On June 16th 2015 a Manhattan businessman descended an escalator on Fifth Avenue and upended all the inert leaden rituals of America's two-year presidential campaigns. Four years on, in an even more crowded Democrat field, I have no idea at this stage who will emerge victorious. But I think I can plausibly claim - unlike far more powerful figures on the American right, still throwing money and endorsements at obvious losers nine months later - to have discerned the essentials of the 2016 race pretty early. (I predicted Trump would win the nomination on the radio with Alan Colmes in September 2015.)
Three weeks after Donald Trump launched his campaign - on July 10th 2015 - I wrote the column below on the two old white males shaking up their respective nominating contests. Four years on, Bernie is running again in an entirely Berniefied party: His rivals are all presenting themselves as merely younger, comelier, blacker, gayer versions of the original, or in the case of the pitiful Joe Biden, unloading every morning positions he's held for half-a-century, an even more geriatric Bernie. On the right there are NeverTrumpers but on the left no NeverBernies.
Is it necessary to say anything about those NeverTrumpers? The guys who told us it was a stunt, he'd be out by Labor Day, he wouldn't win a single primary... Some very smart people were just incredibly stupid. My old National Review colleague Kevin Williamson:
Witless Ape Rides Escalator
Kevin and a lot of others - including many of the right's most illustrious names - didn't grasp how disconnected Conservatism, Inc had become from its base. Donor-servicing masquerading as doctrinal purity had fewer and fewer takers, even before you offer it in the ludicrous form of a third Bush presidency in twenty-five years. Actual voters wanted something else, and no house-trained Republican was willing to give it to them. So cometh the hour, cometh the witless ape. Four years on, the Democrats have a base, Trump has a base, but, as Bill Kristol and The Weekly Standard learned the hard way, it's not clear pre-Trump Republicanism has any base at all.
True, unlike Bernie re the Dems, the President does not preside over a wholly Trumpified Republican Party. The Ryan-McConnell Congress spent the new commander-in-chief's first two years acting as if the program that got him elected was so self-evidently crazy they didn't need to go anywhere near it. They're still figuring Trump is an aberration, and that once he's gone normal business will resume and they can go back to nominating milquetoast candidates who know how to give a great concession speech.
Anyway, here's what I wrote four years ago, and three weeks after a political neophyte descended that escalator:
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?
~from Steyn on America, July 10th 2015
It wasn't only the Dems' corrupt nominating process that cost Bernie his victory. One key difference between Sanders and Trump is that Bernie lacks the killer instinct: If he'd decided to call Mrs Clinton "Low-Energy Hillary", I'll bet he could have won.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, including the debut of Kathy Shaidle's summer season at the cinema, and yours truly waiting round the bend with a huckleberry friend. Our marquee presentation was the launch of our twenty-eighth Tale for Our Time - the Erskine Childers classic The Riddle of the Sands: You can find Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here. (Join us for Part Four later today, Monday.) We also celebrated Father's Day with a stirring contemplation of impending paternity. If you were attending to your own dad over the weekend, or enjoying the ministrations of offspring, we hope you'll want to check out one or more of the foregoing.
Tales for Our Time is made possible through the support of The Mark Steyn Club. Thank you so much for all the Steyn Club subscription renewals this last month. As our third year begins, I am very grateful to all our members around the world, from London, Ontario to London, England to London, Kiribati. We hope to welcome many more of you in the years ahead. For more information on The Mark Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our limited-time Gift Membership.
Oh, and do give a thought to our Third Annual Steyn Cruise sailing the Med next year and hitting all the high spots. We'll be attempting some seaboard versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Tales for Our Time, our Sunday Poem and other favorite features. If you're minded to give it a go, don't leave it too late, as the price is more favorable the earlier you book.