The Cynic’s Guide to 2016: Unflattering Assessments of Presidential Candidates

Every time I see a presidential candidate, there’s a little voice in my head that asks, “Sure, that’s what they’re saying.  But what are they really thinking?”  This is a cynical voice, and it’s often quite wrong, but, in politics, it’s still healthy to consult the cynic from time to time.  

There’s another voice in my head that believes everything everyone says about themselves, all the time.  This trusting voice is no less important in politics than the cynical, and should also be consulted from time to time… but, if you want to read “Flattering Assessments of Presidential Candidates,” go read their campaign websites.  Here are the unflattering ones.  Some are certainly accurate, others may not be, but consider them my worst fears for each candidate:

Mike Huckabee
Used to have the desire, skill, and ambition to be a leader, but, as the America he envisions recedes into the past, is content to vent his spleen and be warmly applauded for it by crowds that miss his America as much as he does.

Jeb Bush
A “compassionate conservative” who still kinda knows how to talk to Republicans, but is secretly seething that they have abandoned so much of what “his” party stood for. Sort of the Mike Huckabee of establishment Republicans.

Ben Carson
A once-rising star who let the plaudits go to his head and will now burn like Icarus.

Chris Christie
An intensely ambitious, furious man, with no particular principles beyond a vague affection for balanced budgets and low taxes, who’s willing to say anything to win… as long as it fits the elaborate superhero character he’s woven for himself, the Bombastic Budget-Cutter. Willing to play dirty in a state where dirty is part of the tradition.

Hillary Clinton
The opportunist’s opportunist. While an intense progressive at heart — a soulmate for Sanders — she has sold out so many times and so hard (even standing by a husband she secretly despises) it’s impossible not to see her as Claire from House of Cards every time she opens her mouth. The real tragedy of Hillary Clinton is that, unlike her husband, she’s no good at selling out.  Her many betrayals have bought her nothing but a truckload of distrust from all sides; her resume has lots of glitzy titles but none of the accomplishments she sacrificed her principles for.

Ted Cruz
The embodiment of conservatism’s worst instinct: the overwhelming desire to rend the flesh of insufficiently conservative conservatives, even at the cost of ceding power to progressives. Justifies this with an elaborate mythology wherein “energizing the base” matters more than persuading persuadables. The scariest thing is he might be right.

Carly Fiorina
An articulate, believing, even inspiring conservative who keeps looking at her resume and can’t understand why she never wins any elections or runs any successful businesses. Has not yet realized that a good chunk of it is not about belief, but managerial talent and luck, neither of which she has enough of.

Lindsey Graham
Half-Chafee, half-troll, Graham is running to ensure that an increasingly anti-establishment GOP stands for the same values he has stood for his entire career: corporate welfare and the military-industrial complex. Vain enough to think he might make a difference.

Bobby Jindal
Infinitely frustrated by the fact that his political career was torpedoed by bad timing, bad luck, and a single bad State of the Union rebuttal, Jindal refuses to give up, and is thrashing out, looking for the attention he desperately needs wherever he can get it.

John Kasich
Smuggy McSmugSmug.

George Pataki, Lincoln Chaffee, Martin O’Malley
Vain, highly insulated men with no sense of proportion. Just astonishingly vain.

Rand Paul
A man of principle who made a conscious decision to compromise a little of what he believed in for the sake of attaining power, but, when that didn’t seem to be enough, kept going, and got lost somewhere along the way.

Rick Perry
I can’t bring myself anymore to care about Rick Perry enough to write something mean about him. (Never mind, I just did.)

Marco Rubio
Drastically inexperienced (no more experienced than Sen. Obama was!) young’un who is so scared of making missteps that he makes missteps by trying to avoid making missteps.

Rick Santorum
A principled, intelligent, and consistent conservative, who has genuinely synthesized the social, economic, and foreign policy legs of late-20th-century conservatism into a single, cohesive, plausible platform… which is precisely what makes him so scary to so many. The Bernie Sanders of the Right.

Bernie Sanders
A principled, intelligent, and consistent progressive, who has genuinely synthesized the social, economic, and foreign policy legs of late-20th-century progressivism into a single, cohesive, plausible platform… which is precisely what makes him so scary to so many. The Rick Santorum of the Left.

Donald Trump
If you need me to explain the problems with Donald Trump, you are one of the problems.

Scott Walker
An intensely ambitious man with an attachment to conservatism that runs deep only because he has lived with it for so long that its convenience has become conviction, not because he has any particularly clear basis for it, intellectual or otherwise. Fortunately for him, he has learned expertly the art of following The Conservative Script and only answering questions when it serves his purposes, so it’s easy not to notice.

Jim Webb
The Lindsey Graham of the Democrats, with perhaps a little bit of the Jeb Bush “why can’t my party believe in all the things it believed in the ’90s?” to go along with it… with the important difference that establishment Democrats (unlike establishment Republicans) do not actually miss the days when economic conservatism and social moderation reigned supreme in Washington, leaving Webb without an audience.

Well, that was grim.  I think I’m going to go back to deciding who to vote for based on who has the best 404 page.


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  • James J Heaney

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