Primary Colors: the Candidates Invade New Hampshire

Faced with fourteen Republican potential nominees for president in 2016 and three on the Democratic side, I did what any sensible person would not do: I borrowed my sister’s car, stayed with a friend in New Hampshire, and for ten days stalked presidential candidates across the Granite State.

Most days I found myself commuting between places like Lebanon, Keene and Plymouth. Invariably I would pull up in front of an elementary school, an Elks club, or an American Legion hall, to hear a candidate play what Huck Finn called The Royal Nonesuch—the flim flam that passed for intellectual currency along the Mississippi River.

According to cable news pundits, as New Hampshire goes, so will go the nation in choosing candidates for the 2016 election. In a state of 1.3 million people, there roughly 750,000 eligible voters, of whom there are about 240,000 registered Democrats and 260,000 Republicans.

If the pundits are right, and if Donald Trump wins the New Hampshire primary with about 70,000 votes (27%), he will be launched toward the Republican candidacy with the votes of less than one percent of the American populace. So much for the storyboard that proclaims the United States the “greatest democracy in the world.”

At least politics in New Hampshire is still a retail business, and with a set of wheels it is possible over ten days to meet and greet most of the candidates. I saw all of the frontrunners—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump—and many of the soon to be also-rans, such as Republicans Lindsey Graham and James Gilmore. I had to leave the state before Rand Paul showed up, and candidates such as Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee might as well be on (organic, locally produced) milk cartons, as they never made it on to my radar, not even with surrogate speakers at events.

In general, I tried to see each candidate at least twice, to be sure I got the intended messages, which among most Republican candidates can be summarized by paraphrasing the World War II Navy admiral, Bull Halsey: “Kill Arabs! Kill Arabs! Kill more Arabs!” By contrast, the Democrats want to win hearts and minds with paid family leave and fewer gas pipelines.

Who will win in New Hampshire? I pick Donald Trump among the Republicans and Bernie Sanders among the Democrats. Whether that will carry them to their respective nominations is another question.

I did leave New Hampshire day dreaming about a national election between Donald and Bernie, which would pit the two extremes of their parties in a contest as stark as that in 1896 between William Jennings Bryan (cross of gold) and William McKinley (higher tariffs). I doubt it will happen, as voters are less extreme when confronted with a ballot box than when they are pollster respondents two months before a vote.

At least for now in New Hampshire—until the vote on February 9—extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Ground Zero: Manchester Airport Diner

Although I missed there the covered wagon pulling former Virginia governor James Gilmore (Republican) around the state, I began my campaign at the Manchester Airport Diner, where many presidential hopefuls stage their events in the early days, when the event room off the back is perfect for a hesitant crowd of twenty. It also serves well those candidates who want to leave the engines running on their private jets and still make the evening news clasping the hands of men in Caterpillar caps.

The diner is straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration, and perfect for showing a candidate shaking hands with crusty Granite staters seated in booths or at the counter, frugally nursing their coffee and hash browns. As it should be, the diner’s exterior is corrugated tin. What neither the evening news nor press reports tell you is that the Manchester Airport Diner is a full-service Potemkin village, sitting in a suburban parking lot, grafted to the lobby of a modern 1990s Holiday Inn.

Calvin Coolidge could be alive and well in the diner. In the parking lot or the hotel, however, New Hampshire is less a state of granite and more an SUV commuter nation, on its way to Boston or the Home Depot. And the reason that the New Hampshire primary plays out in fading remnants of Populist America—Grange halls, elementary school gyms, etc.,—is because it transmits the preferred message that American democracy remains a descendant of the New England town hall, not a creature that has crawled out of a pollster’s sewer or the bank account of the Koch brothers.

Hillary Clinton: The White Oprah

I had to drive through Manchester to Southern New Hampshire University to get to my first event with Hillary Clinton. A retired mill town, Manchester is doing its best to seed the downtown with quaint cafés, needlepoint boutiques, red-brick condominiums, and a tarot shop, which have better signage than the tattoo parlors and the gun stores.

Just north of the downtown, on Elm Street, Victorian houses take over from the rehabbed storefronts (it looks like a neighborhood of funeral homes), and they lead to the campus, which started life in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science. Since then it has gotten a stadium, dorms, and university accreditation, and Hillary was there to attend a symposium on women in the workplace, although, truth be told, it was a campaign whistle-stop dressed up with a panel of loyalists, maybe there to gin up some college credits.

