Trump Takes on Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has long made the motorcycles of choice for American cops, criminals, and male middle age crisis sufferers, and ranks with Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Fender electric guitars and apple pies as one of America’s most all-American products. Nonetheless, President Donald Trump now regards the company as one of his  enemies in the world trade war he’s waging.
It all started with Trump imposing punitive tariffs on imports from the European Union, which predictably resulted in the EU imposing retaliatory tariffs on certain industries in the states that cast their electoral votes for Trump in the last election. Wisconsin was one of those states, and the Milwaukee-based manufacturer of the only significant American motorcycle was hit with tariffs that would raise the cost of their product by than $2,000 in the company’s second-biggest market, which predictably resulted in Harley-Davidson’s announcement that it would avoid the tariffs by building motorcycles for the European market in Europe.
Which predictably resulted in a series of “tweets” by Trump denouncing the company as un-American, threatening to impose new taxes “like never before” on it, and predicting its American customers will soon go bankrupt as its customers go elsewhere.
All of which, of course, is balderdash. Harley-Davidson’s decision to build motorcycles in Europe is the predictable self-interested economic response to the predictable consequences of Trump’s ill-advised trade war, which seems pretty American to us, and we’d note that Trump and his favorite daughter have long had the products they peddle manufactured in other countries for far less necessary reasons. Presidents are restrained by the Constitution from levying taxes on their political enemies, and even if Trump persuaded Congress to do so it would be a bill of attainder that is explicitly unconstitutional and downright un-American. If Harley-Davidson’s proudly American customers do decide to choose another motorcycle to show their solidarity with Trump, they’ll almost certainly wind up buying a German or Japanese model and paying much more for it because of Trump’s tariffs.
Pretty much everything about Trump’s trade war against the world is similarly stupid. Those employed in the steelmaking industry might benefit, but those employed in the more numerous steel-using industries are going to take a hit and anyone who buys a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or anything else made with steel is going to wind up paying much more for it. The Kansas wheat farmers and airplane-makers around here who rely on lucrative export markets to get by are going to take a hit from all the retaliatory tariffs, too, and so will all sorts of workers in all sorts industries that don’t need Trump’s protection and aren’t in his favor.
The post-World War II order that everyone agreed to at Bretton Woods and established a global market doing business with the Yankee dollar as the reserve currency unit has brought about an unprecedented era of global peace and prosperity, and despite all the ups and undeniable downs along the way America is also better off. Trump is convinced that by his sheer Nietzche-an power of will he can negotiate the rest of the world into cutting up the post-war world order goose and giving America all the golden eggs, though, and he seems to have persuaded a significant number of fans that he can.
At one of his continuous campaign rallies on Tuesday in West Columbia, South Carolina, Trump got big laughs by insulting an outgoing Republican South Carolina congressman and a dying Republican Senator and former Republican presidential nominee who haven’t been properly obeisant to the president, as well as a couple of late-night television comedians who constantly lampoon him. He also got big cheers for promising an escalated trade war against Germany, which he blames for selling more cars in America than America sells in Germany and thus creating a trade deficit, which he considers an unforgivable offense, even though everybody runs a trade deficit with somebody, which is how the world works.
The crowd loved it, even though the biggest employer by far in the nearby and thriving town of Greenville is Bavarian Motor Works, which is as iconically German as Harley-Davidson is iconically American. Those low-paying sweat-shop textile mill jobs South Carolina used to get by on have long since been outsourced to even the lower-wage and less-regulated countries where Trump and his favorite daughter have their branded neckties and women’s apparel made, but the state is by far better off with BMW running its biggest factory in the state, and why those rally-goers have more faith in Trump than the post-war world order that has brought them such peace and prosperity is hard to explain.
We have no particular affection for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as their customers regularly interrupt our conversations on the local taverns’ outside drinking areas with their loud flatulence, and the last time we rode a motorcycle was decades ago and on one of those Japanese “rice burners,” but we’re now rooting for this iconic American brand and the rest of the world in their war with Trump.

