In case you missed my Courier-Journal column yesterday, here it is:
he narrative for this presidential election was supposed to be about which competing political dynasty would get to crown its heir.
This “inevitability” narrative is belied by the thousands who flock to hear Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Apparently Trump and Sanders did not get the memo about Bush and Clinton having a lock on the nomination.
Meanwhile, Bush and Clinton, like King Louis XVI or Tsar Nicholas II, are in denial. The excitement for Trump and Sanders reflects lack of enthusiasm for both heirs apparent. Both are waiting for their respective nemesis to self-destruct and for the peasants to wake up. It’s hard to see how that is a winning strategy, but we are nonetheless assured that Clinton and Bush remain as certain as death and taxes.
During the recent Republican debate, Jeb looked like he was having about as much fun as King George III reading the Declaration of Independence. Nor does Hillary seem to enjoy campaigning, evading reporters and questions about servers (and not the kind who pass canapés for Jerry Lundergan).
Jeb and Hillary give the impression that they are running due to a sense of duty sprung from a sense of entitlement. They convey no passion for the position they seek or pleasure in the process to obtain it. As candidates, they are joyless. Voters should do them the favor of sparing them the burden of governing.
Watching Clinton and Bush campaign harkens back to Sen. Teddy Kennedy’s failed candidacy and his interview with Roger Mudd in 1979. When asked why he wanted to be president, Kennedy stuttered and flailed as his chances evaporated. His famous last name was an insufficient justification for a presidential campaign. Nostalgia for Camelot and kinship in a political royal family was not enough.
Neither Jeb nor Hillary has self-destructed the way Kennedy did; there has been no dramatic moment when it all went wrong. There have been no dramatic moments whatsoever. Maybe that’s why the prospect of a Bush-Clinton election feels so stale. Regardless of how one views Bill Clinton, or Bush 41, or George W. Bush, America need not and should not recycle our leaders from the same few families. It’s the electoral equivalent of inbreeding.
Jeb enthusiasts argue that the presence of another Clinton on the ballot negates the dynasty issue for him. No doubt Hillary’s supporters give her the same assurance about Jeb. But two dynasties running against each other doesn’t take away the issue, it just robs the American voters of fresh blood.
It starts looking like the War of the Roses, with the Yorks fighting the Lancasters for the British throne. The War of the Roses ended with the establishment of the House of Tudor, which drew from the competing dynasties to start a new one. Maybe that’s why Trump, who has donated to both parties, is so optimistic about his prospects.
Donald Trump does resemble Henry (Tudor) VIII, starting with the strawberry blonde hair. There is a similar swagger, a similar propensity to flaunt wealth with glamorous excess, a refusal to be bound by rules, tradition or courtesy. Though he never used the term, Henry VIII attacked political correctness centuries before Trump took up that mantle.
Both Trump and Henry VIII appreciated beautiful women, which led to complicated marital histories. To be sure, Trump hasn’t decapitated any of his ex-wives. But he decrees “You’re fired!” with an executioner’s gusto.
And like you know who, Trump has even started taking on the Pope – says he needs to scare the Pope for his own good. As Hillary channels Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe Trump is channeling Henry VIII.
Perhaps that’s why Trump has seized upon illegal immigration as his signature issue: Henry VIII had no tolerance for those Scots who slipped in over the border.
As with Henry VIII, we never know what Trump will do or say from one day to the next. That unpredictability is exhilarating, and terrifying. It’s exactly the opposite of what we get from Jeb or Hillary. It keeps us mesmerized. The notion that Trump will make Jeb and Hillary look like grown-ups is not working. He just makes them look boring.
Trump’s rivals should emulate what he does well. He speaks bluntly about America’s challenges. He believes in American exceptionalism. He does not appease anyone. He has panache. He enjoys campaigning.
But we need a Man (or Woman) For All Seasons with wisdom and gravitas to stand up to him when he goes too far.
The Framers would not want us to pass the presidency between dynasties. Nor would they want to see us elect a president who styles himself as an autocrat. As the Israelites learned in the time of Samuel, think twice before you seek a king.