My briefcase passed the inspection of a sniffer dog at the front door (for a moment, my breakfast muffin took on terrorist odors), and I took my seat in the Banquet Hall, which had the air of a college gym, one the Clinton campaign worked hard to fill with extras (in this case college sophomore boys, with hats on backwards, who spent part of the conference watching replays of Sunday football on their phones).

Hillary was late, so we had lots of state senators warm up the crowd with a recitation of her commitment to  “fighting.” Clearly that’s the market-tested slogan of Hillary 2016. Her “brand” is an H crossed with an arrow. It probably cost her campaign about $500K worth of brand consulting and test marketing, although to me it looks like it belongs on the back end of Ben Cartwright’s cattle (he was the primetime owner of the Ponderosa, on the TV series Bonanza).

There were huge screens over the lectern (like in an airport departure lounge) to remind the audience that women in New Hampshire are exploited and ripped off, and that in response Hillary will “fight” against those injustices. One picture on a loop showed an American flag draped over a beachside fence post, as though the Cartwrights had moved their herd to New Hampshire’s Rye Beach.

Hillary entered not through the adoring crowd but from stage right, as if on the Tonight Show, and waved in the manner of someone striding toward Jimmy Fallon’s couch. One of her entrance “fight” songs is Eye of the Tiger (go figure, it’s about an ex-con); the remix band sounds like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In person, she looks exactly as you imagine Hillary looking, although maybe a little warmer than the newspaper photo version.  Her elegant grey pants suit was unmistakably expensive, which spared her from looking like the doorman at an Indian hotel.

Hillary’s wrists and neck were loaded with bling, of NBA proportions, and all very nice stuff. I would say it came from Bill, over many Christmases, but since all Monica got from the Black Dog was a sweat shirt, I am guessing the campaign has a jewelry consultant. Her hair has been tamed into an anchorwoman bouffant, and given that she loves to host political events that have the feel of daytime television, I came to think of Hillary as the White Oprah.

At Southern New Hampshire University, Hillary read the perfect speech, complete with soundbites for the local television market, but at most of her events she holds forth in a conversation pit (think of the audiences that adore the Ellen DeGeneres Show) and takes questions from the studio. No one I heard on the campaign trail can do empathy as well as Hillary.

Whatever the question, Hillary’s answer confirms that this issue (Syrian refugees, equal pay for women, climate change, or gay marriage) is one that she has been “fighting for” since at least the 1970s, when she was first lady of Arkansas.

No matter how obscure the subject, as a senator Hillary introduced legislation to correct this tragedy (only three bills passed, and one was to rename a bridge), and if elected president, on her “first day” (a favorite metaphor for everyone running) she will ban assault rifles, shut down air polluters, and raise the minimum wage.

Since many of those in her audiences come with some grievance (many of them about men), Hillary can share a lot of pain during an hour-long campaign stop. It makes for great political TV (“Next on Hillary, a coal miner’s daughter and her struggle for freedom…”), and it plays to her campaign strategy of put ting together a coalition of older women and minorities, and fighting for them into the White House. Will it work? It can, especially if the Republicans nominate an abortion-hating, anti-gay, Bible-belt tub thumping candidate, and the center coalition is there for Hillary and her girl band.

The more I listened to Hillary speak, the more I came to the conclusion that her persona is that of a corporate lawyer. She sounds like a lawyer, thinks like a lawyer, and speaks like a lawyer. All her speeches sound like summations to a jury. I am sure that many American men, watching her running for president, will be reminded of the smart lawyer their wife dragged into divorce court and who took away their BMW.

On many occasions, Hillary is the class action lawyer for an aggrieved group of women, telling them, in patient lawyerly language, how she plans to improve their childcare, get them a raise, boot out their NFL-loving husbands, and tell off their boss at CVC pharmacy. In that role, she’s extremely effective and persuasive, and she could ride such a plaintive class into the White House.

The reason she loses, however, is because she is playing it safe, and her campaign feels more like a coronation than an election.  Even her devoted supporters can hardly muster much enthusiasm for her.  I have heard more cheering for a third-grade pageant than Hillary got in two events.  And keep this mind: Bernie gets 2,000 supporters at his appearances, while Hillary is lucky to get 300.

There is also the Nixon-trust issue. Not all that many voters believe Hillary, for this reason: she is almost pathological in her empathy for everyone and every issue.  You name the problem, and she has a five-point program on her web site and has been fighting for it since 1974.

I can see why even the emotionally challenged Barack Obama beat her in 2008.  At least his campaign had some buzz. Her campaign feels like a real estate open house (“and over here we have the breakfast nook, Iraqi foreign policy, and the den”).

