie seems to be disappearing with Clinton’s post convention bounce, taking her back to about where she was before either convention got underway. She is still the likely winner. In 1964 Goldwater’s willingness to proactively use nuclear weapons scared virtually all Americans making Johnson the obvious if not enthusiastic choice.
Trump’s position mirrors Goldwater’s but he’s also expressed a willingness to use torture. This doesn’t seem to bother his supporters at all. If the election were held today while he wouldn’t win he’d have a nice haul of electoral votes. This begs the question: what the hell has happened to the American voter in these 52 years? Trump is far worse than Goldwater and by 1964’s measure he should not win any states, but it’s clear that he will. There apparently is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade at least the reddest states from voting for him anyhow. I hope to be proven wrong by Election Day, but I doubt I will be.
All this invites a lot of conspiracy theories. If somehow Trump wins the likelihood is that he won’t be in office long. Both Republicans and Democrats would give him the heave ho after an impeachment and trial, once he commits an impeachable offense. This shouldn’t take long. He might do it minutes after being sworn in. For Republicans, if there is any making of lemonade from this lemon, it’s that we’d get Mike Pence as president, who would be a Republican dream president. Perhaps this is the unlikely roll of the dice that Republicans are hoping for. As hard as I try though I just don’t see how Trump can get elected. So much of the election chessboard is baked in and so few seem persuadable, so the election will be determined mostly by turnout. Even those who would prefer to sit it out probably won’t be able to. The stakes are too high. Moreover, courts recently invalidated Voter ID laws in three states further pushing the odds toward Hillary Clinton’s election.
Those of us who care about our country and the rule of law though can be forgiven for holding our breath until after the election. While Trump’s election is unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. His election would be the biggest threat to our country since the Civil War. I expect prescriptions for Valium and Xanex to climb through the election. The nervous nellies out there have every right to be nervous. Should Trump win I may need one too. I’ll also probably need a backhoe for digging my fallout shelter. Silly me, I just figured if there were going to be a nuclear war, some other country would start it.