— Bud Norman

Another Night of Mixed Results

The final rounds of the special election season came on Tuesday, with the same usual mixed results as before. Once again the Democrats fell short of victory in two more reliably Republican districts, but once again by margins that should worry many of the more vulnerable congressional Republicans up for re-election in ’18.
Those anxious Republicans can take some solace in the fact that the Republican prevailed in Georgia’s sixth congressional district despite the record-setting millions of dollars that Democrats from around the country threw into the race. The district is mostly the well-educated and well-heeled and mostly-white suburbs of Atlanta, and has been held by the Republicans for 40 years, including the entire famous tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but when a youthful Democratic candidate fell just short of a majority in the open primary his party sensed an upset. The national press paid outsized attention, the money from Hollywood and other Democratic denizens poured in, and there was much anticipation of an outcome that could be easily spun as backlash against President Donald Trump.
We’re far out of range of the broadcast commercials that were no doubt incessantly aired in Georgia’s unfortunate sixth district, and not very familiar with the local politics of the district, but so far as we can tell from all that outsized national press attention neither candidate tried to make the race about Trump. The Democrat presumably and reasonably believed that his opposition to Trump went without saying and instead focused on some local issues, which the Democrats in the rest of the country will no doubt regard as a fatal mistake, while the Republican reportedly ran as an old-fashioned establishment type who rarely mentioned Trump, which will surely annoy some Republicans and provide a lesson to others. Trump won the district in the presidential election by 2 percent, which was much lower than his margins in the less-educated and less-well-heeled and even whiter districts in the rest of the state, and the old-fashioned Republican who rarely mentioned Trump won by a slightly larger yet closer-than-usual margin, so the pro-Trump and anti-Trump people can make whatever they want of all that.
Less attention was paid and fewer donations were made to another race in the fifth district of South Carolina, which is less well-educated and well-heeled and more white than that Georgia district, and where Trump prevailed by more landslide margins, but that was also an embarrassingly close call. The Republican took just over 51 percent of the vote, far underperforming the the Republican in the election just eight months or so ago, and although local politics no doubt played a part there’s no spinning how that’s good for Trump.
All of the special elections have been in Republican districts where the incumbent was promoted to a cabinet-level position by Trump, which means that their would-be Republicans successors were necessarily well less qualified candidates, and of course the opposition is going to more energized than those less well-educated and well-heeled Trump supporters who are cocksure their man can take of himself. Still, the results are decidedly mixed.
The Democrats won’t be able to raise the kind of money for each mid-term race at the rate they did in that Georgia election, but neither will the Republicans. The Republicans did wind up winning all four of the races, albeit while losing percentage points that would flip a whole of districts. Trump retains a steadfast and significant percentage of voters, Trump’s detractors seem to have even bigger numbers, and it’s how they’re spread around the electoral map that seems matter. All politics really is local, too, so it’s hard to tell how that will play in out the hundreds of House seats and third-or-so of Senate seats up in a year and a few months from now. Of course there’s also no telling what might happen in a year and a few months from now.
Until then the Republicans retain the White House and the same majorities they held in the House and Senate before all this fuss, but for now they don’t seem to doing much with it, and the Democrats are still falling tantalizingly short of a victory to call their own.