I listened and listened to see if I could figure out Hillary’s theory of government, and mostly it eluded me. Basically, I think she’s a 1960s liberal, of the LBJ mold, for whom every human, political or international problem can be solved with tax credits and another federal agency (“When I was in the senate, I supported the Paycheck Fairness Act…”). Women beaten by their husbands, Kurds run off their reservations, and unemployed miners all just need Our Lady of Perpetual Concern in the White House, there to convene another conference or “dialogue,” so that she can “fight” for them.

Hillary has very little feel for economics and none for business, and so falls back on DC platitudes (“I want to give America a raise”) about the inequalities of the US economic system (the same which has netted Hill and Bill $160 million in “speaking fees”). Her economic theories sound like someone faking it during a college oral exam on marginal utility.

Otherwise, the invented self that Hillary has chosen for her public persona is that of a bedraggled single mom, maybe someone working at Target or Walmart (not on the board, as she was in the 1980s), who is trying to make rent on a double-wide and at the same time care for her dying parents.  (“People like you and me, like those people shot down dead at their Christmas party in California…”)

The eerie thing I picked up, along the way, was this:  between events in the car, I listened to public radio, and thus heard Obama endlessly mourning the San Bernardino dead. Four hours later Hillary was using exactly the same phrases about gun control and terrorism.  (Queue up the twilight zone music, and then flash the Manchurian Candidate on the big screens.)

For a sixties liberal, however, she’s deeply in the tank for FBI, local police, and the intelligence services, and did a tap dance for the no-fly list being extended to gun buyers and others who would harm “the Homeland.” (It makes America sound like a savings bank.)

Intellectually, Hillary has an ordinary mind—pedestrian even.  Does she read? I doubt it.  She never mentioned a book during the entire day.  Does she write?  Little people do that. What she’s a genius at is remembering and digesting the issue books and legal briefs, and she has a Washington insider, wonk view of the world. Only Jeb Bush can match her detailed knowledge of government programs.

Nor is Hillary a natural politician and at times on stage she can stand frozen, looking a bit like Barbie on her yacht. She is more like the scripted Reagan (standing on the footprints his aides would mark out for his appearances), but with a liberal, feminist agenda, and with a chip on her shoulder that America owes her the presidency for all the crap she has had to absorb with Whitewater, Monica, Benghazi, etc. (“It’s our time.”)

She never talks about being Secretary of State, and all she did in the Senate is champion whatever populist cause is mentioned in a question.  The amazing thing about Hillary-speak is how she can transform even a perfunctory campaign stop into a “woman’s forum” with dialogue, panel discussions, and democracy in action.

As best I can determine, American politics is a game show, with a live, in-studio “audience,” a host (the candidate), and applause cue cards.  There’s no debate, no intellectual exchange, and little eloquence. Lincoln and Douglas at least had to speak for five hours on slavery.  All Hillary has to do is take (perhaps) planted questions from a studio audience,and then the White Oprah can share America’s pain, giving little tips about how to rein in terrorism, apply for a small business loan, or deal with a cheating husband.

In case you are wondering, she’s a pro at waving away the gotcha questions (there was one about “believing rape victims” and not believing Paula Jones and Jennifer Flowers), and deals with them, throwing in a Lady MacBeth smile, as if swatting flies. Part of her appeal is that she’s a survivor (It’s the eye of the tiger/It’s the thrill of the fight).

The Bill Clinton administration might as well have predated the second term of Grover Cleveland.  No one remembers it; no one cares.  In her own right Hillary’s a celebrity, and she’s blessed us here with her visit—the arrival of a wounded saint on the road to Assisi or Durham, New Hampshire.

Marco Rubio: Country Club Republican

I found Marco Rubio at the Portsmouth Country Club, surrounded by the luncheon remains of a ladies auxiliary group. I had gotten stuck in traffic—yes, even in the Granite State—and Marco had finished his brief prepared remarks and was answering questions, most of them wanting to know “How can we get the federal government out of our lives?”

I took a seat at one of the tables in the dining room (about eighty people were present), and listened while he deftly answered questions, mixing in anecdotes about his family (his mother is on social security, so he will never cut any of that) and his conservative values (set the political philosophy of William F. Buckley to a Latin swing band).

Not all the candidates in New Hampshire wear suits and ties, but Marco had on both. For a Floridian, he looked pale—with what in college we used to call a library tan, although in Marco’s case I don’t think he’s spending his time in the stacks. He’s taller than I thought from television appearances, and seemed older than his 44 years, because, in person, the comb-over part to his hair is more obvious, giving him the vain look of “Bob from accounting.”

