Saturday Night Live did a skit of a George Bush-Michael Dukakis presidential debate in October 1988. At one point, Bush, played by Dana Carvey, rambles on without saying much of anything.
“Gov. Dukakis? Rebuttal?” the moderator asks Dukakis, played by Jon Lovitz.
Shaking his head, he looks at the camera and says: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy!”
Democrats and Republicans today both know how he feels. It’s hard to decide which camp should be more frustrated with presidential politics right now.
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Hillary Clinton ought to be crushing Donald Trump, Democrats think, but she is driving them up the wall with her (and husband Bill’s) self-inflicted wounds. Any Republican ought to be winning easily after eight years of Barack Obama, the GOP thinks, but Trump is squandering this golden opportunity.
Those in the middle, meanwhile, have reason to doubt that either major-party candidate has all the skills needed to be an effective leader in such volatile times.
Trump’s boorishness, while the catalyst of his campaign, also makes him the most unpopular presidential candidate in U.S. history. Democrats welcomed his rise in the primaries and fervently hope he closes the deal in Cleveland next week because they find his winning in November unfathomable.
Yet Clinton keeps stubbing her toe, keeping Trump in the game. She won’t be indicted for her use of personal e-mail servers while Secretary of State. But her being “extremely careless,” as FBI Director James Comey put it, only deepens the mistrust so many Americans – including crucial independents – have of her. Husband Bill made another unforced error, schmoozing with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her plane shortly before Lynch would have to decide whether to prosecute his wife.
Bernie Sanders finally endorsed Clinton Tuesday, but the fact that a 74-year-old self-proclaimed democratic socialist pushed her as hard as he did reflects how little love there is on the left for Clinton.
The frustrations on the right are even more inescapable. Only once since Harry Truman has a party won a third straight term in the White House. Given Obama fatigue and Clinton’s unpopularity, this was Republicans’ election to lose. And they are headed that way.
As important are the down-ballot impacts. Democrats hope Trump sitting atop the Republican ticket will help them regain a majority in the U.S. Senate. Retired Democrat Evan Bayh is now expected to get back into Indiana’s Senate race, an indication of just how bullish Democrats are about the Trump effect. Yet Clinton’s email practices and her handling of the aftermath could discount that effect and cost Democrats a handful of Senate seats they otherwise might have taken.
In the end, Democrats will marry Clinton and Republicans will marry Trump. But they’ll really be longing for somebody else. We should all hope that each party takes a good hard look at itself post-November and finds a way to nominate candidates America can feel great about in 2020.