— Bud Norman

The 45 Percent Solution

We’ve been poring over all the recent numbers from the Republican presidential race, trying to decide if the party’s metaphorical glass is one third-empty or two-thirds full. In either case, it’s not at all where we’d hoped it would be.
There’s no longer any way of denying that the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, which most certainly is not what we’d hoped for. After a double-digit win in the supposed anti-insurgent “firewall” state of South Carolina he’s two-for-three in actual voting, and following an even bigger win in New Hampshire and a respectable second-place in Iowa, and with similar leads in national and upcoming state polls, he’s looking formidable.
Still, we are not yet ready to abandon all hope. As formidable as Trump might seem, he’s only got 61 of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, there are still 47 states and some territories yet to vote, and thus far Trump seems stuck at the two-thirds plurality that has provided him two seeming landslides in a seven-way race. Given that the Republican front-runner is regarded unfavorably by most Republicans, and fares even worse than Hillary Clinton among the general public, which is saying something, he’ll have to find something pretty outrageous to bolster that total in a two-or-three-way race.
Trump has already bounced former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush out of the race, which deprives him of a favorite scapegoat for that darned establishment that folks are so riled up about these days, and which deprives him of the tens of millions of dollars that Bush and his supporters were for some reason spending on attack ads against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who wound up in a virtual tie with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine anyone who preferred Bush switching his support to Trump, and if Rubio had added most of Bush’s numbers to his own, which he would have, since he’s stuck with that darned “establishment” label at this point, and if he could have picked up the votes of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who took second in New Hampshire and is still hanging in after a shellacking in South Carolina, with more to come, it would have been a win for Rubio in South Carolina. If Dr. Ben Carson had gracefully bowed out most of his votes would have likely gone to Cruz, who relishes the same iconoclastic trouble-maker reputation as Trump and makes the same pitch to evangelical Christians, many of whom for some reason or another prefer the thrice-married and proudly adulterous gambling mogul, so Cruz might have also contended in a three-way race.
The race might not winnow down to two or three by the time the delegates start piling up, which is soon, but if it does come down to Trump and Rubio and Cruz almost anything could happen. There will be some very close races in several states, with Trump’s accusations of cheating and threats of lawsuits following any narrow loss, either Rubio or Cruz could commit some disaster blunder that will derail his candidacy, although at this point we do discount the possibility that even a threatened shooting on Fifth Avenue will knock Trump below that two-third margin, and so anyone who gets very far past that two-thirds mark could win a clear plurality of the primary and caucus votes.
Anything less than 45 percent, an elusive Nielsen rating that has thus far proved beyond the grasp of even Trump, might not be enough to get to the still far-away number of 1,237 delegates. If you don’t have that you don’t win on the first ballot, and on the second ballot all the delegates are free to do whatever they want, and it’s and old-fashioned convention from way back even before our time. Trump’s mastery of “The Art of the Deal” will be sorely put to test as he deals with at least a majority of Republican delegates who are pretty much the same “establishment” that Trump has promised to tar and feather, even if they do want Cruz, who has been denounced as a “liar” and “nasty guy” by Trump, and if it comes to that it will be the first reality television show in ages that she’s been glued to.
It could wind up with Trump versus Clinton, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States whose reputation for honesty and integrity is as abysmal as Trump’s and who seems to have vaunted herself back into the Democratic party’s front-runner status with an inexplicable win in a convoluted and small turn-out Nevada caucus. Both the left and the right and especially that mushy middle are all so riled up about big donor fat cats and corruptible politicians and those know-it-alls who think they know how to run an entire are about to have a choice between one of those big donor fat cats and one of the corruptible politicians that he’s paid off with big bucks and public praise and an invitation to his latest wedding, both of them have plenty of red-flag career catastrophes in their past, both offer themselves as models of competence and high moral standards, and that might be the choice.
In which case, we are reminded of an old Woody Allen commencement speech bit, where he told the students: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Surreality Show

The Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday ended our scant interest in the National Football League, and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ blow-out win over Indiana State University’s Sycamores satisfied our ongoing taste for college basketball by Sunday afternoon, so with nothing else to do on a cold winter night we sat down to watch the latest episode of the Democratic presidential race. Although it doesn’t get the ratings of the Republicans’ mini-series, for some reason, it’s an entertaining reality show in its own right.
Better to describe it as an alternate reality show, or perhaps as a surreality show. The tale takes place in an America where President Barack Obama is the much beloved leader of the land, his proudly eponymous Obamacare is universally regarded as a smashing success but there’s still some discussion of a more outright socialist system, the only problems with the economy are caused by a handful of top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling billionaires and Wall Street bankers who can be easily guillotined and whose vast plunder can be spread in all sorts of socially just ways, the past seven years of foreign policy have been so successful that terrorism and national security don’t merit much discussion, and a D- from the National Rifle Association is considered a scandalously good grade. The main characters are former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the wicked witch with role with a gusto not seen since Margaret Hamilton was flying over Oz, and self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who plays the lovably cranky and kooky old coot next door so well he’s suddenly become the main character. There’s also former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but not that you’d notice.
Tuesday’s night episode was set in South Carolina, which is an important plot detail. If you’ve been following the story through all it’s twists and turns you know that the lovably cranky and kooky old coot has lately been threatening to beat the wicked witch in both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, which would seriously complicate the long foreshadowed storyline about the wicked witch’s eventual coronation, and therefore a win in the next-up state of South Carolina is all-important to her chances. There’s always a subtle racial undertone to these Democratic storylines, and those who are hip to the nuances will note that Iowa and New Hampshire are mostly comprised of white people, who seem to especially love the lovably cranky and kooky old coot, and that South Carolina is largely comprised of black people, with its Democratic primary mostly comprised of them, and that the wicked witch is assumed to be more popular with black people. The backstory for this peculiar preference is that the wicked witch once worked for the much beloved Obama, who even in reality is still much beloved by the black people of the land as the First Black President, and her husband was once the much beloved leader of the land, and was especially beloved by the black people of the land as the first First Black President, for reasons that no one can any longer recall, so they’re willing to give her a pass on wicked witchiness, and they’re no so crazy about even the most lovably cranky and kooky old coots from states comprised almost entirely of white people.
The wicked witch wasn’t taking any chances, however, and took every opportunity to ingratiate herself to the black people of her audience by associating herself with the beloved Obama. She even took umbrage that lovably cranky and kooky old coot had once dare speak ill of the First Black President, and was downright indignant that he should be so arrogant as to think he could improve on such a perfect creation as Obamacare. She also ventured from her theme to note that any attempt to do so would re-open a debate about health care, and suggested that even in the fantasy world of Democrat-land no one should want to get into all that again, which we thought a nicely subtle allusion to the reality exists just outside the show’s fourth wall. When they finally got around to talking about that terrorism and national security stuff the wicked witch heaped more praise on Obama, almost daring the lovably cranky and kooky old coot to find any fault with the past seven years of foreign policy, but he was of course able to blame it all on the hated George W. Bush, whose evil reign still lingers after seven as a bitter memory in Democrat-land. There was some talk about how many more black people go to prison than white people, a disparity which all the characters found upsetting, although we’re not sure if they intend to remedy this by letting more black people out of prison or sending more white people, especially billionaires and Wall Street bankers, into prison, and our guess is the wicked witch’s pandering on the issue probably prevailed. She also chided the lovably cranky and kooky old cot about that embarrassing D- he got from the NRA, when no self-respecting citizen of Democrat-land would ever settle for any less than a solid F, although we guess that was intended mostly for the white people of the audience.
The lovably cranky and kooky old coot got his digs in, though. It turns out the wicked witch has given speeches to and accepted large amounts of filthy lucre from many of those villainous billionaires and Wall Street bankers, and the lovably cranky and kooky old coot was just cranky enough make an issue of it. The wicked witch shot back that he had also been so sacrilegious as to criticize the much-beloved First Black President over the same sorts of arrangements, and assured the audience she would continue to wield same might sword that her beloved leader has already used to slay billionaires and Wall Street bankers with such successful “regulatory-schemes” as the Dodd-Frank law. As we say, it’s an alternate reality show, and you have to suspend disbelief to embrace its own internal logic, which we admit we haven’t fully grasped yet. The wicked witch was shrewd to use the magical Obama shield, but the loveably cranky and kooky old coot has a good point that she’s wealthy trading favors with the billionaires and Wall Street bankers who so desperately need guillotining to bring about social justice, and by now the audience is probably thinking that of the two only he is pure of heart enough to pull the lever and let the blade come down.
There was even a brief, tantalizing moment of sex scandal that couldn’t have helped the wicked witch. Probably because he realized his network’s broadcast was being routed in the ratings by whatever post-game football shows or “ultimate fighting” cage matches or other manly and somewhat realistic sporting programs were airing elsewhere on your television dial, one of the moderators strayed from the respectful script and asked about the lovably cranky and kooky old coot’s recent statement about the fact that the wicked witch’s beloved former leader and First Black President husband is a serial philanderer and predatory perv. This part of the backstory had gone unmentioned in the previous debate-format episodes, and indeed had gone largely unmentioned in the tales of Democrat-land all along, but lately the wicked witch has been trying to pander to the women people of the realm by vowing to slay all the serial philanderers and predatory pervs who still persist in the land, probably because of those billionaires and Wall Street bankers, so it can’t help sinking into the current plot. The lovably cranky and kooky old coot confessed that he had expressed a negative opinion about the wicked witch’s husband’s past behavior, but only because he had been asked, and felt obliged to respond frankly, but didn’t want to make an issue of it, what with him being more concerned about those billionaires and Wall Street bankers and social justice and all that jazz. He didn’t have make it an issue of it, of course, and we’re sure he’ll be pleased if anyone else wants to mention the matter, as we do, but he’s probably smart to act so lovably gallant about it even if it doesn’t help the ratings. Neither did he mention an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible felonies committed by the wicked witch, having already said he’s damned sick and tired of hearing about potentially felonious e-mails, but the question keeps coming up in the show the wicked witch is clearly displeased to have answer and it’s a potential ratings-boosting  plot twist somewhere along the line. At one point the wicked witch said that no bank should be “too big to fail” and somehow also blurted out “and no individual should be to jail,” which got an audible gasp from the audience and had us laughing loudly.
That O’Malley guy dropped in from time to time during the episode, but not that you’d notice. He’s a bit out of touch with the surreality of the showing, and even sounds downright sensible at times, too boring even for a show that won’t even exploit its obvious sex scandal angle, and his major accomplishment in office lowering crime rates in Baltimore and Maryland is somehow offensive to the black people of Democrat-Land, so we don’t see him getting much more air time.
Another off-screen villain that figured in the episode was billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, formerly of “The Apprentice” but now starring on the Republicans’ presidential race, last seen tying a virginal young lass with adorable ringlets to a railroad track, whom all the characters seem eager to face in next season’s general election race show. Such a storyline would go further into surreality than the combined imaginations of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali fortified by two tabs apiece of Owsley acid could ever reach, but given the sorry state of over-the-air network broadcasting these days that might well be what we wind up with. For those of us who prefer a more realistic and high-toned sort of drama, and especially one with a happy ending, the prospects for this show are not at all heartening.

