‘Politics ain’t beanbag’

Published 11:53 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It was back in 1895 that Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley first observed that “politics ain’t beanbag,” but nothing has happened since to throw doubt on Dooley’s words. In fact, this year’s Republican presidential campaign sounds a lot like something Mr. Dooley would have truly enjoyed. The candidates began squabbling the first time they got together and have turned up the volume as the first real vote approaches in Iowa and the race tightens.

At first no one believed that a New York braggadocio real estate tycoon had any chance at all, but when Donald Trump jumped out in front of the rest of the wannabes disbelief, denial and panic ensued. Ohio’s moderate Gov. John Kasich was first out of the box. His super PAC began airing attack ads targeting Mr. Trump even as Mr. Kasich stood on the debate stage urging everyone to be nice and focus on “real” issues.

Then there was Jeb Bush who probably thought The Donald was crazy and began saying so, but made the mistake of suggesting that Mr. Trump’s followers too were a little light on the gray cells. He was joined in one way or another by all the rest save Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose plan required him to be nice to Mr. Trump so that when The New Yorker’s campaign went into the inevitable tailspin everyone was looking forward to, Trump admirers would migrate to his banner. The problem, of course, was that the collapse has yet to take place; Mr. Trump is stubbornly holding onto his supporters and those who oppose him for ideological reasons, fear the consequences of a Trump general election candidacy or sense that he is standing in their way have taken off the gloves.

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Mr. Cruz questions the man’s legitimacy as a potential Republican candidate because of his “New York values,” others wonder what happened on his road to Damascus to turn a Clinton-loving Obama supporter who condemned the last GOP presidential nominee as too harsh on illegal immigrants into what he appears to be today.

Mr. Trump has responded in kind as is his wont. He’s questioning Mr. Cruz’s qualifications because the man was born not in the United States, but Canada and belittling the conservatives at National Review for essentially endorsing anyone else while condemning his judgment, background and ideological bona fides. Some of those attacking Mr. Trump implied that if he is nominated they might have to take a walk, a sentiment echoed by numerous Republican senators unable to come to grips with the possibility that Ted Cruz, who they hate more than they fear a Trump candidacy, might end up as their party’s standard bearer. Not to be outdone, radio and television’s Glenn Beck said he’d vote for socialist Bernie Sanders over Mr. Trump.

The bottom line is that the candidates and their followers are in the middle of a free-for-all, which is what anyone with any sense of history should have expected. The stakes this year are enormous and when political races tighten up, the gloves can be expected to come off. That’s as it always is, but a word of caution to all but perhaps Glenn Beck: One of these wannabes will be nominated and a winning party is one that can come together once the dust settles. Walking away because one doesn’t get exactly what one wants is a sign of adolescence rather than seriousness.

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton and California’s Jerry Brown, neither of whom seem to have gone away, were among those then vying for their party’s presidential nomination. The New York Times described their attacks on each other as “a bitter verbal brawl” with Mr. Brown accusing Mr. Clinton and his wife of illegally feathering their nest in Arkansas. He called Mr. Clinton “corrupt” and suggested the American people weren’t about to elect someone like him in November. They did, of course, and he won because his party united behind him, and his archenemy Jerry Brown campaigned for him.

Online – www.washingtontimes.com