Compared to Hillary, Marco speaks quickly and, one might say, more off the cuff. He is quick with his answers (practiced as I am sure they are) and can manage to put humor into the equation, although his wit is always in the service of the conservative cause.

In condemning the Veterans Administration, for example, he told a story about his brother, who lost his front teeth while an airborne Green Beret in the Vietnam War era. Much later, the brother went to the VA for some treatment to his mouth, and they challenged him to document that his condition was tied to his government service. According to Marco, his brother said: “It was only while I was in the army that I ever jumped out of an airplane.”

When he gets warmed up, Rubio knows all the lyrics to every hymn about the virtues of small government. The only function he would assign to the federal government is that of national security (“not the reason we have high national debt”).

As for other services, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Commerce, Rubio—as a spiritual air to Ronald Reagan—would do his best (on his “first day in office”) to consign them to oblivion.

Government benefits are “a safety net, not a lifestyle,” and while he would not touch social security—to the relief of the older country club women—he would turn other government departments into business-like corporations or get rid of them. When government is chasing bad guys around the Middle East or searching the Internet for metadata, it’s a force of light; when it’s funding abortion or supporting gay marriage, it’s a public menace.

Apparently one of the local newspapers criticized Marco as a “fly-in, fly-out” New Hampshire candidate and made fun of the fact that he was always too busy to shake hands with his supporters. Today, to prove that he was listening, he stuck around the dining room while swarms of auxiliary women posed with him for selfies or shook his hand.

As the room was fairly small, I joined the claque, shook his hand (for those measuring these things, his handshake is fairly unimpressive, what in grade school we used to call a “dead fish”), and asked him a question about Cuba and Castro. When he saw I was press, he said he would answer that question “afterward” in a small “green room” set up for journalists to ask questions.

His “press availability” took place downstairs in the country club, at the end of a hall, overlooking what I assume is the eighteenth green. Marco stood in front of a “Marco Rubio for President” banner and watchful aides orchestrated just how “available” Marco would be for the press.

For anyone campaigning in New Hampshire the press only means local television. Print journalists might as well be wearing the upturned fedoras that featured in the 1928 Broadway show The Front Page (Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur) about reporters angling for scoops. In 2015, the “real” press comes with a movie camera, and the questions they ask are limited to the most recent news cycle.

No one at a press availability with Marco Rubio would ask him about Cuban foreign policy or his ideas for monetary reform. Instead all the questions were about Donald Trump’s latest outrage or insult and what he thought of the shootings in San Bernardino, all events which were less than 24 hours old.

The Marco upstairs with the ladies auxiliary group was their charming grandson, back home from college in Washington, telling funny stories about the people mismanaging the faculty or the country. He was wry (“even if I retired from the Senate at age 68, I would still be the youngest there”) or outraged (“no guns laws would have prevented this attack”), but still a handsome poster-boy for the National Review.

Marco in the basement, however, struck me as an angry Miami Cuban, mistrustful of the press, contemptuous of their questions, and annoyed that running for president meant wasting his time with people who earned their living waiting around in country clubs to pick up a soundbite.

He was dismissive of anyone who questioned the wisdom of going to war with ISIS, and scoffed at the idea that the San Bernardino murders should have prompted any calls for gun control. (“It had nothing to do with that.”) He spoke about “ideological terrorism” and put the boot into Hillary for her “radical” views on late-term abortion, implying that Hillary would allow for a pregnancy to be terminated one day before the due date. (It sounded like she was capable of selling fetus body parts from the back of her campaign bus.) no para break

He railed against Obamacare (“his ideas don’t work”), and anyone who would ban assault rifles, sounding a lot like some NRA bumper sticker (“Guns don’t kill people…”).

It was during the “press avail” that I figured out that Marco is a direct descendant of the YAF (Young Americans for Freedom), that group of campus politicians who all slept with posters of William F. Buckley, Jr. over their headboards. When I was in college, they wore suits and ties, and mouthed cliches about getting government “out of our lives.” They read Witness by Whittaker Chambers or the novels of Ayn Rand, and talked about privatizing most government departments.

From a they were easy to mistake for Jehovah’s Witnesses, although when you got closer they were usually talking about Ronald Reagan rather than Armageddon. Listening to Marco behind the cordon, I could hear the call to prayer of a disciple.

I wish I had a new necktie for every time Marco managed to use the word “radicalize” in his speech and briefing. Although he used it to describe Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion, he mostly saved it to describe the epidemic of “home-grown terrorism,” which threatened the American way of life, much the way “radicals” had attacked the concert hall and restaurants in Paris.

