And then there were twelve. Arrivederci, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore (at least for now).
Only eight front-running candidates are going to be on the main stage according to the rules of the Fox Business presidential debate Tuesday night, and four will participate in the undercard. Nevertheless, no matter how many are on that stage in Milwaukee, I’m almost certain we are already down to a “Final Four.” And it’s pretty obvious who they are: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. (Sentimentally, I wish there were still hope for Carly, because I like her. But there isn’t. If this were the Oscars, we could give her a special humanitarian award or something.)
Short of something extraordinary happening — and that’s always possible — it’s hard to envision any of the others, including Jeb Bush (whose desperate SuperPAC is reportedly about to blow $20 million to destroy his ex-mentee Rubio — how pathetic is that?), finding a path to the nomination, even though the conventional wisdom is that it’s “still early.”
The truth, however, is that, largely thanks to Trump, it’s not early at all. The public has been glued to this election from the get-go. It’s a national sport, rivaling football. In fact, sometimes it seems as if we’ve gone through it two or three times already. And we haven’t even gotten to the main event. The only people who really don’t know the players at this point are the clueless types Jesse Watters picks out at Penn Station for the latest edition of Watters’ World. And most of them know Trump anyway. They just don’t know Obama. Or Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Call me Dr. Pangloss, but there’s good news in all this. All four of these gentlemen in the Final Four would make a pretty decent president. And not just in comparison to their unappealing adversaries — a serial-lying ex-Alinskyite gone Chappaqua plutocrat and an aging Norman Thomas-clone who seems to have forgotten to come back from his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. In different ways, the four Republicans are in themselves interesting and impressive men. I almost wish we could run history four times to see which of them finally would be the best president, because no matter what any of us say, it is impossible to know. We can only guess.
At this point I wouldn’t want to predict which of these men will actually be the nominee. But they should all beware. When Rubio called the media Hillary’s SuperPac at the last debate, he was, unfortunately, stating the obvious. A recent survey shows only 7% of U.S. journalists to be Republicans. That’s not just a slight bias, that’s a full-scale army in waiting. The last few days’, apparently unfair, attacks on Ben Carson are just a hint of what’s to come in a year that, in normal terms, would tilt Republican. (Shame on the Wall Street Journal for participating in this witch huntery via their debunking of a Carson story from the doctor’s Yale days. The Journal was so easily disproven — by BuzzFeed of all people — they looked like fools.)
More importantly, the Democratic Party has been wounded, their ideas are bankrupt and their vaunted President is disdained almost by all, at home and abroad. And like a wounded animal they will want to strike back — by any means necessary.
This makes it all the more incumbent on Republicans to be especially careful about doing their opponent’s work for them and to pay attention to Reagan’s commandment about attacking their fellows. Attack the enemy, not each other. The media has been humiliated. They will be seeking vengeance. With them, as Glenn Reynolds says, punch back. Don’t stop.