Someone asked me the other day if the Trib editorial board was going to endorse anyone for president of the United States. I replied we already had. Last spring we recommended our fellow voters support Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.
“Yeah, but he got beat in the Republican primary.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not our fault.”
In fact, Kasich, an accomplished budget-cutter; man of faith in word and deed; and fierce believer in bipartisanship, got 5.14 percent of the Republican vote in this county. Obviously, that recommendation carried precious little weight. So why should some voters suddenly press us at the Trib to offer a recommendation in the general election between two perfectly deplorable nominees?
Granted, dreadful past decisions by voters, including bypassing highly qualified Republicans in favor of a rodeo cowboy for ag commissioner and an ethically compromised lawmaker for state attorney general, make us less and less inclined to bother with candidate recommendations. On occasions when we make a recommendation, we usually base it on candidates’ views, experience and integrity after exhaustive editorial board Q&As.
It’s hard to do that in this presidential race. Not only have we not had a crack at the candidates, neither, it seems, have the legitimate national news media. So much of the 2016 campaign has focused on candidates’ blowhard stump speeches and what passes for debates — really mud-wrestling and name-calling in the GOP forums — that one can’t make an informed decision.
For instance, the last few weeks have seen birtherism revived, an issue that reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump raised in 2011 and that a majority of Republicans now accept as gospel. One of the proudest moments in my newspaper career came during my daily meetings for this opinion page with then-Trib owner and businessman Clifton Robinson, easily one of the most conservative Republicans in Waco. As much as he opposed President Obama on virtually every front, he thought it disgraceful that Trump would try to delegitimize the nation’s first black president through such outrageous, unfounded and racist slander.
In Mr. Robinson’s view, one always respects the president, whatever his party or politics — something that we made clear in a number of editorials at the time. It’s a message many papers, both conservative and liberal, voiced. Obviously, few Republicans heeded.
Now, after five years and with his numbers rising in the polls, Trump has decided that, well, OK, maybe Obama wasn’t really foreign-born after all but was born in Hawaii, just as the president’s birth certificate and Hawaii state officials said all along. And then Trump promptly blamed the Hillary Clinton campaign for raising the rumor in the first place during her 2008 campaign — a scurrilous Trump charge just as truthful as his seeing Muslim mobs in America celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Too many Republicans have bowed down in adoring chorus.
All this raises an interesting point: If in fact the Clinton campaign first raised the issue in 2008 — and there’s no evidence such discussions got beyond a few private communications between campaign officials — then what does it say that someone all-knowing such as deal-maker Donald Trump would fall face-flat for such a rumor, especially one from the despised and deceitful Clinton camp? What does it say that he would run with it for several years? I say it raises questions about his basic judgment, if not his intelligence.
Last week, Trump sidetracked his campaign again in a bizarre “Twitter tirade” over a former Miss Universe and his reservations about her weight, complete with 3-in-the morning rants.
The real problem is none of this deals with serious issues, which is what some of us need to make informed decisions. Questions about Trump’s willingness to abandon NATO and risk World War III, or Hillary Clinton’s willingness to further bankrupt the nation with debt-free college, or their shared willingness to cede trade advantage to China in the Pacific, go unanswered.
So given that the 2016 election has steadily devolved into a shabby circus that would shame the Founders and provides comfort to our enemies and anxiety to our allies, we leave the decision to each and every voter. Step right up and pick your poison: The Dragon Lady in Ring No. 1 or the Snake Man in Ring No. 2.
Enjoy the results. No matter what happens and no matter who wins, many of us — perhaps even most of us — will have helped bring our great nation to this sorry point in history.