The Republican and Democratic conventions have wrapped up. Delegates have returned home, balloons have been burst, the convention centers have returned to normal. Where do we go from here?
That was a question that Dr. Martin Luther King asked in a 1967 speech about the state of black America, and it is apropos for the nation’s major political parties and the presidential elections.
What do we make of an election in which the candidates Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are the most disliked presidential candidates in modern American history?
Here’s what it means: The political parties have entered into a grand bargain based on different calculations about each candidate.
For the Republicans the grand bargain is to accept Trump, who after all is the last man standing of 17 primary candidates, in order to gain back the White House after eight years. Ethics, conservative principles and downright decency be damned.
And there has been a lot of indecency lately, as Trump refuses to become presidential. Republicans know that Trump is a big risk: He is the least qualified presidential candidate –and certainly least qualified Republican presidential candidate – in recent times. He makes people long for the days of Mitt Romney. There is no papering over Trump’s lack of political or governing experience. His authoritarianism. His lack of ideas. His flirting with white supremacy to draw the aggrieved nonHispanic white vote.
But Republicans – at least until this week – thought the risk can be contained. Once in the White House, Trump would be surrounded by advisors, expert staff and others in the administration to, at the very least, limit – and likely suppress – any damaging news, or so the thinking goes. The continuing drumbeat of Trump inanities is putting that bargain to a severe test.
One of the least reported bits of the GOP convention was Trump’s camp reported talk with Ohio Gov. John Kasich about the vice presidential post, including full control of domestic and foreign policy. What would that leave Trump? According to reports, Trump would “make America great again.”
The Republicans did a better job than Democrats of squelching dissent on the convention floor, only to have Ted Cruz diss Trump before a primetime audience, momentarily snatching the headlines away from Trump on the eve of his acceptance speech. “Vote your conscience,” he said. Strong words that are beginning to haunt the GOP.
Because, of course, Trump cannot be muffled. He must be the center of attention. He must unload what’s on his mind. His comments about Khizr Khan, the (truly aggrieved) father of Humayun, an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, who gave one of the best speeches of the Democratic convention, is a very low bar. Trump is the risk that keeps on giving.
And what of the Democrats?
They have a grand bargain of their own going on. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats allowed Bernie Sanders‘ followers to vent (sort of) following the dump of Democratic National Committee emails involving chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s apparent favoring of Hillary Clinton.
(This is no great secret. Political parties do this behind the scenes all the time while maintaining their public “neutrality.” Think of the Florida Democratic Party’s “favoring” of Charlie Crist over Nan Rich in the 2014 gubernatorial elections, although Rich – unlike Crist – was a lifelong Democrat. It’s just as likely that the Republican National Committee was all in for Jeb Bush. And who knows what they’re cooking up now, after Trump’s septimana horribilis.)
But unlike the Republicans, the Democrats ended with a grand finale after a raucous first night. Clinton glowed in the moment.
She may possess a lifetime of political experience, be well prepared, be much more knowledgeable about the issues, be a major player on the world stage and the first female presidential candidate of a major political party, but she presents a risk of her own. There is something about Hillary that is unknowable.
Will a Hillary presidency mean a return to the scandals of the Clinton years? Has Hillary learned lessons from Whitewater, Bill Clinton‘s impeachment, the email server? Is the past prologue? Hard to tell.
Democrats tried mightily to round out Hillary’s square corners by nearly presenting her as candidate for Mother in Chief. But questions still remain. That’s the Democratic grand bargain: They get another “first” – this time a woman – after the election of the nation’s first black president. They are betting on Hillary in the hope she has learned from her past mistakes. And they get to keep the White House four more years. But will it be only four years?
As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech, “This is where we are. Where do we go from here?”