— Bud Norman

Lowering the Stars and Bars

The Confederate battle flag will likely no longer fly over the South Carolina capitol, which is fine by us. As far as we’re concerned the Confederacy was a horrible idea, its “peculiar institution” of slavery was a moral outrage that could only be atoned by our nation’s bloodiest conflict, and its successful secession from The Union would have been one of history’s greatest calamities, so its flag has no reason to fly over the public grounds of any of the United States of America.
Having said that, we also admit to some annoyance with all the attention the matter has lately received. The long-overdue decision to furl the Confederate battle flag followed the horrific shootings by a deranged white racist of nine black Americans as they worshipped in an historic Charleston church, which is a matter of far greater importance and probably had nothing at all to do with the piece of cloth that had been flying for the past many decades over the state capitol, and the tragedy is being used for political purposes that make even less sense.
The recent opposition to the flag’s presence on the capitol grounds has been led by the state’s Indian-American and Republican governor, its white and Republican Senator, and another black and Republican Senator, and yet the usual media are predictably pressing all of the Republican presidential candidates with the usual accusatory tone about their stand on what was until the past week a state matter of  minor significance to the nation at large. Meanwhile, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, which was the party of the Confederacy and the party that dominated South Carolina’s politics when it re-started flying the Confederate battle flag in 1961 to signal its defiance of the civil rights legislation that most Republican legislators were supporting, and whose past failed presidential campaign featured the symbol on its buttons down south, and whose husband’s successful presidential campaigns did the same, is meanwhile being praised in the nation’s most prestigious newspaper for her “courage” in jumping on the latest bandwagon.
The unavoidable implication is that the Republican Party, the party that was founded on its opposition to slavery and led the defeat of the Confederacy and provided the most votes for that civil rights legislation, is as irredeemably racist at the nutcase who killed those nine worshippers. There are more substantive arguments to be made for this assertion, given the current Republican party’s opposition to affirmative action and longstanding resistance to social programs and usual support for aggressive law enforcement, but it’s no wonder that much of the media would prefer to seize the opportunity of a flag that the Republicans had nothing to do with. Affirmative action assumes blacks can’t compete on meritocratic terms with whites, and most Republicans do not, the past half-century of social programs have caused two-parent black families to become a rarity, and only Republicans seem willing to acknowledge this fact much less talk about solutions to its dire social and economic consequences, a retreat from aggressive law enforcement has resulted in far more murders than any deranged white racist could ever effect, and only Republicans seem to believe that these black lives also matter. That constant conversation about race that the Democrats are always urging but never participating in will continue long after the Confederate battle flag has been permanently lowered from the South Carolina capitol grounds, mostly because of a fashionably diverse coalition of Republicans from that much-criticized state, which has been handling its racial controversies with greater calm and careful deliberation and Christian love than has followed similarly contentious incidents in states generally considered more enlightened, and we can readily understand why those harping on about the defeated and disgraced battle flag of a long-gone Democratic cause would prefer not to talk about the rest of it.
There are also the predictable efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from everywhere else, as well, and these are more problematic. It is one thing for a state government to collectively decide it will no longer honor this symbol on the public’s grounds, and another to decide that individual citizens can’t display it on their pickup trucks or baseball caps or southern rock album covers. The efforts seem to be succeeding, with almighty Wal-Mart declaring it will no longer sell any merchandise bearing the symbol and nearly-as-powerful E-Bay declaring the same policy, which is apparently making it hard for political memorabilia collectors to buy and sell those old Clinton-Gore and Hillary Clinton badges, and will eventually prevent someone from buying or selling an old “Dukes of Hazzard” lunchbox with its depiction of the stars-and-bars-adorned muscle car the titular yokels drove around in, and it now seems likely that freedom of speech will suffer yet another slight contraction.
It’s not that we’re sympathetic to Confederate battle flag-wearing folks, just that it’s still important to acknowledge a right to disagree. We’re here in Kansas, which even before the Civil War endured the days of “Bleeding Kansas” to become a loyal member of the indivisible Union as a Free State, so on the rare occasions you see the Confederate battle flag around here it’s usually adorned to some redneck or his pickup truck. “Redneck” is one of those ambiguous terms, as it is sometimes affectionately used to describe a hard-working and fun-loving and charmingly unpretentious good ol’ boy, but more commonly to imply a violent and racist and determinedly ignorant problem, and in this case we intend the latter definition. Still, we’re willing to assume that further into the south you’ll find the former variety of redneck displaying the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of all the many more admirable qualities of his southern culture, which has for a while now been luring many blacks away from their up-north and Democratic jurisdictions back to their ancestral homeland, and we note that the Hillary button with the symbol even added the usual explanatory phrase “heritage not hate,” so we don’t want to deny them the expression of that pride.
We’ll let the worst sorts of rednecks wave that flag as a symbol of their race hatred and ongoing defiance of the Union, as well, because their hatred and their chosen representation of it are probably better ignored than banned. Those biker gangs that have been such a problem in Waco, Texas, and other places for the past decades wear old Nazi symbols on their uniforms not because they have an intellectual affinity for the tenants of Nationalist Socialism, or because such anti-authorian types have any desire to live under such a strictly authoritarian system of government, but because they know those symbols are deeply offensive to the society they rebel against. If the hammer-and-sickle of the old Soviet Union were just as universally reviled, which it should be, you’d see that on those leather jackets as well. When you can’t buy something at either Wal-Mart or on E-Bay its supply is greatly restricted, an increased demand is sure to follow, and the value of even the most odious product will therefore increase.
The controversy will soon be forgotten, of course. We hope the tragedy that caused it will long be remembered, but we don’t expect that the bigger issues will soon get their due attention.

