Yes, the political season is really, really nasty. The higher the stakes, it seems, the faster the elevator descends. We’re past the gutter now and heading for the sewage treatment plant. The political viciousness was bad enough before, but with the year still young we have a chance to top the worst. Just to pick one example from the past, “clean government” candidate Grover Cleveland came under heavy fire in 1884 for fathering a bastard, an accusation that under the modern dispensation seems so far beyond the pale as to be in another country. Even “illegitimate” is used but sparely, it being unfair to taint a child whose role in many cases was consequential but blameless. But bastardy was a grave charge in earlier times when moral codes were firmer. “Ma, Ma, where`s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha,” they jeered at Cleveland. Like all successful chants, it was catchy. It was only when his accusers went on to denounce Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion” that they lost the key Irish vote, which might otherwise have gone to James G. Blaine despite his peculation at the public trough. Apart from being president, Cleveland was noteworthy for being so fat – somewhere well north of 300 pounds – that when he got stuck in the White House bathtub he had to be levered out by a mechanical apparatus.
I’m surprised no one has raised the possibility of a conspiracy regarding Donald Trump’s candidacy. With the exception of old-style political bore John Kasich, Trump has blown to smithereens the ranks of Republican hopefuls and badly damaged the other survivor, Ted Cruz. It seems Trump saved the toughest nut to crack for last. Cruz is a bona fide tea party conservative unlike late arrivals to the cause already receding to the dimming past like Jeb, anointed heir to the Bush claim on semi-permanent residency in the White House. But now Cruz has received his bucket of excrement in the face. Accusations (accusation of accusations, really) that Cruz is a serial fornicator and all-around philanderer have sprung from the pages of the National Enquirer, which has a distinguished record for revelations that end public lives. (See John Edwards). Before Edwards there was Gary Hart, forced out of the race in 1987 when reporters, having been tipped off by someone, tailed him to a tryst with Donna Rice. In dropping out, Hart paraphrased Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.” By that reckoning, the recent run of presidents shows us either undeserving to an extraordinary degree or under a curse.
Hart later said, “I watched journalists become animals, literally.” Surely, he meant figuratively, but hyena comes to mind when the Fourth Estate is in full cry after hapless quarry. The National Enquirer broke the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and it still makes regular appearances in its pages. It led the coverage of the O.J. story, revealed Jesse Jackson’s “secret family,” and got the goods on Tiger Woods. If it has been wrong for the past year or so about Cher and Michael Douglas being on the edge of the grave, surely it will be proved right sooner or later. In 2009 it said Michael Jackson would die within six months and was right on the money. If the Enquirer is not always right, it’s not always wrong, particularly when it comes to politics. It greases palms for tips and lays out fortunes for juicy stories, which the so-called mainstream American press is too cheap or fuddy-duddy to do. Interestingly, the tabloid is owned by a company run by one of the Friends of Bill.
There was a little-noticed private meeting last year between Trump and Bill Clinton. That was all that was ever reported, that there had been a sit down. Up to that point Trump could be defined as a standard New York liberal who contributed large sums of money to Democratic candidates and smaller amounts to the occasional Republican. Then, a few months later, he emerges as a full-blown candidate for the GOP nomination and overturns every understanding of how the game is played. He has been like a bowling ball, knocking rivals over like tenpins. If Cruz is mortally wounded in the evangelical community by the Enquirer’s story and those in store for him, the field will be clear for Trump with the exception of Kasich, who makes no pulses beat stronger. But in demolishing his opposition, Trump’s sheer nastiness is also throwing into question his chances in November. For every scalp he has taken there is a constituency he has alienated, beginning with women and continuing through country-club RINOs and now Cruz’s conservative backers. He claims he will bring people to the polls who quit voting when Ronald Reagan left office. These will include blue-collar workers ignored by the Ivy League toffs of both parties. Will they be enough? Here’s a thought to ponder. Trump doesn’t really want to be president. It’s all been an act by a master showman. So now he is now embarked on the next stage of the deal he and Bill reached, making himself so obnoxiously toxic that Hillary sashays into office.
Oh, you may say, that’s just conspiracy talk. But there have been many successful conspiracies through history, most of which we don’t know anything about. But here are some we do. The Dreyfus Affair: In the late 1800s in France, Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason based on false government documents, and sentenced to life in prison. The French government attempted to cover this up, but Dreyfus was eventually pardoned after the affair was blasted open by Emile Zola. The Mafia was virtually unknown until the 1960s, when Joe Valachi first revealed the society’s secrets to law enforcement. The Manhattan Project, a good conspiracy and one of history’s greatest industrial projects, was built in total secrecy. The asbestos and tobacco interests covered up the lethality of their products for decades. Watergate brought down Richard Nixon. Obamacare was described by a Princeton professor who was a principal architect as drafted so that the American people would be too stupid to understand it; it was then passed in the middle of the night by a Congress that didn’t read its 2000 pages. There was a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, tragically unsuccessful. The Warren Commission report said Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy and Jack Ruby killed Oswald. Oswald had CIA and FBI connections and Ruby had Mafia connections. A second Congressional investigation in 1979 that produced twelve volumes of appendices found that there was a “probable conspiracy.” More often, the very people–often in government or having some other official standing –with something to hide routinely accuse others of being conspiracy nuts when they question the party line.
What would be the payoff for a Clinton-Trump conspiracy? Bill would become the power behind the throne he once occupied (he and Hillary are themselves a conspiracy) and Donald has already added billions of dollars to the value of his brand. The presidency used to be considered hard work until Obama showed you don’t even have to break a sweat to do the job. As the most famous billionaire in the world –Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have been left in the dust–Trump can go back to making deals and telling people he’s the greatest. It’s win-win.