“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” penned the lyricist Fred Ebb, but the adage is a myth that is not true, not true at all.
Since the 1800s, no citizen of New York has become President of the United States, except for Franklin Roosevelt, who rallied a nation from the depths of despair, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose accession was greased by a bullet. And as there are no candidates in this year’s race bearing the surname Roosevelt, the pattern is unlikely to be broken.
Sorry, Donald. Sorry, Hillary. And sorry for you as well, Michael Bloomberg. Your White House ambitions are as doomed as were those of Thomas Dewey, Averill Harriman, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay, Rudolph Giuliani, and George Pataki. Good men they were one and all, but try as they might–and they tried mightily–none of these New Yorkers got within a country mile of the Oval Office.
Call it the curse of the Empire State, the curse of Megalopolis, or the curse of the Hubristic Noo Yawker. Whatever it is, after poring over the results of the Iowa caucuses, the writing is once again on the wall—and the signs do not say, “This Way to the White House.”
At least that’s how it looks from here. Let’s start with Mr. Trump.
Donald had toyed with the idea of running for President since 1988, suggesting himself as a candidate on a regular basis, but his quadrennial balloon dances always came to naught. Observers chalked his expressions of interest up to his thirst for publicity and for polishing his brand, tempered by a realistic recognition that he didn’t stand a chance of being elected. However, when Donald began his coy flirtations again last May, this magazine was one of the first to say that this time he might be serious. And indeed he was.
Trump’s announcement in June ignited a firestorm of hilarity and mockery among the chattering classes. No political prognosticator gave Trump a chance—no one—and they had egg on their faces when he began, and maintained, his rise in the polls. It seems that the great unwashed masses out beyond the Hudson River didn’t view Donald as a caricature, as soigné Manhattanites always have, but as a successful businessman who channels their own anger, fears and doubts. Sophisticated scribblers and talking heads were shocked, shocked, when Trump insulted his betters, picked fights, and ran on a platform built entirely of self-praise. Defying the kibbitzers, he soared in polls while his competitors, veteran pols all, languished.
Then, on the first day of February, in the prairie state of Iowa, where Donald had predicted and had expected victory in their first-in-the-nation caucuses, the juggernaut stalled. The oleaginous Ted Cruz topped the field, and smiley-boy-next-door Marco Rubio almost leapfrogged Trump for second place.
What happened? The real-estate-mogul-cum-reality-show-host made a few mistakes. Always tight with a dollar, he didn’t lay out the couple of million that Cruz did to develop voter demographic data that is essential to building a strong army-in-the-field. When Trip Gabriel pointed this out in mid-January in The Times, Trump raced to assemble a professional Iowa team, but it was too late. Two-thirds of Republican caucus-goers identified themselves as Evangelical Christians, and by then Cruz, the son of an Evangelical minister, had wrapped himself in the Shroud of Turin. Even the down-home bona fides of Sarah Palin and Jerry Falwell Jr. couldn’t put Donald over with the pious parishioners.
Amusingly, and this is almost too good to be true, the post-mortem analysts wrote that Trump, whose allocation of funds for Iowa was minimal compared to the other candidates, spent $1.2 million to buy and give away orangey-red baseball caps that say “Make America Great Again.” Even Preston Sturges, our most exuberant political satirist, couldn’t make this up.
Another big goof was Donald’s unprovoked and unnecessary feud with Fox News. He didn’t have to do it and it has damaged him severely. He made a big stink with relentless personal attacks on a female journalist because he didn’t like the tone of a question she asked him at the first debate. For the people whose votes he wants, Fox News is the oracle of Delphi, interpreting the world for them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Where did Trump get the idea that he could take on Roger Ailes, who had always been professional with him, in a dog fight and come out unbloodied? It was an unforced error, a self-administered wound, prompted by ego.
Even worse was Donald’s decision last week to boycott the final debate in Iowa because of his snit against Megyn Kelly. It made him look petty, it made Iowans feel slighted, and it gave Rubio a chance to seize the spotlight, resulting in his last-minute surge in popularity. The numbers tell the story. Thirty-five percent of Republican caucusgoers told entrance pollsters they made their decision in the final three days—the crucial days after Trump’s nonappearance at the Fox debate—and of that group, only 14% said they had decided to vote for Trump. Who took the largest share of the last-minute deciders? Rubio, who almost bumped Donald out of second place. A celebrity apprentice would be fired for such bad judgment.
So it’s on to New Hampshire, where Trump holds a solid lead going into the final days and will almost certainly top the tallies. But his aura of inevitability—the “I’m a winner. I hate losers. I’m the smartest man in the world” shtick—has been shattered. He had floated the idea that if he won in Iowa, he could “run the table” in the primaries. Now? Fuggettaboutit.
Current thinking is that as we go through the spring primaries, Donald will win some and will lose some, but will fail to wrap up the nomination before the convention. With the possible exception of Huckabee—I always want to say Applebee—Trump has made no allies among the large initial roster of candidates. As much as Republicans all hate Ted Cruz—the more people know him, the more they loathe him—they are also cool to the idea of Trump as the GOP standard bearer in the general election.
The most likely “consensus candidate”—he has the fewest enemies in the party and has the qualifications to be president—is John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. If he outshines Rubio and Chris Christie in New Hampshire (Jeb Bush has fallen by the wayside), he might become the so-called Establishment Choice down the road. It is our view that because of his history of working with Democrats, he would be the strongest candidate the Republicans could field in November. But Gov. Kasich might be too mainstream for the party in this Year of the Outsider.
Right now, the best bet is that Trump, Cruz, and either Kasich or Rubio will still be standing in April and May, but the chances of anyone’s having accumulated the 50% of delegates necessary to be nominated are remote. Now do you see why this is the most dramatic and unpredictable presidential election since 1968?
