Why are the frontrunners in both parties so unelectable? The frenzied and the frightened count the ways, without getting into the depth and breadth and height a body's soul can reach.
This was the year that everybody decided that he (or she) could be elected president of the United States, or have a lot of fun trying if he could make the trip is on someoneelse's money. Rarely has there been such a Republican field, once thought to be unusually strong only to come to naught, or close to it.
Everybody laughed when Donald Trump sat down at the piano to play a tune, and six months later he's the all but unchallenged master of the keyboard. The prize was first thought to be Jeb Bush's to lose, and despite his banked millions for the campaign, he put that notion out of the way in a hurry. Scott Walker, every Republican's hero for blunting the greed of the public-service unions, a governor who survived a recall election and looked early on like the man of the year, hardly stayed in the race long enough to enjoy a second cup of coffee. Rand Paul led an exodus of freshmen from the U.S. Senate who couldn't wait to accrue the wisdom of sophomores, armed with ambition if not experience. Chris Christie was left to contemplate what might have been.
Speaking of experience, on the other side of the playing field Hillary Clinton was all suited up, armed with experience to go along with raw ambition. She's the only candidate with the know-how to blow a nomination not once but twice, this time to an unelectable 76-year-old Socialist, and proud of it. Bernie Sanders excites passion, particularly the passion of fans hardly old enough to vote and who mistake entertainment for serious affairs of state.
If the clown and the crook win their parties' nominations the race will come down to who's the least bad. The aroma of the mortuary hangs close over the campaigns of both the Democrats and the Republicans. The FBI investigation into Hillary's spilling the nation's most valuable national-security secrets is suddenly front and center, about to be cast in words that everyone will understand. Whether she's indicted for high crimes and misdemeanors - even her misdemeanors may be high crimes - will ultimately depend on Barack Obama.
If the president tells his attorney general that prosecution is a no go, he will confirm the suspicions of nearly everybody that loyalty to party is his highest loyalty of all, and the work of a hundred agents assigned to the investigation goes for naught. Several of the agents are said to be ready to resign and tell the nation why. That might include James Comey, the director of the FBI who jealously guards the reputation of a law man so clean he squeaks.
But if he does his duty, Mr. Obama drives a spike through the Clinton campaign, sending it to the graveyard of twice-broken dreams. She may try to make the long march back to the White House a little longer, but she won't be fooling anyone but herself. The family will just have to wait until Chelsea is old enough to qualify as a candidate, but she apparently inherited her mama's charm and charisma, not her daddy's good ol' boy magic. She's bombing as a fund-raiser for her mama.
Hillary faces the challenge of a classic case of lose- lose. If she's indicted for playing fast and loose with the nation's most important secrets, she loses immediately. If she isn't indicted but saved by the bell, with Mr. Obama's ringing it as softly as he can, the mere suggestion of such irresponsibility will follow her all the way to November. And who knows, maybe to making license plates.
Democratic fears that they're trapped in a dilemma with no way out will become howls that this is (with apologies to the ghost of Yogi Berra) "déjà vu all over again." History repeats itself. She's blowing it again. The pain will be worse for the party, because it's not 2008 but 1972, with George McGovern losing nearly every one of the states. Not close, and no cigar.
There will be an election, anyway. There always is. The FBI will continue to collect evidence, Donald Trump's vulgarity will continue to offend the high-minded, Bernie Sanders' radical welfare-state nostrums will continue to affront common sense, and the show will stagger on. But this should be a lesson to one and all. There's only so much abuse even a democracy can take.