NBC News Political Correspondent Steve Handlesman watches Clinton and Trump stumble through Campaign 2016
Do you want more of the same or something different? For most human beings, that’s a question as loaded as a crooked gambler’s dice.
We are a curious race, so we usually bend towards novelty over repetition. But not usually in our political choices. When it comes to something as serious as national leadership, most citizens tend to go with safety and security, the known over the unknown.
That’s why, for decades if not centuries, a familiar electoral meme has been … “Joe or Joan Schmoe, A Candidate You Can Trust.”
But this is 2016, and :a candidate voters can trust” is about as convincing and current a slogan as, “Henry’s Horseshoes, They Stick to the Hoof.”
Polls show, the two things most voters can agree on is that they neither like nor trust with major party candidate, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. And with 7 weeks to go before Election Day, there seems little hope that either politician can change those negatives.
After more than a year already of non-stop campaigning, endless assaults on civility, consistency, truth and one another, one thing few voters expect is to learn something genuinely new about either Hillary or The Donald.
They are known, their ratings are dropping, and when they tangle, either face-to-face in the debates or bla-bla to bla-bla in media coverage of the campaign trail a new idea or even an illuminating argument would come as shock to listeners on both sides.
My guess is the only thing voters are now listening for is some super-stupidity that just “tears it,” that permanently imprints on the brain of a voter – well, I sure can’t vote that for that bum, and cements support for an opponent.
For some, Trump’s just-reversed stand on President Barack Obama’s place of birth is just one more reminder of how unacceptable the self-valued billionaire is. That it took him 8 years of race-baiting and otherwise mindless and evidence-less aspersions to accept a well-documented reality should be more disqualifying for a Presidential candidate than Libertarian aspirant Gary Johnson’s probably revealing mind-fart on Aleppo a few weeks ago.
One of the things even the august NY Times is asking is…what made him do it? No, not reversing himself to reason, but choosing “birtherism” as a defining position. My answer is simple. Trump’s strategy is not to be better than Clinton, and certainly not to demonstrate his superiority through well-articulated, consequential insights into domestic and world affairs. All he needs to do, he is convinced, is be “different.” To promise a government that will be different from those of the last 40 years whose chief products have been ruinous and unsuccessful wars abroad, and severe economic inequality at home.
To a lot of voters, Hillary Clinton is the essence of “more of the same,” an overly-familiar personality with a track record of endless opacity and deception in the service of her own family’s enrichment and unscrupulous protection and coddling for their enrichers. The costs of this 1% aggrandizement project have been borne almost entirely by wage-earners from the bottom half of the economy and the government services that can compensate them for their reduced paychecks.
The Democratic Convention theme, that the former First Lady, former Senator, former Secretary of State is an “agent of change” has gotten the receptions it deserved – rejection and derision. This has left her to stump as the “qualified” candidate, as if her preparation didn’t consist of conceiving and executing policies most today see as impetuous, ill-informed and unsuccessful. For Trump it is easy to say –“trust that? Ya gotta be crazy.”
As for his own policies and preparations, Trump is running on the conviction that they don’t matter. All people want to know is that he’s not gonna be like his predecessors. What will he be? Something different.
And as for the flip-flop of Obama’s birthplace, if his track on Iraq is any guide, we can expect him to say, “I backed Obama’s citizenship from the start,” and dare anyone to point out, his latest statement isn’t just different, it’s a lie.. Too bad, because he’s one of the few people involved we’d want to keep on the job.
Steve Handelsman is an award-winning, Washington-based political correspondent for NBC News. He says the 2016 Presidential Campaign will be his last, which is too bad, considering that he’s one of the few characters connected to this campaign you’d like to keep in his job.