This is in the nature of a small confession. Until this past Tuesday, I have never, to my best recollection, voted in a primary. So I guess this time offered the most exciting possibilities that drew me to the voting booth. And for that injection of enthusiasm into what has traditionally been an overlong and boring presidential election process, I guess that we ought to thank Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They have presented us with some real options instead of the usual Tweedledum and Tweedledee candidates.
Whatever happens from this point on, New York state has uncharacteristically played a significant part in this election. Until April, by the time we here have our primaries, the dust has usually cleared and our outcomes haven’t particularly registered on the political Richter scale. This time was different.
Yes, advance polling had projected Trump and Hillary Clinton victories. But the wide margin for both was a major additional factor. With just a few precincts to report, Trump had won 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race; and Clinton won 58 percent against Sanders, holding together a wide coalition of voters more typical of the national voter profile. Some other interesting points: John Kasich came in a solid second with 25 percent; the only district Trump lost was Manhattan, his home, which went to Kasich; and Ted Cruz was a distant third which was predictable, if for no other reason than after his “New York values” comment earlier in the contest.
I have often thought that the race for president goes on far too long but I read an article recently in The New York Times that gave me a different perspective. The writer suggested that the contest could be compared to a job interview, in this case the most powerful job in the world, and that we were the employers, which as voters I guess we are.
So in this long interviewing process, we get a chance to see how the candidates react when in friendly domains, when under pressure from unfriendly spectators and when they are in an adversarial role, attacking each other. These are all simulations of the job they are after, and their reactions are revealing. We also get to judge how well they manage a complex campaign over a considerable period of time. Few would disagree that the stark contrast between the campaigns of Obama and Clinton contributed to Clinton’s loss in 2008. Besides being president and commander in chief, the winner had darn well be a good manager. Although he won the election in 1976 against Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter will go down in history as one of the U.S. presidents’ worst managers who tried in vain to micromanage throughout his four years. Ronald Reagan handily beat him in 1980 and could be known as the delegator in chief for the way he managed his administration until he became ill.
Trump and Clinton, if they wind up going head-to-head in November, also offer stark contrasts. Regardless of whom one intends to vote for, few would deny that Clinton has the most experience in government and Trump has the least. This is the great advantage for Clinton and paradoxically the great advantage for Trump. People who are dissatisfied with the direction our country is headed — or their own lives — or look at government in Washington as abdication of responsibility, see Trump as an unsullied outsider capable of shaking out the deadwood and turning things around. He continually refers to himself as a “deal maker,” capable of making the United States great again. And Russian President Putin likes him, another first for an American presidential election.
Clinton has the problem of being “old goods,” familiar as the paintings on the wall that go unappreciated with time. And for various reasons, people profess not to like her, as if that is a criterion for the highest office. Do they have to like her? In fact I have met her half-a-dozen times and unlike the public face she presents from the podium, she struck me as not only likeable but also delightful and quite human. On the other hand, do people trust her to reflect their values and do the right thing when under great stress? That is the biggest voter question, and in New York state Tuesday the answer came back a resounding “yes.”