Op-ed: Who knew? Who knows?

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, March 8, 2016 4:53pm
  • Opinion

On the one hand, this campaign makes life really easy for us pundits. We don’t have to be very creative or entertaining. There’s no way anyone could imagine a campaign as bizarre as this one. For those in newsbiz, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. But this is a mixed blessing.

Analysts are supposed to, uh, analyze. In doing so, we’re endeavoring to provide perspective on what has happened and to offer insight into what can be expected. In our industry, we’re doomed when we admit “I don’t know.” Tragically, none of us has any earthly idea how the campaign will turn out — or, to put it another way, whether there is any chance that Donald Trump actually could be elected president of the United States.

Doomed if I know. I don’t. We don’t. Remember that we are the ones who, just a year ago, were doing our blah blah about a blah battle between the Bush and Clinton dynasties. Who knew that Trump would rise from the sewer and give new meaning to “gutter politics”? To a lesser degree, we had no idea that a Bernie Sanders would come along and give Hillary Clinton fits.

In the Sanders case, it’s more like she’s handing him the opportunity. Even with the potential of a place in history, she has been a vapid candidate whose promises to rein in gross economic abuse are suspect since she’s so cozy with the superrich abusers. Worse, she’s encumbered by a perception that she’s dishonest. Even so, the Bernie Sanders insurgency seems to be losing urgency. Clinton and the Democratic establishment are continuing their slog toward the nomination.

Trump, on the other hand, has been like an earthquake turning the Republican infrastructure into rubble, causing the establishment figures to run panicking into the streets, as he threatens their cushy order. He’s already dispatched Jeb Bush (remember him?), now sulking in Florida. He’s turned Chris Christie from ferocious bulldog to his personal lap dog. Who knew that after years of creating a political climate of intolerance, they’d spawn a Frankenstein (no relation) monster that they couldn’t control?

They can’t. Trump’s rabid followers don’t need any dog whistles. They adore the man who expresses the unfiltered anger, make that hatred, that they’ve kept bottled up until now, when he has given them full permission to spew their resentments and bigotry.

Establishment Republicans have no idea where to turn and how to operate. They’re so desperate that instead of the usual back-stabbing, they’re front-stabbing, being very honest about their plans to deny Trump the nomination. But, to their horror, they’re discovering they don’t have many weapons. They sent out Mitt Romney to denounce Trump as a “fraud” and worse, a terrible businessman (gasp!). That did little beyond showing again why Mitt lost the last election.

They don’t know what to do; we don’t know what to think. There’s even talk that the party poobahs will bring Ted Cruz into the fold. Now, that would be misery for them, since they consider Cruz to be a snake. But at the moment, he seems to be slithering his way past Marco Rubio and may be their only hope of thwarting that giant reptile Trumpannasaurus Rex.

One can only imagine the debates. Would they be as entertaining as the Republican freak show? If it’s Hillary versus Cruz, viewers wouldn’t know which one to believe, given her credibility issues and the fact that he’s sometimes called “Lyin’ Ted.” But let’s be honest: The ratings for a confrontation between Clinton and Trump would be mind-boggling. All he’d have to do is be polite with her and he could actually win by not losing. It’s not at all certain he can do this, but if he could, then yes, Trump could be elected. Who knows?

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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