Anyway who went to the Syrian front lines or ISIS training centers was probably “radicalized,” and if they were allowed to come back to America, they threatened to infect the body politic. The only solution, according to Marco, was to beef up metadata sweeps, if not turn loose the “well regulated Militia” that is protected in the Second Amendment. We needed both to round up their pipe bombs as well as their social media, although, unlike Hillary, he did not celebrate the TSA’s “no-fly” list, calling it just another government intrusion into the lives of the citizenry. (“Good luck trying to get your name removed from it. There is no recourse. We have tried for constituents. It’s impossible.”)

Most impressive in Marco’s tango behind the rope was how he managed to absolve gun ownership from any involvement in mass American shootings, and pin nearly every mall attack on “Islamo-fascist terrorists.” Gun owners enjoy constitutional protection while Islamic terrorists are sworn enemies of the state, on whom the national security apparatus needs to take its revenge.

A man who can handle such political gymnastics ought to go far. But can he win? Ideally Rubio would like to be the candidate from the center-right of the Republican party—because of his good looks, ability to speak on his feet, and youth—its John F. Kennedy, so to speak.

Unfortunately for Rubio, that is a busy electoral intersection. Waiting for the same bus are at least Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.

While in mid-sentence, going on about radicalization, Marco ghosted. One minute he was ridiculing Obama’s bed-wetting foreign policies, and then in the next, he was gone. Not even could Emmuska Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel have vanished faster.

From Marco there was no thank you, no good-bye, just a last “radicalize” from his lips, and then the country club Republican was climbing into his shiny, white SUV and he was back on the trail.

Lindsey Graham: Dr. Strangelove

It was two hours to my next event, late in the day at the Lebanon Elks lodge. Again I was stuck in traffic driving there.  Lebanon is literally across the state from Portsmouth, and I was lucky to get there on time.  I took I-89 northwest toward Dartmouth College, and off the highway in Lebanon I found the lodge of Elks (formally B.P.O.E or the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, who my grandmother jokingly called the “best people on earth”)

Upstairs on the main auditorium floor I found a group (maybe a hundred?) of crusty old Granite staters and a few campaign volunteers with bumper stickers for Jeb! or Rand Paul set up on a long table.

There were a few women and wives in the crowd, but mostly this was a gathering of older, get-off-my-lawn Republican men, many wearing blazers, all of whom (judging from their later questions) want “to get the government out of their lives.”

The Republican party had invited all of the candidates to address the gathering, and three—Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), former Ohio governor John Kasich, and former New York governor George Pataki—had promised to show up. Some others—Jeb, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz—agreed to send surrogates.

Near the buffet I chatted briefly with Senator Lindsey Graham, who has staked his all on the New Hampshire primary and has made 170 appearances in the state (Trump’s number is 25, while Hillary’s is 38). I asked him how many votes he needed to do well, and he said about 30,000, and he thinks in his glad-handing across the state he has met about 3,000 people.  When I asked him how he liked the state, he said, “I have enjoyed the New Hampshire experience,” which made it sound like an IMAX movie.

If he was wearing a white lab coat, Graham would look like a CVS pharmacist. Sixty years old with a modest personality, Graham ever so slightly resembles David Brent, the cringe-worthy boss in the English version of The Office. (Brent: “I haven’t got a sign on the door that says ‘white people only’. I don’t care if you’re black, brown, yellow — Orientals make very good workers.”)

Only when the self-effacing Graham addresses a crowd does he turn into General Buck Turgidson, played by George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove (“Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines”). A colonel in the Air Force reserve until recently, Graham wants to do with ISIS what Buck would do to the Ruskies, which is to accommodate them in their dreams of martyrdom.

Graham’s sister, Darline, introduced him to the Elks and spoke about him in tear-jerking terms. They grew up in one room, behind their parents’ pool hall and saloon in rural South Carolina. In the 2016 campaign saloons are the new long cabins; many candidates grew up in them.

The Graham parents died when Darline was 13 and Lindsey was 21. He was steadfast in his support for her, coming home from college on the weekends to work in the bar and pool hall, and to look after his sister. Darline: “He was always there for me.”

In foreign affairs, however, Graham is less modest, calling for an all-out war against ISIS. He said that since 2003 he and his Senate soulmate, John McCain, have made 36 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, and that President Obama “just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. . . . We don’t have a plan to destroy the caliphate.” He gave a ringing endorsement for the surge in Iraq (“it worked”) and called for sending 5,000 ground troops to the front lines against ISIS (“for command and control”).

