And all this is without regard to the individuals involved, particularly He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. His peculiarities and poisonous politics have merely aggravated the situation, not caused it. Nonetheless, his polarizing personality (I can’t really attribute anything to his “policies,” since he doesn’t seem to have many) and popularity have created a bizarre situation on the GOP side. All these wannabes who, by reason of their history, would be plausibly on the debate stage, are either sitting it out or basically sniping a bit at each other, but ignoring the 600 lb. orange haired elephant in the room. They can’t attack him, lest they put off his base, which they need for both the nomination and a general election. Those that haven’t figured out a plausible way to do this are sitting on the sidelines (Pompeo, Youngkin, Cruz, Rubio), leaving the “field” to those who haven’t figured it out either but convinced themselves that they had to try. Yet, unless HWSNBN falls, they have no hope. None have articulated their conundrum; they’re all waiting around, twiddling their thumbs, hoping for a heart attack (it’s doubtful that one or more convictions (all of which would be appealed until after the election) would change either his mind or those of his supporters). Then the myriad also-rans will scramble madly and starting their campaigns. I’m sure they each have scenario books for the contingencies (especially the Veepables). All the rest is just waiting.
The situation is strangely parallel on the Demo side. Whatever might be said about Joe’s accomplishments (and they’ve been considerable), there’s not really any debate going on here. Most folks think he’s too old, but he’s got inertia which, combined with the fear of a disruptive nomination fight, has led all of the potential candidates to sit on the sidelines. No one is interested in doing anything to upset the applecart and increase the risk that HWSNBN gets re-elected.
So, we have, effectively, two non-campaigns going on. What’s a poor attention-desperate media machine to do? They’re struggling hard to create the impression of meaning and action; but no one really cares. After all, it is still more than a year to go; many (most) minds are already made up (mostly out of fear of the other). It seems we’re all just waiting for the media to get exhausted themselves.
In terms of the election itself, then, barring something really cataclysmic that leads to a “rally ‘round the flag” scenario, we’re in a long-term holding pattern—sort of like circling around Pittsburgh because bad weather has back-up the landing patterns at JFK. Unless,…
Unless, there is a medically-forced vacancy at the top of either ticket. The later it happens the more exciting it would be. Immense chatter among the chattering classes. High-stakes wheeling-and-dealing, real polls, real debates…wow. If it doesn’t happen until spring then previously-selected nominating convention delegates might actually have to make decisions. Or, perhaps, after a convention, a party National Committee would have to actually choose a candidate. The shock to the system would be great (not that I’m wishing ill health on anyone) and would force us (i.e., the body politic) to actually pay attention and perhaps even care about politics for a change.
After the Nazis blitzkrieged through Poland 84 years ago, there was an eight-month period when pretty much nothing happened in the European War. Historians refer to this phase as the “phony war.” We’re pretty much in the same situation in our politics now; even though there has been no blitzkrieg either before or (likely) following.
This strange politics also highlights the surreal nature of campaigning. The media (by which I mean not only the national print and broadcast press, but also the social media) still talk in terms of campaigning as if we were back in the early 20C, with whistle-stop tours and substantive policy positions. They call it “retail politics” and feature all sorts of amusing/strange local events around the country: corn-dog chomping in Iowa, maple syrup slurping in New Hampshire, unending barbeques. But in an age of Amazon vs Walmart and electronic transmission of information, it’s not at all clear to me why we care and why we think this actually has an effect on national politics. I mean, how many folks actually go to such events? Their impact is far more driven by the coverage of such events by the media than by the live “retail” political customers. The same is true for the other staple of local politics: the “rally.” The percentage of attendees who haven’t already made up their minds (“been there, bought the tee shirt”) is tiny. The media coverage is all about snooping around for gaffes. In sum, the whole local angle of national politics is a charade.
During the 2020 mid-pandemic election, candidates (mostly) stayed home and the quality of campaigning didn’t suffer; it was actually quite nice. One has to ask whether—other than the media hand wringing over the loss of “retail politics”—candidates couldn’t usefully return to the 19C style of campaigning from their home’s front porch, rather than dashing around the country, dropping into 2…3…4 states each day for “appearances” in their pre-election frenzy. So, what if Governor X didn’t actually visit State Y during the campaign? Do a couple of 2-hour stops in, say, Tucson and Mesa, AZ really demonstrate local knowledge and engagement?
And don’t even get me started on all the wasted money and its inevitable corruption.
Again, I emphasize that most of these distortions and problems arise without considering the personalities and age of our two leaders. More signs of system crash. Time for a reboot.