We Love to Hate the Candidates

June 21, 2016


Lawrance Bernabo
The Sneezing Opossum

My first vote for president was for Gerald Ford. Part of my rationale was that, when Jimmy Carter talked about being able to reform Washington as an “outsider,” I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, right, that’s never going to happen.”  

But part of it was that Ford never wanted to be president, and I am always suspicious of people who think they should be president. If you want the job, that is reason to believe there is something wrong with you.

Four years later, when Carter ran for re-election against Ronald Reagan, Time magazine summed up the reasons to vote for each candidate. The last reason they gave for Carter was that he was not Reagan, while the last reason to vote for Reagan was that he was not Carter.

History repeats itself whether you pay attention or not, so here we are in 2016 and the main reason to vote for Hillary Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump, and the main reason to vote for Trump is that he is not Clinton.

Currently, the fixation is on how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have the worst favorable ratings of any major party nominee in decades.  

But only four years ago, when Clinton was Secretary of State, she was the most popular politician in the country, scoring 66 percent favorability in 2011 and 2012 (way higher than Obama or Biden). Some polls had that number as high as 69 percent when she left office.

Since then her numbers have plummeted. Criticism over Benghazi and the controversy over her personal email server contributed to that decline. But I think one of the biggest factors is she decided to run for president.

Today, the politician with the highest approval rating is Bill Clinton, which makes sense because he is one of a small handful of politicians who cannot run for president.

The Secretary of State tends to be popular, probably because it is a relatively apolitical position. The most popular politician in recent decades has been Colin Powell, whose ratings were 83 to 88 percent. Powell, notably, did not run for president because he and his wife did not want to put their family through the hell of an election.  

But presidents can rebound from low numbers. George H.W. Bush was as low as 29 percent, Ronald Reagan 35 percent, Lyndon Johnson 35 percent, and Bill Clinton 37 percent. Obama’s latest approval rating is at a rosy 51 percent, but he is another person on the short list of those who cannot run, so now he can feel the love.

Bernie Sanders is also at 51 percent, but I think that number is inflated because neither Hillary nor Trump have gone negative on him yet. He is a democratic socialist (or a social democrat), and there is no way 51 percent of Americans are going to approve of that.

Plus, I am suspicious of polls. If I were a Sanders supporter and somebody asked me whether I would vote for Clinton or Trump, I’m going to say Trump so Bernie can argue that his poll numbers are better against Trump. Trump supporters would also be inclined to say they like Sanders just to make Clinton look bad.

While Clinton and Trump are reaching new lows in popularity, we hate politicians so much that anyone the major parties nominated this year would be the two least popular nominees in decades.  

The Republican half of that equation is easy to prove. If it were not Trump, it would have been Ted Cruz, and I am pretty sure Trump is more popular than Cruz.

Cruz and Marco Rubio were trying to be the third first-term senators to be elected president. The first was Warren Harding; the second was Barack Obama. (Half of you are now thinking, “One out of two ain’t bad,” while the other half are thinking, “Oh-for-two, America.”)

Apparently, the goal is to make our presidential candidates like Supreme Court nominees, where they have done nothing to create a record, because a record can be attacked. Rubio’s claim to fame was that he wanted to be president, while Cruz claimed he led the fight against Obamacare and same sex marriage. (Oh-for-two, Ted.)  

Meanwhile, a reporter interviewed a veteran, wondering how a vet could support Trump after his attack on John McCain for being captured. The vet said he supported Trump because—wait for it—Trump speaks his mind. How much lower can our criteria get? So, it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe it, which you sort of have to do by definition, right?   

The Sanders argument is he would beat Trump by a wider margin, so beliefs do not matter, just winning by a larger margin. Not that margin of victory means anything. George W. Bush lost the popular vote and took it as a mandate akin to tablets brought down from Mt. Sinai.

As long as neither party has 60 Senators, nothing is ever going to happen in Washington. Want to be a popular politician? Easy. Do not run for president. That’s some catch, that catch-22.

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