Littwin: Panic in the presidential race

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

We interrupt our nonstop coverage of Republican panic in the face of Donald Trump leading in virtually every primary poll to bring you competing coverage of the oncoming Democratic panic in the face of Hillary Clinton leading in virtually every primary poll.

The sources of panic are slightly different, of course. But the truth is that you don’t have to wonder why in either case.

Republicans — at least those in the GOP establishment — worry that The Donald might somehow pull off the impossible and win (he won’t) or at least stick around long enough to make a farce of the entire enterprise (if he hasn’t already).

There’s nothing to be done about Trump, as the folks at Fox News can tell you. The harder you hit him, the more he whines. And the more he whines — says The Donald himself, and usually on Twitter — the more he wins. And the more he wins, the more thought pieces we have to read to explain how that subset of Republicans supporting him aren’t xenophobes or misogynists or — in Trump talk — dummies.

When Fox is backing down, and when third-party whispers beckon, and when let-there-be-blood becomes a late-night punch line, you can see the problem. And when the trouble extends beyond Trump to would-be front-runner Jeb Bush, whose latest strategy to make headlines is to embrace his brother’s role in Iraq, even saying that the “mission was accomplished” on Iraq security under W., you can see the problem in duplicate. Or maybe 17 times over. I mean, doesn’t anyone remember when Jeb was saying he wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq?

So how could the Democrats be panicking? Well, how could they not be? This was supposed to be the easy part, even before the gift that is The Donald emerged. It was assumed that Clinton would breeze through the Democratic primary while 17 Republicans tried to elbow each other off the stage. The Republicans are doing their part, but Clinton has managed to do whatever is the opposite of breezing, and it’s only August.

Bernie Sanders is surging, at least in states where there aren’t any minorities. Clinton’s untrustworthiness numbers are the worst of her career. It’s not just Congress on the case in the email scandal, it’s the FBI, to which she has turned over her private email server.

There’s always a scandal in Clinton World, even if most of them are faux scandals, so no one can be surprised. And if the home-brew server issue predates Clinton’s entry into the race, most Democrats assumed it would be another Benghazi — 10 or 12 congressional hearings and it’s over.

But whatever else this story might hold — is it just me or do you think of certain erased tapes whenever you hear about deleted emails? — it won’t go away, any more than Trump will go away. It’s the kind of story that reporters start to dig into and never quite let go. And if it isn’t the kind of story that, in the end, does much damage, it is the kind that goes right to the heart of inevitability.

And so no one is surprised that Joe Biden, even in his grief over the loss of his son Beau, is reportedly taking steps to see whether there’s still time and money for him to get in the race and save the day. This would be his third try at the job, and the first two didn’t exactly go too well. Where would Biden fit in? The establishment, including the Obama crowd, is not going to desert Clinton. All the excitement in the race belongs to Sanders.

And you had to know that once the stories began, they’d start to get weird, and so it is that Buzzfeed is reporting that Al Gore is considering whether to get into the race/save the day/explain how he got so damn rich while saving the world. (OK, his people deny it, and who could believe it in any case, but that’s not the point. John Kerry is still out there. I’m sure Howard Dean is available. Is there a real alternative?)

Nate Cohn writes in The New York Times that despite what you’re hearing, Clinton is all but certain to win the primary. He notes that after Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton beats Bernie with minorities, women and in just about every other category except young liberals. And he thinks her untrustworthy numbers may not matter in a general election where the single most important factor is party ID.

But Clinton’s people are hearing from enough nervous Democrats that they sent out a memo to supporters telling them that this, too, shall pass, that the Democratic electoral college firewall is still in place, and that if you think there’s something to worry about, just read the latest from the Trump Dialogues.

The latest from Iowa — via The Washington Post — is that the Trump bus, minus The Donald himself, is drawing cheering crowds in parking lots from around the state. Apparently you can even slap the Trump name on a bus and it sells.

And now, it has gotten to the point where Trump is sufficiently impressed by his poll numbers — and by himself, of course — that he’s spending his own money to hire on-the-ground (or in-the-bus) staff in Iowa. The Post headlines the story this way: “An Iowa surprise: Donald Trump is actually trying to win.”

No wonder there’s panic on all sides.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for


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