The latest episodes in the competing mini-series about the election of the next president have lately taken some interesting twists. Over in the Democrats’ show there is suddenly speculation whether the front-runner will soon be indicted on federal charges of endangering the national security, while on the Republican channel the front-runner is openly speculating if his most troublesome rival is legally eligible to be in the running. Both plot twists might yet prove red herrings, but at least they provide an amusing distraction from all that boring talk of stock market meltdowns and North Korean bomb tests and the usual unpleasantness in the Middle East.
There has long been a tantalizing possibility that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be in legal jeopardy for using a personal and unsecured e-mail account to conduct her official State Department business, and to many it seemed all the more tantalizingly possible after former United States Attorney and current cable news pundit Joseph DiGenova went on a popular conservative talk radio show and confidently predicted that the combined outrage of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the government’s broader intelligence community would force Attorney General Loretta Lynch to bring charges. DiGenova’s predictions have often proved prescient, he’s known for having reliable sources in the FBI and the intelligence community, and Clinton’s e-mails sure do look like a clear violation of the law, and her claims that there were no classified documents on the “home-brew” server she kept in a shady company’s bathroom have already been revealed as blatant lies, so it’s at least plausible. The counter arguments from the more skeptical pundits that President Barack Obama’s Attorney General is going to bring charges against the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee no matter what evidence some disgruntled executive branch employees might muster are also plausible, though, so at this point we offer no predictions.
Some slight surviving shred of faith in the American government allows us to hold out hope that FBI Director James Comey will live up to his ruggedly independent reputation and his boast to Congress that he “doesn’t give a rip about politics” in the investigation, and we’re by now cynical enough to wish that Obama’s pettiness and self-centeredness will allow him to allow his Attorney General to play some Chicago style politics with his erstwhile rival, but neither lead to any conclusions. We will venture that anything short of an indictment won’t alter the Democratic presidential nomination race, where Clinton’s most troublesome rival has already declared that he’s “sick and tired of hearing about her damned e-mails,” but we would like to think that a full revolt by the FBI and the intelligence making clear how very political a non-indictment is would have some effect on a general election.
The general election will co-star a Republican, though, and at this point it seems likely that he or she will have her or his own problems to deal with. Still ahead in all the national polls is billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, but he’s lately feeling enough heat from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that he’s unleashing his famously scathing criticisms on the rival. He’s even suggested that Cruz, born to an American-born mother and Cuban-born but naturalized-American father, might not be eligible for the presidency because Cruz was born in Canada during his parent’s brief career-related stay there. Such birthplace chatter is as old as the presidency of perhaps-Canadian-born Chester A. Arthur, and has persisted through the presidential campaigns of Mexican-born George Romney and Arizona Territory-born Barry Goldwater and Panama Canal Zone-born John McCain right up to the current president, who Trump had previously and unconvincingly claimed was born in Kenya, but it hasn’t yet kept anyone from winning the presidency. Cruz cheekily responded to the speculation, which didn’t quite rise to the level of an outright accusation, with a “tweeted” clip of that infamous “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumped over a shark, a sly pop cultural reference that should suffice to put the matter to rest.
We note that Trump has also questioned Cruz on theological grounds, telling an audience of Iowa Republicans in advance of that state’s Christian-dominated primary that “you’ve got to remember, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?” Whether a thrice-married casino magnate can successfully persuade evangelical Iowans that he’s more their type than a once-married Baptist with a perfect pro-life voting record and no ties to the gambling industry and the same anti-communist heritage as beloved sit-com character Ricky Ricardo remains to be seen, but we do have our suspicions how that might turn out. Trump has also proposed a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, which would raise the price of an average shopping trip to Wal-Mart by approximately 45 percent and start a global trade war with little prospects of victory, but that also seems a desperate gambit.
The bomb-throwing and government-shutdown-threatening Cruz is every bit as infuriating to the Republican establishment as Trump, whose rise to the top of the polls has largely been fueled by an understandable anti-establishment sentiment among Republicans, and Cruz is perhaps even more beloved by those bellicose talk radio talkers who have further fueled Trump’s rise, so Trump’s sudden turn against him is not unexpected. We don’t expect it will hurt Cruz in the Republican primaries, but it provides some fodder for a whispering campaign by the Democrats in the general election, even if they aren’t afraid to say it more loudly for fear of reviving the old rumors about Obama’s Kenyan birth or a sense that Democrats just don’t like “the other,” and we’ll nervously watch how it plays out.
If the presidential race turns out to be a match between a convicted felon and a constitutionally-ineligible foreigner, we’ll be rooting for the constitutionally-ineligible foreigner.
— Bud Norman