When Everyone Wants to Be President

By Heather Wilhelm Published on December 18, 2015

I don’t want to offend the 1,436 individuals who are running for president right now, but I have to be honest: I’ve long suspected that people who run for president are at least a tiny bit insane.

The wisest people on earth tend to recognize one overarching truth: how little, in the grand scope of things, they truly understand. Likewise, when telling America you’re just the right wrangler to steer a sprawling government that has morphed into a 16,000-ring circus, one would hope you’d at least occasionally fall victim to mild panic attacks, weepy late-night cookie binges, or momentary urges to set your gin and tonic on fire when watching reruns of The West Wing.

This occurs more frequently than most candidates let on; there’s a reason the White House doubles as a fast-forward, triple-action aging machine. Yet, Tuesday night we had the latest in a long batch of Republican debates, filled with a torturously long line of people who seemed to have absolutely no problem imagining themselves in charge of terrifying nuclear security systems that at least 67 percent of them don’t even remotely understand.

Just to remind us that everyone’s gone crazy, but in a fun way, CNN cobbled together a rollicking presidential debate introductory segment that looked like it was promoting a monster truck rally, an action movie starring The Rock, or a professional wrestling match. I have to hand it to CNN, however: For a healthy portion of the debate, the content largely followed suit.

Donald Trump, who has the highly unfair benefit of being the only candidate who has actually appeared center stage at an actual professional wrestling match, talked about killing a bunch of people. Rand Paul, looking like he had just sucked down 12 Trump Brand extra-spectacular lemons, subtly blamed the GOP for ISIS and looked like he wanted to punch everyone on stage. Chris Christie shot the breeze about shooting down Russian planes — no biggie, folks, those Russians know who’s boss — and how he’d impress King Hussein of Jordan, who is actually dead. I would tell you what John Kasich said, but I don’t think anyone cares.

Amidst it all, there were certainly moments of substance — the best and most memorable segments belonged to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and, believe it or not, Jeb Bush — but by the end of the night, one key impression seemed to cross the most partisan of lines: There were way too many people on that debate stage. It was a complete goat rodeo, but without the hijinks and the fun.

At least the Republicans have some sane and competent candidates, paired with the courage to conduct their debates while people actually watch. The Democrats are so crazy, apparently, that they have to squirrel their own debates into time slots usually designated for fun and recreation, when very few non-self-flagellating human beings would ever tune in. The next Democratic debate falls on December 19, a Saturday night; the first debate of 2016 falls on Sunday night, January 17, in the midst of NFL playoff season.

Coincidence? I think not. Bernie Sanders, enriching his personal brand of “confused college town corner protestor,” tweeted the following after Tuesday’s debate: “Fifth #GOPDebate is over. Like the first, not one word about income inequality, climate change, or racial justice.” The Republicans, he concluded, “are out of touch.” Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, this was a national security debate. Unfortunately for the rest of us, he probably knew that, and still thought his tweet made sense.

Even stranger was Hillary Clinton’s response: “Only one candidate in this election knows how to build coalitions and make the world safer — because she’s done it.” Really? A quick, objective look at the current geopolitical landscape — ISIS rising, the Middle East disintegrating, a recent terror attack on American soil — easily proves this sentence false. The world itself might get rather huffy about such a hubris-laden mischaracterization, if it weren’t so busy being a basket case.

Here’s the good news: As we roll into 2016, the field of candidates will narrow. The bad news, however, is that hubris is not in short supply. When the American government veers into basket-case territory, it usually stems from the attempt to increase its own size, scope and control, while neglecting the most basic to-dos. If a candidate seems to assume that he or she not only can, but should take a crack at running that 16,000-ring government circus — and maybe also expand it by a few thousand more rings — let the buyer beware.


Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on December 10, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

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