— Bud Norman

The Least Bad Choice

Sometimes life offers only bad choices. Such was the case in Tuesday’s special election for South Carolina’s first congressional district, where the ballot offered voters a choice of Elizabeth Colbert Busch or Mark Sanford.
The district has been reliably Republican for decades, and went for Romney by 18 points in the past presidential election, but Democrats around the country were nonetheless hopeful about their chances. Such optimism was based in part on the assumed appeal of Democratic nominee Busch, a university administrator and political neophyte with a semi-famous brother, but mostly on a widespread distaste for Republican nominee Sanford, a former governor who resigned in disgrace following the disclosure of an extra-marital affair.
Other politicians have recovered from similar shenanigans, but they were Democrats and they weren’t running in a southern Republican district. Sanford’s scandal had also included official lies about his whereabouts during one liaison with his Argentine mistress, campaign money spent on a cover-up, a seeming lack of contrition, and a widely popular wife. Although Sanford used all the right religious language about repentance and redemption, he has continued the relationship with the other woman and during the campaign he was accused by his still-angry ex-wife of violating a court order by making an unapproved visit to her home. Democrats had reason to believe that Sanford could be beaten for the first time in his career.
Their faith in Busch, on the other hand, was probably misplaced all along. Her complete lack of political experience was expected to provide a refreshing contrast to the tainted career politician, but it resulted in an ineffective strategy of dodging interviews with the press, refusing to take clear stands on such important issues as the repeal of Obamacare, and amateurish stump campaigning. Being the brother of sneering cable television comic Stephen Colbert was supposed to provide a South Carolina sort of glamour and bring in national fund-raising, but it also seems to have raised suspicions that her vaguely-stated politics were secretly as sneeringly left-wing as her more famous sibling’s. Her own arrest record from her own failed marriage many years ago was politely ignored by much of the state’s media, but word seems to have gotten out enough to do some damage.
As it turned out, Sanford won again and it wasn’t very close. The most likely explanation is that voters figured they had two bad choices so they might as well go with the one who was most loudly promising to restrain federal spending. With the only other options being a Green Party candidate who was presumably to the left of Busch or not voting at all, it seems that the voters of South Carolina’s first congressional district did the best with what they had.

— Bud Norman