It’s gotta be tough for a candidate to quit, particularly when running to be president. Suddenly the humongous ego trip is over. Gone are the days when your very presence is an event, where even the wealthiest and most powerful act like groupies, and doting aides are always fluttering and flattering. Being dumped out of that gilded cocoon is brutal. Very quickly you’re alone in the humbling real world, as all the lackeys start licking someone else’s boots. These extinguished stars who are shoved off the stage but are still longing for that last sliver of spotlight barely hang on by endorsing someone else and playing a demeaning supporting role. Think Chris Christie.
Oh yeah, there might be a little principle involved, a policy agenda and all that, but what’s most cruel is losing the addictive rush of adulation. That explains, partially at least, why Bernie Sanders hangs on by his fingernails, even though Hillary Clinton has rolled over him and has an almost clear path to the nomination. It helps one comprehend why Ted Cruz and John Kasich come up with their desperation deal to divvy up the remaining state primaries in order to try to stop Donald Trump. They are among the last hopes of the party machine to somehow thwart Trump by using whatever chicanery they can create to do it, but all the Cruz-Kasich bargain really accomplished was to bring a lot of ridicule crashing down on them. Cruz is playing all the angles. He’s named Carly Fiorina his vice-presidential running mate. For Carly, it means she gets her fawning entourage back for a while. Nevertheless, The Donald’s juggernaut seems to be on crude control, meaning he might very well come to the convention with enough delegates to make all the feudal game-playing futile. What we’ll witness then will be all the party poobahs pathetically sidling up to Trump to assure him he was really their favorite all along.
The Democrats are playing a slightly different version of the same game. First of all, let’s face it — Bernie Sanders is partially a creation of Hillary Clinton. She has managed to squander the historic narrative of her being potentially this nation’s first female president. Unfortunately, she’s not a great candidate. Not only can she come across as having a sense of entitlement, but to many she appears inauthentic or outright dishonest. Furthermore, her coziness with the super-rich who are the villains in this year’s political drama has created a massive opening for Sanders, who is definitely not cozy with them. In fact, he advocates taking some of their riches through taxes and using the money to pay for college education, single-payer health care, etc. His entire focus is on financial inequality.
But he’s faltering. So he’s responding by laying off a big chunk of his staff. Excuse me, but isn’t that what the evil corporations do? Just saying.
Donald Trump, on the other side, is exploiting that same politics of resentment his way. The difference is that Trump’s answer is bigotry, while Sanders’ is socialism. Both have done very well, but unlike the Republicans, the Democratic establishment has prevailed. Their person, Hillary Clinton, will be the nominee. All that Sanders can do is try to force Hillary to adopt some of his policies, and she’s home free. He’ll certainly get a prominent speaking role at the convention, and then maybe he’ll appear for her during the general-election runup. But, in all probability, it’s back to Senate oblivion for him again, tilting at windmills.
We’re almost certainly left with Trump versus Clinton in the final race, a battle to determine who’s less unpopular. It’ll be a brutal campaign, tough on both of them. But it’ll be even worse for those who started out but were forced out. In politics, there’s no such thing as a nice try.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.