Compassionate conservatives, should in the fading spirit of the season just past, spare a tear or two for Bonnie and Clod. They look out on the world of cash and celebrity they created for themselves, and the thrill is gone. The past is gaining on them and the future suddenly doesn’t look a lot better.
If the past and the future look scary, there’s the here and now, with Bernie Sanders in hot pursuit, moving this week to within 2 or 3 percentage points of her in New Hampshire.
Bernie might have been a genuine threat but for his habit of forgetting how a campaign works. He’ll be remembered, if remembered at all, for his noisy demand in the first Democratic “debate” that everyone give Hillary a pass on her email troubles and her felonious disclosures of the nation’s national security secrets. The secrets she betrayed on that personal Internet server she keeps in the closet at home, continue to dribble into the conversation. Bernie was the mutt who didn’t bark.
Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia who tried his hand at running for president as a Democrat but quit the race when he couldn’t get any traction in the polls, is talking now of trying again as an independent. A long shot, but he might cut into the Democratic vote next November. Joe Biden says he “regrets every day” not running for president, now that Hillary’s sins and shortcomings are emerging just like the Republican candidates said they would.
Some of the most loyal Democrats, who only yesterday saw blue skies and happy times ahead, now see clouds on the horizon a lot bigger than Donald Trump’s hand. The president of the Service Employees International Union says her blue-collar union will be going into “hyperdrive” to save the world, or at least her corner of it, from the Donald. She concedes that 64 percent of her members identify as conservatives and are “much more interested in the Republican debate than the Democratic debate.”
She got an attack of the vapors when she watched the first Trump television commercial, about his promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and barring Muslims entry into the United States until there’s effective vetting of prospective immigrants. “I think he’s touching this vein of the terrible anxiety that working-class people feel about their current status,” she told interviewer David Axelrod, a onetime Barack Obama aide who is now a “podcaster,” “and more importantly, how terrified they are for their kids not being able to do as well as they have, never mind doing better.” She can smell the fear abroad in the land, and it’s the same fear Donald Trump exploits.
The stink of Bubba’s past keeps gaining, too. The Washington Post, which rarely has anything bad to say about Democratic candidates, says with a certain barely suppressed glee that the women in Bubba’s past have been unleashed. Just so, and there are a lot of them.
Bubba was briefly cornered Thursday in Cedar Rapids, where he is trying to help the missus in the Iowa caucuses, and finally had to answer questions about Juanita Broaddrick, who accused him of raping her in a Little Rock hotel room when he was the state attorney general. (But in all fairness, he advised her to put a piece of beef on her black eye.)
“What’s your reaction to Juanita Broaddrick’s re-emergence,” asked a reporter for the Daily Caller. When he didn’t answer the reporter asked several times more. When another reporter asked what he thought about Donald Trump raising an issue of his “past transgressions,” the former president couldn’t contain himself. “I don’t have any response,” he responded. “If he wins the Republican nomination, we’ll have plenty of time to talk.”
If money is the mother’s milk of politics, the Clintons are finding the milk going sour. For Ron Burkle, the Hollywood investment banker who took Bubba around the world in his Boeing 757 for fun and games — Bubba got a free ride and Mr. Burkle got to look inside Bubbaworld — the thrill has definitely gone. That definitely includes Hillary.
“As much as I like [Al] Gore, [John] Kerry and Hillary,” he tells the Los Angeles Times, “nobody can ever remember what they stand for.” He thinks Hillary is brilliant but disconnected with the plain folks whose votes she must win, and that will be difficult without Clinton magic. “People would expect Bill Clinton-style love and attention. That is not going to happen with her.”
Almost overnight Hillary doesn’t look so inevitable any more. She’s still the way to bet for the nomination, but it’s an eerie campaign. This is how she began to unravel in 2008.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.