Simplifying the conflict for the Elks, Graham said: “This will make it easier for you. In a World War II context, ISIS is Germany; Assad is Japan.” He advocates supporting the Free Syrian Army against the Assad government and predicted that with American boots on the ground Raqqa (the capital of the Islamic State) “would fall like a cheap suit.”

When I heard him speak on other occasions—once about the local New Hampshire heroin epidemic and women’s rights, and then about social security—he always managed to turn the conversation back to ISIS. On the subject of battered women in Manchester, NH, he talked about radical Islam’s treatment of women, as though ISIS was running New England shooting galleries.

Fundamental to Graham’s bid to be president is the proclamation that now is not the time to rely on amateur leadership. He would rebuild the army and the navy (“the smallest it has been since 1915”). Otherwise, “they” (radical Islam, broadly defined) will “hit us, and hit us hard.” Against this threat Colonel Graham would mobilize the armed forces and grind ISIS into the desert sands (“I understand the threat”).

His candidacy is a call to arms, and no one I heard in New Hampshire is more hawkish than Graham. (Barry Goldwater comes to mind.) His bad luck, in attracting militarist support, is that other candidates—Donald Trump and Chris Christie among them—have more traction as war-mongers.

Trump put it in terms that the courtly Graham would never use, saying he wanted to “bomb the [bleep] out of ISIS,” and the blustery Christie sounds like the front man for the national surveillance state.

Meanwhile Graham continues his odyssey across New Hampshire, drawing a dozen supporters here and there, stopping as randomly as Robert Frost’s horse on that famous snowy evening.

Coach John Kasich:

Former Ohio governor John Kasich followed Lindsey Graham in addressing the Elks. Seeing all the empty chairs at the front of the room, he said: “I am going to speak right here.” He was wearing slacks and a black North Face windbreaker and, as he walked to the front of the room, looked like someone buying a shovel at Lowe’s.

Fairly tall, he reminded me of Gene Hackman in Hoosiers (“Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team – no one more important that the other.”) An optimistic man, Kasich decided against laying out his economic plan or reviewing his time as Ohio governor (“it’s on the web site, if you want to look it up”) and instead talked about his family and values.

The father of sixteen year old twins, Coach Kasich spoke about how his fantastic travels across the country (Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, South Dakota, etc.) contrasted with their lives in the tenth grade (they had just made cookies with his wife, Karen Waldbillig Kasich).

The Elks probably wanted him to denounce the IRS or Obamacare, but he carried on with his family homily until he turned the subject to Iraq, a long way from Westerville, Ohio (near Columbus), where he lives.

I had read articles about Kasich trying to be a moderate Republican—and liberal on social issues, such as gay marriage. He seems warm and generous when speaking about his daughters, but all that vanished when the subject turned to San Bernardino and ISIS.

Many Ohio presidential candidates of earlier eras, such as Robert A. Taft and Warren Harding, made their reputations as isolationists. (Harding had a slogan: “League us not into temptation.”) Instead of being wary of foreign entanglements, Kasich wants to win the big game against ISIS.

“They despise our way of living,” he said, calling radical Islam and ISIS “a cult of death” and adding: “They want to wipe us out.” He urged a coalition of Middle Eastern powers to “take care of business,” but did not explain how those now funding ISIS (many Gulf states) would suddenly change sides at half time.

Kasich went on to state there is “a battle of ideals” being waged in the Middle East, and that many Westerners had gone over to the “dark side.” These were otherwise normal and accomplished individuals, who had found something missing in their lives. They had lost “faith and hope” and decided to fill the void with Allah and extremism. “They are looking for something to be part of,” the coach explained. ISIS was starting to sound like a Big Ten booster club.

Not wanting to end his talk on such a Manichaean schism, he came back to his children, explaining that each day, even while running for president all around the country, he took time out to tell them that they were special, unique people with much to offer the world, which is his strategy to keep them away from drugs and ISIS.

Later, at Saint Anselm’s Life of the Party series (unscripted roundtables with the candidates at which among other questions they are asked to describe their favorite party, music, and books), Kasich owned up to liking Pink Floyd, getting some of his “daily information” from the Golf Channel, reading a lot of books about faith, loving Glacier National Park and the Sistine Chapel for travel destinations, and wanting to give a state dinner (as did the Kennedys) at George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon.

Then, unprompted by a question, he told the students gathered at the event that if they found things in the emotional life out of balance, “you should seek out help.” He added: “Everyone has a sock or two in their drawer that doesn’t quite fit.”

