The Republican presidential nomination contest has, in the
past several days, gone through a probable sea change, but it
is perhaps not the sea change which might have been
predicted only weeks before that.
First of all, the frontrunning status of tycoon Donald Trump
is under serious assault. He remains in front, and in fact, if he
can win decisively on March 15 when five major states hold
their primaries, the nomination is his.
And yet, there is the possibility that Mr. Trump has peaked,
having previously escaped the usual vetting scrutiny under the
cover of both bluster and friendly media coverage.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, has made a thorough
attack on Mr. Trump’s qualifications and sincerity. It will likely
persuade few, if any, Trump supporters. It was received
with some mixed reaction from Mr. Romney’s own supporters.
Nevertheless, Governor Romney has serious standing in his
party, his own integrity remains unchallenged, and he has
clearly earned the right to comment on the 2016 campaign.
He did not endorse any of the other three candidates. I doubt
that there are very many conservatives who do not think today
he would have made a much better president than the man who
did defeat him in 2012.
In the televised debate which followed a few hours later, however,
something significant emerged in the contest between the four
remaining contestants. That was the stark contrast between one
of them and the other three.
Was that one Donald Trump, the frontrunner? Was it Marco
Rubio, the latest consensus hope to defeat Mr. Trump? Was it
Ted Cruz, the brilliant debater?
No, it was the one seemingly grown-up person on the stage,
Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
Let’s review the facts. Governor Kasich is the only GOP candidate
left who has exercised true power, both as a legislative leader in
Congress and as governor of Ohio. Not only has he held power, he
has wielded it with notable intelligence, common sense and great
success. Alone among the survivors on that debate stage, he has
not indulged in personal attacks against his rivals. His
communication skills, frankly a bit shaky in the earliest debates,
have been harmonized by the debate experience, his numerous
town meetings in the early caucus states, and the pressure of
making his first try for national office. He is an authentic and
strong conservative, a man of deep Christian faith, solid on almost
all of the GOP social issues, and yet a man of obvious compassion.
He is also a man of character, and not without idiosyncracies. A
few years ago, I spent part of a day with Mr. Kasich and a mutual
friend. It was informal. It was not an interview. Although this
experience, and a speech he made later in the day, heightened
my respect for his ability, seeing him up close left me with some
doubts about his temperament, and this feeling has persisted
until recently. I now think I was wrong about this. Anyone who
runs for president has a strong ego and an idiosyncratic focus.
The Oval Office is not for the weak of heart and mind.
I also want to be fair about Ted Cruz. I do not agree with some
of his issues, but in the Detroit debate he performed well. He was
the only candidate who pointed out that the chronic problems of
the Motor City and so many other large urban areas in the nation
are due to liberal Democratic mayors and liberal Democratic
policies. I do not agree with his stated immigration policies,
but his intelligence is clear. He might make an excellent
replacement for the late Justice Scalia on the U.S. supreme court.
The commonplace arose in recent weeks that Marco Rubio was
the only one who could “stop” Donald Trump. His youth, his
articulateness and his ethnic background argue for his being on
the Republican ticket next November, but perhaps not at the top
of the ticket.
I have not condemned Mr. Trump, and I have increasingly
recognized that he might well be the GOP nominee. But his
political schtick is wearing thin. He offers almost no specifics,
and demonstrates only a limited command of the profound
issues that will face the next president. It was he who initiated
the lamentable rounds of name-calling which have characterized
the televised debates, and there is unavoidably a sense of
pettiness in his character side by side with his obvious
shrewdness and abilities.
I come back to a constant theme of my political writing. I believe
the choice of the next president belongs solely to that entity
called the electorate. It is not the prerogative of any party
“establishment,” nor is the right of any special interest, nor is
it the right of any pundit, print or broadcast, to try to impose
their views on the voters. I am not endorsing any candidate
in either party, nor am I a member of either party. But I do have
opinions and observations, some of which change over time, and
I have the right to share them.
Occasionally, each of us has moments of clarity, and in watching
the Detroit debate, I saw one grown-up on the stage. I am sharing
that now, and any person who reads this can make of it what
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.