Readers keep asking me about the presidential race, and to be honest my heart sinks. Yes, yes, I know it's important to elect a Republican candidate because, if nothing else, as we're always told, they get to nominate strong candidates to the Supreme Court - like, er, Anthony Kennedy and, um, John Roberts. So that said:
Because for many years the only TV station I could get in my corner of New Hampshire was Channel 3 Vermont (with its excellent local news show anchored by the late and much missed Marselis Parsons), I've been watching Bernie Sanders since he was Mayor of Burlington. His rise from mayor to congressman to senator embodies what one might call the Ben&Jerrification of a once great and rock-ribbed Republican state. A New York Jew with a very urban accent, Bernie started in the latte enclave of Chittenden County, expanded to other semi-flatlandered quartiers of the state, but eventually conquered the plaid-clad hold-out of the North-East Kingdom. He did all this as an "independent socialist" without any party machine.
So he's not just an attractive gadfly but an extremely well organized one. Which is why a man who is largely unknown to the national media is pulling the largest crowds of this campaign - 10,000 in Wisconsin, 8,000 in Maine. And he's being very positive - it's all about Bernie, very little about Hillary. He would be the oldest man ever elected president and 83 years old at the end of two terms - which we won't have to worry about because the entire country will have slid off the cliff long before then. But he's enthusing the base, and any base wants to be enthused.
Hillary, by contrast, is in trouble not because she's a sleazy, corrupt, cronyist, money-laundering, Saud-kissing liar. Democrats have a strong stomach and boundless tolerance for all of that and wouldn't care were it not for the fact that she's a dud and a bore. A "Hillary rally" is a contradiction in terms: the thin, vetted crowd leave more demoralized and depressed than when they went in. To vote for Bernie is to be part of a romance, as it was with Obama. To vote for Hillary is to validate the Clintons' indestructible sense of their own indispensability - and nothing else. Hillary is a wooden charmless stiff who supposedly has enough money to be carefully managed across the finish line. But that requires Democratic electors to agree to be managed, too, and the Sanders surge is a strong sign that, while they're relaxed about voting for an unprincipled arrogant phony marinated in ever more malodorous and toxic corruption, they draw the line at such a tedious and charisma-free specimen thereof.
So Bernie is a real danger to her. He will be nimbler, more fun and more human in the debates. And he enthuses the young in a way Hillary doesn't. He could win Iowa, and I know he could win New Hampshire, too, where he will ensure that, instead of going off to destabilize the Republican primary, Granite State "independents" vote in the Democrat poll and play hell with Hillary's ability to manage turnout models. If Mrs Clinton's two down by South Carolina, Berniephobes will be begging any alternative (starting with Crazy Joe) to jump in the race.
Meanwhile, another old white man is destabilizing the Republican primary. Donald Trump would also be the oldest man elected president, but like Bernie he too seems to be reaching parts of the base the younger and prettier types can't. Six months out, no predictions are possible about the first states: I assume a George Pataki or Lindsay Graham or two will have fallen by the wayside by January, but a lot of the rest seem to have just enough cash to hang in awhile and it's not clear there aren't a couple more still to come. With a dozen or more candidates many of whom are all in the single digits and within the margin of error, you might be able to win New Hampshire with, say, 14 per cent of the vote. In an open primary, if the youth vote is over with the Dems voting for Bernie, an older culturally conservative Perot vote might well show up in the GOP to vote for Trump. Who knows?
But here's the funny and consequential thing. Trump is supposed to be the narcissist blowhard celebrity candidate: He's a guy famous for erecting aesthetically revolting buildings with his "brand" plastered all over them, for arm-candy brides, for beauty contests and reality shows. The other fellows are sober, serious senators and governors.
And yet Trump is the only one who's introduced an issue into this otherwise torpid campaign - and the most important issue of all, I would argue, in that ultimately it's one of national survival. And so the same media that dismiss Trump as an empty reality-show vanity candidate are now denouncing him for bringing up the only real policy question in the race so far.
What he said may or may not be offensive, but it happens to be true: America has more Mexicans than anybody needs, and then some. It certainly has more unskilled Mexicans than any country needs, including countries whose names begin with "Mex-" and end in "-ico". And it has far more criminal Mexicans than anybody needs, which is why they make up 71 per cent of the foreign inmates in federal jails. Just to underline that last point, a young American woman was murdered for kicks in a supposed "sanctuary city" on the eve of the holiday weekend by an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He had flouted US immigration law for years - or, to be more precise about it, local, state and federal officials had colluded with him in the flouting of US immigration law, to the point where San Francisco's sheriff actively demanded the return of this criminal to his "sanctuary city", thereby facilitating the homicide of an actual citizen, taxpayer and net contributor to American society.
This would be quite an interesting topic to air in a US election campaign, don't you think? Certainly, a segment of voters seems to be interested in it. But bigshot media like NBC and Univision and craphole emporia like Macy's are telling Trump and everybody else: you can't even bring this up; this is beyond discussion. The "acceptable" Republican candidates are now obliged to denounce the guy who mentioned the unmentionable: "Will you distance yourself from Trump's controversial remarks? Do you agree such views have no place in your party?" Needless to say, Reince Preibus and the other jelly-spined squishes of the GOP establishment are eagerly stampeding to do the Macy's-Univision-industrial complex's work for them.
The Donald is not really a conservative, nor much of a Republican. He's given more or less evenhandedly to both parties over the decades, because, at Trump's level, that's just the price of doing business in a sclerotic and corrupt republic. The Clintons attended one of his weddings, because, for New York operators, that's like the King of Spain attending the Prince of Wales' wedding: it's just A-list power-schmoozing. Whether the Chinese Politburo would respond positively to a President Trump whose opening conversational gambit is "Now listen, you muthaf**kers" is doubtful.
Yet Trump, like other philosophically erratic politicians from Denmark to Greece, has tapped into a very basic strain of cultural conservatism: the question of how far First World peoples are willing to go in order to extinguish their futures on the altar of "diversity".
As Ann Coulter's new book Adios, America! lays out in remorseless detail, Kate Steinle is dead because the entire Democratic Party, two-thirds of the Republican Party and 100 per cent of the diseased federal-state-municipal bureaucracy prioritizes myths over reality. Yes, it's distressing to persons of taste and discrimination that the only person willing to address that reality is Donald Trump. But that's because he's not the reality-show freak here. The fake-o lame-o reality freakshow is the political pseudo-campaign being waged within the restraints demanded by the media and Macy's. So, if Donald Trump is the only guy willing to bust beyond those bounds, we owe him a debt of gratitude. If, as Karl Rove proposes, other candidates are able to talk about the subject in a more "inclusive" way, so be it. But, if "inclusive" is code for not addressing it at all, nuts to that.
Step back and let's be bipartisan about what Rove calls the "disruptiveness" factor: Be honest, which would you prefer and which is a bleaker comment on the political health of the republic - Bernie vs the Donald? Or Hillary vs Jeb?