If Kasich were a front runner, his call for group therapy might have been front page. Instead the unfitting socks passed directly in the 24-news rinse cycle, and none of the press reports I read about the session included the phrase, “Dr. Freud, call your media guy.”

I later told a friend that if I had to hire one of the candidates to baby sit my children, I might choose Kasich, who at least would feed them pizza and let them watch a movie. Bernie might belittle their knowledge of the proletariat, and I am not sure Trump or Hillary would know they were there.

After the session ended Kasich returned to his enormous bus, the only one I saw on the campaign. On the side, instead of Fung Wah, it says: “John Kasich For Us.” Leaving Saint Anselm’s, for an instant he had that bemused look of Harrison Ford in the film Air Force One (they bear resemblance), although who can imagine a thriller becoming memorable for the line: “Get off my bus.”

Governor George Pataki: Mad as Hell

There was a little break in the action before former New York governor George Pataki’s driver found the Elks hall, although I am sure the wealthy gov’s car has GPS.

Pataki is very tall, and wore a New York pinstripe investment banking business suit, and when he started talking, all I could think of was some wealthy guy at the far end of a New York club bar, on his third martini, railing about how the Jews or ISIS or the Micks are “taking over this country.”

George didn’t so much speak to Elks as suffer an emotional breakdown behind the mic, shouting that we’re “at war” with ISIS and declaring that he’d turn Raqqa into a dust bowl. (“Congress should declare war on radical Islam.”)  His sons were in the military, he was New York’s governor on 911, and goddammit, we need to hit ISIS hard, before they “hit us.”  They were behind the shooting in California, and the only response of the bedwetting Obama (“this horrible administration”) was to have his attorney general warn Americans not to say bad things about Muslims.  Otherwise they would be arrested for hate crimes.

“Well, goddammit,” he said, “he can arrest me today, because I am telling you that we’re at war with Islamo-fascist terrorists.”  I almost expected that at the end of his talk he would flip out of his chair, in the style of John Belushi on SNL’s Weekend Update in the 1970s, screaming “Oh, they love their mothers…”

William Jennings Bernie

I listened twice to Senator Bernie Sanders, for the first time on the campus of Keene State University, in the west of the state, and next at Plymouth State University, in a fold of the White Mountains. On both occasions, the audience was a mix of college students (who help to pad out the numbers) and an older crowd (all of whom, I am sure, devote much time and energy to recycling). On each occasion Bernie drew more than a thousand supporters, to the point of standing room only in the halls, while his chief rival, Hillary, struggles to fill up elementary school auditoriums for her holiday pageants.

Bernie gives set speeches. Sometimes he will answer questions or mix with his audience, but my sense is that he’s most comfortable behind a lectern, reading his speech in his Brooklyn, senatorial voice. As it turned out, I drove half way across New Hampshire (from Keene to Plymouth) to hear Bernie give exactly the same speech (almost word for word) at the second appearance: same pauses for applause, same attempts at humor, same outrage at the corporations and billionaire democracy ripping off the people.

Nor do I think Bernie has much interest in changing his fixed ideas, honed over many decades of outrage. In no particular order, he is for gay marriage, single-payer medical insurance, sowing salt on Wall Street, free tuition for public universities, drive-thru abortion on demand, kumbaya for the unions, group therapy with ISIS, paycheck equity, overturning Citizens United and the billionaire democracy, public funding for elections, an end to Super PACs, shock therapy for the “rigged” economy, youth job programs, comprehensive immigration reform, a tax on Wall Street “speculation”, caps on climate change, decriminalization of pot, and a grand coalition of muslim and onward christian soldiers to take down ISIS. He speaks well, or maybe I should say he reads his set speech very well. Most senators do.

In Plymouth, Bernie took a few questions, but playing to the crowd really isn’t his thing.  He’s more Savonarola, denouncing, if not bonfires of the vanities, then at least the Koch Brothers.  One thing I have learned in all these political speeches is that every candidate has their particular fear list of dragons under the bed.

Listening to Bernie, I was reminded of a New School professor of sociology, of Brooklyn-Polish origin, beating the table about injustice and imperialism—be it that of the Russian tsar or Bismarck’s partitions.  Easy to imagine him in a Lviv or Krakow cafe surrounded by a lot of newspapers and young university students, eager to hear him put the boot into the Austrian emperor.