Which brings us to the subject that has never been far from our minds for the past quarter-century, The Clintons and their aspirations to move back into the White House. They had two terms already, a bumpy ride in the 1990s, and now they want another. Up front, let’s dismiss the notion that if elected, Hillary would govern on her own. From the get-go, theirs has been a marriage that is transactional, platonic and strictly a business arrangement for their mutual advancement and acquisition of power and money. Helen Keller could see this from a mile away.
If Hillary becomes the nominee—I don’t think she will, I’ll get to that—and the Democrats win the general election, she will take the oath of office, but Bill will be alongside her every step of the way, functioning as the de facto co-President of the United States. Anyone who disputes this hasn’t been paying attention. Bill has been micro-managing the war on Bernie Sanders by phone calls held “several times a day” with the ostensible campaign manager, Robby Mook. The campaign chairman, John Podesta, was White House Chief of Staff for Bill during the stormy final two years of the Clinton second term. When Bill Clinton snaps his fingers, Podesta jumps.
Tellingly, after Iowa the New York Times openly began referring to their campaign organization as “the Clintons” and “the couple.” The feeling is, the Clintons have found a loophole in the 22d Amendment that limits a President to two terms by having Hillary be the “official” candidate and take the oath of office. The couple coyly refuse to say which office space Bill would occupy or what would be his role in decision making.
In fact, knowledgeable sources say Bill has been masterminding campaign strategy and themes all along. He more or less wrote Hillary’s scripts in the debates. In Las Vegas, Bill was upstairs in a hotel suite when she was onstage, sending her “notes” during the breaks. And when Hillary was late returning to the stage from a bathroom break, it is believed she was delayed getting through on the phone to Bill by the presence in the ladies’s room of the press secretary of one of her opponents.
But the real problems the Clintons are facing are much more profound. There is the issue of possible criminal liability over the ex-Secretary’s use of the rogue email server to conduct top-secret American diplomacy. Former high-ranking officials in the intelligence community are leaking that their sources in the FBI say 150 agents are diligently reconstructing her electronic communications. According to published reports, the FBI has already established the former Secretary’s culpability for recklessly exposing classified information she had her staff take off the secure State Department network and forward to her via her bathroom server. If so, she could be found guilty of misdemeanors of greater consequence that those that led to the conviction of General Petraeus, but like the ex-CIA chief she would probably avoid jail time for such infractions.
The more serious concern the Clintons are up against is speculation that FBI experts have reconstructed the 30,000 emails she tried to delete from the face of the earth on the pretext they were “personal” concerns (like, she said, her yoga schedules). What many of these vanished emails consisted of, it has been reported, was her back channel regarding the contributions being made to the Clinton Foundation and the multimillion dollar “speaker fees” being paid to Bill Clinton by foreign governments and various mysterious entities. They spell out the U.S. Government decisions the contributors expected Secretary Clinton to deliver in return for these payments.
For example, the nation’s top diplomat signed off on assigning half the United States supply of uranium to a Russian company not long after it “contributed” 15 million dollars to Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. If investigators and prosecutors can establish this was a quid pro quo, felony statutes come into play and the dream of a Clinton Third Term will vaporize overnight.
Hillary’s debut in Iowa was not auspicious. Six months ago, she had a 50-point lead over the befuddled codger from Vermont, substantially more money, a robust Super PAC spending millions supporting her, and a ground game eight years in the making under the supervision of Iowa’s most powerful politician, Tom Harkin. And she blew it—the cranky old curmudgeon, who is a dead ringer for Walter Brennan, fought her to a draw. Even more worrisome, fewer than 50% of caucus goers wanted her to be President.
Now she’s in New Hampshire, where she will get creamed. Nobody on her team can point to any credible record of accomplishment in the Senate or State Department. What people do remember is the never-ending scandals during the first two Clinton terms, culminating in the shady last-minute presidential pardons, some brokered for cash paid to her brothers Hugh and Tony Rodham as well as to Bill’s brother Roger.
After Sen. Sanders wins New Hampshire, the primaries down the road will get ugly and divisive. At some point, the White House will have to recognize the internecine damage being done to the Democratic party and will have to step in and find a solution.
What will be done? Some people think when and if it becomes clear the Clintons are not going to be successful in their mission, Joe Biden will be drafted as a compromise candidate. He will state his intention to serve only one term, and perhaps choose popular Sen. Elizabeth Warren as his vice-presidential running mate. As an incentive to get Hillary out of the race, it is being suggested that the Justice Department could make its investigation of the Clintons quietly go away.
This may be the only way to save the Obama legacy. Analysis of Iowa voting shows the Clintons are strong among the elderly, but Sen. Sanders took 80 percent of the votes of Democrats under the age of thirty. It’s the past versus the future. Old Clinton scandals + new Clinton scandals versus a fresh slate and an untarnished relaunch of the Democratic brand. As Frank Bruni writes in today’s Times, “Elections are about the future, and so much about Clinton screams the past. She’s forever stressing what she’s put up with, what she’s survived. It’s the language of drudgery rather then inspiration.”
As for Michael Bloomberg, he is considering running as an independent for president. He knows Donald and Hillary extremely well and is of the opinion that neither has the managerial skills or temperament to be a successful president. Bloomberg is one of the most competent managers on the planet. Under other circumstances, he might have been a great president. But the parameters of the electoral college scheme make it impossible for a third-party candidate to be elected. Here’s a good article explaining why.
So we’re back where we started—three New Yorkers who would like to be elected President but all three scenarios are unpromising. Once again, the city slickers get shunned by the out-of-towners who love to visit here but wouldn’t want any of us to be their president.
What can one say—it’s still the greatest city in America.