Wednesday

December 13th, 2017

Insight

A big night for small surprises

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Feb. 2, 2016

The wind and snow of Iowa gives way to the ice and slush of New Hampshire, and the long, long trail to sunny South Carolina has never looked so inviting. No one could have survived these last weeks but for the ample supply of hot air from the candidates to raise the temperature to barely tolerable.

But now Iowa fades to the past, good news mostly for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and the caravan, with its noisy trumpets and yapping dogs, moves on to make noise in icy New Hampshire. Round and round the spinning goes and where it stops nobody knows, and Monday night the top three candidates gave speeches that sounded like their inaugural addresses. The Donald was particularly gracious, a surprise for everyone. wise men of the Republican establishment will continue to try to make Donald Trump a non-person, unworthy of the company of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney in the pantheon of worthy Republican candidates of the past. But maybe he learned something.

Democrats are asking each other whether they should look for the panic button: is Hillary Clinton the choke-up queen. Is Bernie Sanders, the grim Socialist and proud of it, the only man in the bull pen?

The pundits still have a lot to learn, too, about the meaning of the Donald and Messrs Cruz, and Rubio, men with warts and bruises but who speak to a growing anger that the politics and the culture of the country has slipped off the rails, and no one knows how to put things back.

Even some of the pundits, who are never at risk of having nothing to say, even if it's recycled argle-bargle, were beginning to "get it" about the Donald, about the qualities that plain folks got early on. Now they'll turn their vast investigative skills to Messrs Cruz and Rubio. "It's loyalty within the Republican Party and within different portions of the party," Tom Brokaw told NBC viewers on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. "A big piece of what Donald Trump has going for him is the celebrity culture that we live in. He comes in with that big airplane and people say, 'I'd like to have a little piece of that.' "

The celebrity culture is manufactured by entertainers. A look back at the presidential campaigns in the recent past illustrates how and why. Everybody wants to be on the television screen. Suicide assassins eagerly give up their lives just to make the 11 o'clock news, forgetting that they won't be around to see and hear themselves in celebrity and living color. The masses judge everything and everyone by what they see on the little screen, and rate the merits of the candidates by their looks and sound bites.

Not so long ago Republicans and Democrats alike were judged in a way that seems curious, quaint and childlike in a time when vulgarians hold sway. Harry Truman's handlers, including his wife Bess, tried to keep a proper tongue in Harry's head. One of Mrs. Truman's friends once complained that the president was fond of the barnyard vernacular common on the farm where he grew up. "Can't you get him to quit saying 'horse manure,'?

"My dear," Mrs. Truman replied, "you don't know hard it was to persuade him to say 'manure.' "

Nelson Rockefeller blew his best chance to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 when, leading in the public-opinion polls, he divorced his first wife to marry a second. A furious din finally subsided and then a child was born a week before the pivotal California primary, renewing the din. Barry Goldwater won a upset victory, and the rest is history.

Now, observes Tom Brokaw of a generation that he is not likely to call the greatest, "here's a guy running strongly among evangelicals, married three times, he's had affairs around the world, and he went broke a couple of times. [The evangelicals] bore right through that. So we're playing in a different ball park this year." The Iowa caucuses may have changed that, but Ted Cruz should not bet on it. The last two winners, Mike Huckabee and xxxx Santorum still need to stand in the tourist line to see the inside of the White House

Americans are a tolerant and good-natured people, and long-suffering, too, willing to forgive a lot. But these are just the kind of folk who can be pushed just an inch too far, and when they exact justice it's likely to be very rough justice, too. Until Monday nothing had hurt Donald Trump because there was nobody else in sight to call out the frauds, the quacks and the crooks who promise something and deliver nothing. Only the smart and the observant could see this coming.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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