Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Quote of the Day (Peggy Noonan, With a Prediction for the 2016 GOP Race)

“I can say what this [2016 Presidential] election will most assuredly be, at least on the Republican side: anything but boring. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton may wind up debating herself on an empty stage with good lighting. But Republicans will have Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and probably John Kasich duking it out. Add Carly Fiorina, and some others….What a heck of a fight this will be.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist—and former Presidential speechwriter—Peggy Noonan, “The Too-Smooth Cruz,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 28-29, 2015

For some reason I don’t recall now, I clipped out the page where Ms. Noonan’s article was originally printed, put it aside, and then found it by chance only a week or so ago. As soon as I re-read this quote, I burst out laughing.

There’s an obvious name missing here—indeed in the entire article. I suppose you could say that Ms. Noonan did anticipate a candidate coming out of nowhere and making at least a momentary splash when she used that phrase “and some others,” as if recalling Herman Cain (remember him) from 2012. But that really would be stretching things, wouldn’t it?

Many of my friends on the liberal side of the spectrum will chortle at Ms. Noonan’s lack of foresight about the 2016 election. But I don’t offer this to ridicule her.

(Indeed, she warned early on that Donald Trump’s chances that year should not be airily dismissed, and she’s endured more than her share of brickbrats from him and the MAGA faithful since then for her periodic attacks on him—perhaps most memorably, in a direct hit on his emphasis on his “strength,” assailing his “whiny, weepy and self-pitying” character.) 

No, I put this out there to illustrate that the Washington establishment that Ms. Noonan joined in the Reagan administration is much like how Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman described Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything...... Not one person… knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”

It’s safe to say that, unlike what Ms. Noonan expected, Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton an unexpectedly tough time in the Democratic primaries.

But this is what’s really wild: Trump beat 16 rivals for the GOP nomination that year, including those Ms. Noonan praised, in a case of being overly charitable, for being “serious talents with big accomplishments.”

Well, grant her this: nearly all of those 16 possessed governmental and/or national security experience that the eventual nominee conspicuously lacked. 

And all but one—retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson—had been answerable to the public, either voters or (in the case of Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina) shareholders in her company.

Instead, GOP primary voters embraced a private-company executive with no financial transparency and no board of directors that could remotely question his plans.

This year, 91 criminal counts on four indictments, not to mention two adverse decisions in civil courts, did nothing to dent Republican faith in Trump’s candidacy. 

Yet, even with a field significantly narrower than the divided one he conquered eight years ago, he still romped through the primaries.

Nothing like this has ever been remotely seen in the history of Presidential campaigning. No other candidate would be so shameless in defying scandal. No other electorate has ever ignored at such a high level the weight of so much evidence of bad faith, corruption, and basic lack of character.

To adapt a phrase from one of his scorned rivals, “low-energy Jeb” Bush, the former reality-show host did become “the chaos President.”

Famous not for being a great business executive but for playing one on TV, Trump was anything but the proverbial “dark horse” candidate. 

But he became (to borrow a phrase from the field of finance) “the black-swan” candidate—one elected through a series of unexpected, even close to unknowable, events.

That black-swan candidate found his rock-solid base—and is now slated to be a Presidential nominee for the third time—in a contingent that conservative Peter Wehner, in a New York Times opinion piece, termed “Fifth Avenue Republicans”—diehards who would support Trump even if, as he boasted back in 2016, he shot someone on that tony New York street.

We can’t begin to tell what this year’s events will be, especially now. That’s why polls are as good as useless at this point.

That’s also why maintaining vigilance about threats to democracy can be so frustrating. But, as Shakespeare would say, “the readiness is all.”

In one sense, Ms. Noonan was right: the 2016 GOP race, with Trump insulting rivals, lashing out at anyone remotely critical of him, and circulating falsehoods almost as often as he opened his mouth, was “anything but boring.” But now she’d probably agree with the adage about being careful what you wish for.

For myself, after the past eight exhausting years, I can’t wait to get back to “boring.” 

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