It's like watching a 300-pound woman trying to wiggle into her prom gown: She insists she can wear something that hasn't fit for years, and by golly she's going to convince people she can. So it is with Republican presidential wannabes faced with the foul mood of the anti-establishment voters who have flocked to Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. It's not for nothing that this unholy trinity lead in the polls because they have no public-office experience, which has led to the farcical efforts of candidates tainted with electoral success to somehow convince people that they are outsiders.
A Pew Research Center poll paints the mood of the GOP electorate in painfully stark relief for candidates who actually have been around the block, or in this case the Beltway:
The poll found that by a 65 percent to 29 percent margin, Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say it is more important for a candidate to have new ideas than "experience and a proven record." When Pew asked the same question in March, the figures were nearly reversed -- 57 percent to 36 percent. Lest there be any doubt, what changed since then is the candidacy of Donald Trump, who has upset this particular apple cart, among many others, although it should be noted that there are signs that Trump's big balloon of a campaign may finally be losing air as the news media's fascination with him wanes, his talking-smack shtick becomes tiresome, and he struggles to keep up with the expectations game.
There has long been a defensive insularity about the Republican Party, but the root of the anger -- and sometimes outright rage -- that is the gasoline powering the Trump, Carson and Fiorina machines boil down to the inability of the party establishment to win presidential elections, let alone stop the winners in their tracks.
Voters have elected Democrats in four of the last five presidential elections, not including the one thrown by the Supreme Court, prevailing by a 2-1 electoral vote margin (1,446 to 706). Many Republicans believed that President Obama would lose in a landslide in 2012, and it was an enormous psychological blow when the president was re-elected easily. Remember Karl Rove's election night meltdown on Fox News over his disbelief that Obama had carried Ohio despite that call by his own network?
As conservative pundit Peter Wehner writes:
"The way this has worked itself out is in rage directed at Republican lawmakers. Many on the right refuse to recognize the institutional constraints that prevent lawmakers from doing what they want them to do, which is use their majority status in Congress to reverse the early achievements of the Obama presidency. . . . The fact that it could not be undone created fury. Since elected politicians have failed so miserably, why not look to outsiders to shake things up?"
Scott Walker, who it seems had been running for public office since he was in kindergarten (playmates bitterly recall those annoying stump speeches during Nap Time), flamed out early because, in part, he was utterly unconvincing in promoting his supposed anti-establishment cred. This has not deterred other contenders from trying to wiggle into their own figurative prom dresses, chief among them Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
Rubio's shtick is particularly disingenuous: I'm barely a senator, he tells people, and fell off the turnip truck just the other day.
"Yes, I've worked in the Senate for four years . . . (throat clearing) . . . but I'm not of the Senate," he told Sean Hannity on Fox News. Rubio, who has been the GOP's linchpin on immigration, used to brag that "I’ve done more [on] immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did" and advocated a form of amnesty for illegals, lines he has since dropped because they paint him as an insider soft on illegals.
Paul, whose campaign is sinking faster than John Galt in concrete boots, argues that he has "only" been a senator since 2011.
He peddles himself as a humble eye doctor who supports term limits, while failing to note that he went to great lengths and expense ($250,000) to convince the Kentucky GOP to write a loophole into state party rules allowing him to keep his Senate seat while running for president. Good thing, because that Alex Jones endorsement sure ain't gonna help.
Cruz knows that he can't paper over his Senate career, so he's selling himself as a guy who stands on principle.
In saying that he fights for voters' "values," Cruz presumably refers to the endlessly meaningless procedural floor fights he provokes, which have earned him the enmity of senators from even his own party. How then can he be considered a part of the establishment when everyone in the establishment hates him?
Even Fiorina, who probably could fit into her prom dress, is stretching reality in claiming she's not just an outsider, but is taking on the "male establishment."
She not only was a big supporter of career GOP insiders John McCain and Mitt Romney, but once you get beyond her angry declarations, her view that government is anti-big business isn't exactly a rebel yell and merely reflective of what her critics say about when she was CEO at Hewlett-Packard: She was terrific at marketing herself but sucked at running things.
These candidates also have something in common that puts a stake through the heart of their I'm An Outsider arguments: All support tax cuts for the rich. What, I ask you, could be more typical of a Republican establishmentarian?
"The struggle within the Republican Party right now centers on those who, figuratively speaking, want to rebuild the village and those who want to burn it down, those who want to fight irresistible demographic changes and those who want to responsibly embrace them, those who think they can win over new Americans and those who want to turn them away. There are a number of Republican presidential candidates -- senators, governors and former governors-- who, if given the chance, can make the Republican Party the party of aspiration instead of resentment, the party for this era instead of one seeking to reclaim a lost era."
I'm not holding my breath, nor should Wehner.
Jeb Bush's experience was supposed to be his major selling point as he coasted to the Republican nomination, but of course has become an albatross around his neck, although only one of several.
The campaign of Mr. Stuff Happens is so off track and his poll numbers so dismal, a pathetic 7 percent in an average of national polls and 9 percent in New Hampshire, which puts him in sixth place in an early primary state that he must win, that his "stratergy" (as his big brother would say) of scaring off other candidates has quietly been replaced by waiting for other candidates to implode. Money, of which Bush once had buckets, is not going to secure him the nomination, and there are signs that his fundraising prowess is flagging as he slashes staff salaries and flies Coach (okay, figuratively speaking). Nor is a sense of excitement, since he is an incurable wallflower who is incapable of saying or doing anything remotely dynamic.
That Bush's campaign is said to be considering pushing the panic button by bringing George W. aboard is . . . just pathetic. Earth to Planet Jeb!: Aside from the relatively few sycophantic Republican amnesiacs who still worship Dubya, the former president remains hugely unpopular because of two failed wars and a ginormous recession. And he was a gift to Democrats, giving them control of Congress and helping elect Barack Obama, who rammed through the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans loath with righteous intensity.
Perhaps, as one pundit half seriously suggested, Mr. Stuff Happens needs to get new eye glasses. After all, that worked out well for Rick . . . oh, forget it.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE: "DAY AND NIGHT" BY M.C. ESCHER, 1938 WOODCUT IN BLACK AND GRAY