- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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 to so many. 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, yesterday’s news, not to be heard from again for another four years. The caravan, with its noisy trumpets and yapping dogs, moves on to make noise somewhere else. Round and round the spinning goes and where it stops nobody knows, but there are a couple of reassuring reminders that life goes on. The 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.

The pundits still have a lot to learn, too, about the meaning of the Donald, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, 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.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC probably speaks for many of his colleagues when he confesses that he “feels butterflies out here in the locker room.” He doesn’t further explain what he’s doing in the locker room when he should be out educating himself. Perhaps Chris has discovered the source of the creepy crawlie that he earlier felt on his leg at the sight of Barack Obama and the sound of his voice. From creepy-looking critters comes the delicate Monarch. No pundit is nearly so pretty.

Even some of the pundits, who are never at risk of having nothing to say, even if it’s recycled argle-bargle, are beginning to “get it” about the Donald, about the qualities that plain folks got early on. “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 our own day. 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,’ she asked.

“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 took his second wife from another man. A furious din finally subsided and then a child was born a week before the pivotal California primary, renewing the din. Barry Goldwater won an 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.”

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. Until now nothing has hurt the Donald because there’s 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, and no one has ever called the Donald dumb.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.

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