Even for someone who enjoys politics, the thought of sifting through the 2016 Presidential field 16-18 months earlier is a little daunting, a little disheartening and a little dangerous.
I can, I suppose, look to the wise and witty words of the great P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote half a century ago, in describing an unhappy character in the Jeeves and Wooster series:
“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”
Wodehouse, the consummate wordsmith, actually invented the word “gruntle,” called a “back formation” in linguistic circles, wherein a new word is created by dismantling an old one—“disgruntled” dates back to the 15th century. “Far from gruntled,” sums up the American electorate in both major political parties in the summer of 2015.
The Republican side, which has a lot more bustle, due to the larger field (there are actually over 100 candidates declared for the GOP nomination, not just the 16 or so we hear something about), and the fact that they are the “out” party—the party not currently holding the White House. And, of course, there’s the spectacle of Donald Trump. While I could, in truth, sniff “I am not amused,” with the rest of the media—I am, like the far from gruntled masses driving his polling numbers up, at least entertained.
The freshness of the air around Trump is not so much in his willingness to pick petty fights with his fellow Republicans, or his declaring broad “policies,” and then waving away the details as being too mundane to be bothered with, but in his willingness to completely disrespect the mainstream media plus his self-assuredness.
The media and its pundits have been struggling with Trump. First they tried to dismiss him as a self-aggrandizing novelty act. Some tried to pin him down on specific policies. Others have encouraged his “feuds” with the rest of the field. Almost all have been bewildered by his success.
As I write this we are a few days away from the first Republican primary debate. There may be news out of this debate or its ancillary event for the media-and poll-appointed second tier candidates, but it will be old news by this time next year. In states where it is possible to see a presidential candidate on the hoof, as it were—early primary and caucus states like New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada—even the most ardent political aficionados are still far from gruntled. That dissatisfaction, however vague, takes the shape of encouraging an honest-to-Pete celebrity who appears in the midst of mind-numbing talking points scripted down to the last folksy “um,” and waxes lyrical about his own greatness and the spinelessness of his fellows.
At this year’s National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits, the then field of Republican hopefuls (minus Sen. Rand Paul) took the stage in a several-hour “meet the candidates” forum that was extremely well attended.
I didn’t attend as I was minding my booth, but as attendees drifted back into the exhibit hall, they would share their opinions. Everyone had their favorites, and none of them was Donald Trump. Trump, as I understand it, was received with lukewarm enthusiasm, although he said many of the “right” things for the audience. The gun-owning community has good reason to distrust Trump, just as it had reason to distrust another billionaire Republican New Yorker—Michael Bloomberg.
Like most Americans, I am not too fond of the political class as a whole, but I recognize that holding public office at least instills in a person the necessity to listen carefully (or to appear to care) to opposing views and to engage in the hurly burly of compromise. Autocrats, oligarchs, despots and the like have no reason to believe that—and in the short term—there is charm in certainty. Other candidates who attended NRA’s forum may have strolled through the exhibits after the speaking parts were over, but the only one I saw was Trump.
He appeared, walking down an aisle near our booth thusly: first a harried looking woman in a dark suit, with requisite ear piece, then a younger Trump (I believe son, Eric), then Trump, then another harassed looking minion. The handlers, fore and aft, did a fair amount of eye swiveling. The Trumps did not. Several people called out to him, but he never looked their way.
To be fair, he does seem to have gotten better at the pressing the flesh aspect of running for office, although he does not seem to engage much with actual voters beyond pronouncements from the podium stage. The road to the White House is littered with all manner of things, including front runners, so that while there may yet be some entertaining fireworks this summer, I am—well—gruntled—that we will have a real contest a year from now.