We are subject to the tyranny of the present. Let’s try briefly to place our current election in historical context for whatever educational and entertainment value it may have.
Donald Trump is the worst candidate ever nominated for president by the Republican Party. From John Fremont and Abraham Lincoln to Donald Trump — as the Grateful Dead put it in “Truckin'”: what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Who was the worst GOP nominee before Trump? Paul recently mentioned James Blaine, the Republican nominee in the election of 1884. I think back to twentieth-century losers such as Landon, Wilkie, Dewey and Goldwater. From Fremont and Blaine to McCain and Romney, they were all giants compared to Trump.
Hillary Clinton is the worst candidate ever nominated for president by the Democratic Party. She is an extraordinarily awkward candidate. Indeed, she has all the charm of Nurse Ratched. She struggles to impersonate a genuine human being. Even worse, however, she is a monument to dishonesty and corruption on a scale we have never seen before prior to the assumption of the presidency. The email scandal deriving from her tenure in office as President Obama’s Secretary of State seems to me the ultimate Clinton scandal, adding the betrayal of national security to the mix.
In office, Bill Clinton richly earned his impeachment before the corrupt pardons he issued on his way out the door. The corrupt pardons — his pardon of Marc Rich as well his terror pardons — come to mind in this context. The pardons represented a new low for which he has escaped judgment. He should be a pariah. Instead, he rises again as a ghostly specter with Madam Hillary. Two for the price of one, indeed.
Forget the presidents that populate the Democratic pantheon. Think of the weak twentieth Democratic nominees: John Davis, Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis. Davis, Stevenson and Mondale were all giants next to Hillary. They frankly presented the claims of liberalism without the taint of corruption or thoroughgoing dishonesty. (I leave Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 for another day. In retrospect, we see that Al Gore is personally weird beyond belief in a way that makes him difficult to evaluate. As the Democratic candidate for president in 2000, however, he presented as a plausible successor to Clinton without Clinton’s personal failings.)
Whoever prevails in the current election, I think — and I invite correction by those more knowledgeable than I am — we will have elected that party’s worst candidate in American history. How has it come to this? I hope these thoughts are not themselves a victim of the present and that, if they are not amiss, we will give the question the deliberation it deserves in due course.
PAUL ADDS: Blaine was corrupt, though possibly not as corrupt as he was made out to be. However, he was an extremely able man and might have made a good president. He performed well as Secretary of State in both the Garfield and Harrison administrations.
I haven’t studied every Republican nominee, but my hunch is that Fremont — a man of poor judgment and questionable character — was the worst until now.