American presidential politics are now in uncharted and turbulent waters.
The key to Donald Trump’s success in the primaries and in thrashing the mainstream Republican party, which sank without a ripple apart from the hundreds of millions of dollars it had squandered to pick up only about 20 percent of the vote, was that he was neither complicit in the blunders of the George W. Bush regime nor compliant in the blunders of the Clinton and Obama regimes.
He represented revolutionary change in style and moderate change in policy, apart from a radically new attitude to illegal immigration, trade deals that imported unemployment, and the back-scratching, log-rolling ambiance of the great Washington sleaze factory.
And Trump would neither charge blindly into foreign wars as George W. Bush did in Iraq, nor roll over like a poodle for Iran as Obama has.
The Clinton campaign is the ultimate last stand of continuity. She privately dissents from Obama’s appeasement of Iran, and her husband has openly debunked Obamacare.
But Mrs. Clinton can neither alienate the Obamas nor run on business as usual, and her entire campaign has been based on a savage denigration of Trump as a deranged, boorish, megalomaniacal racist and sexist monster.
This was always a fragile strategy, as it depended on Trump to behave as a rampaging bull spluttering out self-destructive nonsense, as he did through the birther and “Mexican judge” and Khan affairs (although the Democrats’ manipulation of Mr. Khan was pretty tasteless).
He did the necessary to rope in the Archie Bunker vote.
After securing the Republican nomination, he became a good deal less accident-prone and gained appreciably in the comparative polls after the pop Mrs. Clinton got from the unity fest at the Democratic convention.
It was generally assumed that past comments of Trump’s would be extracted and deafeningly amplified by the uniformly hostile press led by CNN (Clinton News Network) and the (Never Yes to Trump) New York Times, news outlets incapable of a fleeting moment of impartiality.
As the candidates appeared to be about even in the polls but with the Trump rise stalled, it was a piquant irony that the grenade that was lobbed was an open-microphone recording by a cousin of George W. and Jeb Bush, revealed by the Washington Post, wreathed still with the laurels of the Watergate character assassination of four decades ago.
(Bob Woodward appeared on Sunday night just before the debate to give Bill O’Reilly his po-faced assurance that there was no relationship at all between the journalists and the editorialists at the Washington Post.)
I believe the needless Watergate hecatomb is the principal reason for the decline in quality of candidates for national office since Reagan.
The Billy Bush clip released on Friday was extremely crude and boastful, almost disgusting for the seeker of the presidency of the U.S., even though it was eleven years old.
It was not as distasteful as the antics of a number of presidents, including JFK’s telling an intern to fellate one of his key aides in the White House swimming pool, and asking her to lie down in his official car so she would be invisible to the British prime minister (Harold MacMillan);
Bill Clinton’s receiving oral sex in the Oval Office while ostensibly conducting government business on the telephone;
or much of the routine conversation of Lyndon Johnson.
Thomas Jefferson, who famously held the equality of all men to be “self-evident,” was so pleasured by his slave Sally Hemings that she bore him seven children.
Van Buren’s vice president, Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson, lived with an octoroon slave woman as congressman and senator a five-minute walk from the slave market in Washington for 25 years.
Presidents Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding sired children out of wedlock;
the extramarital, pre-presidential affairs of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower almost broke up their marriages, which would have disqualified them for the presidency (and FDR revived the relationship in his third term).
Teddy Kennedy was considered a serious candidate for president even after he drunkenly drove his car into a pond, drowning a female assistant, and left the scene of the accident.
The Trump video from eleven years ago was tawdry and contemptible, as he has acknowledged, but has nothing to do with being president.
The solid phalanx of the anti-Trump media clangorously ululated and screamed that he was a brutish monster too deformed for a zoo but too uncivilized to be loose in society.
The crescendo was earth-shaking and the commentariat ranged from almost incoherent moral damnation to unctuous head-shaking, as if contemplating the most shocking electoral disqualification since Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.
Mrs. Clinton’s ignoring a congressional subpoena and deleting 33,000 e-mails,the sale of government favors by both Clintons,the sleazy conduct of the Clinton Foundation,her likely perjury about the e-mails in particular (as the director of the FBI strongly implied),and her failure to answer 600 requests for help from the ambassador in Libya, whom al-Qaeda murdered eventually, while Secretary of State Clinton slept.