Can Bernie win?  I do think he can win the New Hampshire primary (he’s peaking at the right time) or certainly get very close to winning it.  His problem is that his appeal (that of a favorite son Vermont senator) could be regional. Also, he has a college team, and he’s running against the Green Bay Packers (the Clintons).

Hillary has already launched her fifty-state campaign, for which she has the money to endure through primaries in remote, rural states.  Yes, the students in New Hampshire prefer Bernie to Hillary, but in more conservative states he might not make the same positive impression.

Shop steward Bernie, with a few well-placed negative TV ads, can be made to look like a cross between Marx and Engels. I am sure Hillary’s media types are cueing up the soundbites that have him calling for a “political revolution” or show pictures of the Unabomber-like cabin where he lived for a while in Vermont in the 1960s.

One thing that became clear to me in listening to William Jennings Bernie is that the San Bernardino shooting and the rise of ISIS are a gift for two otherwise powerful lobbies—the National Rifle Association and Israel, both of whom are now getting a free electoral pass on gun violence.

According to virtually everyone’s campaign script, the problem in the Middle East isn’t Mossad or Bibi but ISIS, which is “a Sunni Arab problem,” which Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among others, must solve.  No mention in that equation about Israel changing any of its ways.

The same too with declaring the San Bernardino shooting a “terrorist event.” In a gift to the candidates, the evil couple firing the guns had earlier downloaded some rage porn from Raqqa or “liked” some beheadings in Mosul.  That frees up Obama, Bernie, Donald, Carly, everyone, from having to denounce what Hillary calls “responsible gun owners” or blame the NRA board for these random mall shootings.

How convenient: no more brooding in press conferences about assault weapons. The American gun problem has its origins along the Euphrates River, not in god-fearing gun shows.  Blame Eye-raq, if not Eye-ran.  Case closed. Even Bernie sings a hymn in this amen corner.

So far, Bernie’s warm-up music track most closely matches my own.  Hillary’s music sounds like a pilates class.  Bernie is more a Mamas & Papas man, or he’s Dylan, blowinin the wind.  I would imagine Donald’s soundtrack will resemble a Vegas floorshow with Wayne Newton.

Jeb Bush: Going Nowhere in a Big Hurry

I am sad to report that Jeb Bush (Jeb! on his bumperstickers) is articulate and personable, the complete anti-W.  Yes, they look fairly similar, although Jeb is taller and more comfortable in a political setting.  I heard him twice:  once at the Social Security summit (we shook hands as he worked the room) and that evening at the American Legion Post 37 hall in Hooksett, which is near Manchester. The mystery to me of the New Hampshire primary is that he’s about 5% in the polls, and sinking.

Both Jeb’s domestic and foreign policy are conservative, although on economic issues he makes more sense than he does when speaking about Eye-ran. I actually agree with his prescription for fixing social security (increase the age of eligibility and charge wealthy people more for their premiums than the needy). He might almost be a traitor to his class.

Aside from that, however, the Jeb of the town halls is far removed from the Jeb of the TV debates. On screen, he’s just this side of a robot—hesitant and awkward—while in person he works a room with grace and with interest in those he’s meeting. He speaks effortlessly about all sorts of wonkish subjects. He is well read on and clearly loves public policy, and he can speak persuasively about social security reform, Medicaid, the space program—you name it.

If W adopted the persona of a Texas sheriff, Jeb’s the headmaster of a private New England boarding school (Mr. Chips, if you will), exhorting his students to study harder and make better decisions. (“The Left thinks life is not fair. It’s deeply pessimistic. We have to believe that life is divinely inspired.”)

The odd part about the Jeb campaign is that he’s at 5% in the NH primary polls, while The Donald is at almost 30%. Politically, Jeb is more mainstream Republican than Trump, and on foreign policy he’s equally nativist. (Take it on faith that all Republican candidates want a ground war with ISIS.)  So why is the well-funded Bush brand doing so poorly in the local market, one that in the past it has owned?

I can only surmise that Bush in New Hampshire is suffering from bad luck and timing. In 1988 Bush the Elder won Reagan’s third term, and W was elected in 2000 because he faced weak challenges in the primaries (John McCain) and because a Bush restoration seemed an antidote to the stains of the Clinton scandals.

Bush 2016, however, looks like a model (something like a Dodge Charger) that went out of fashion in 1990s, and New Hampshire must have the impression that Jeb is trying to sell them a used car.

Maybe in a smaller field of candidates—after all, there are fourteen Republicans left in New Hampshire and they all sound about the same—Jeb would stand out. Instead, all that distinguishes him in the field is his trademark name, although I get the impression he might be losing the copyright.

Nor does it seem to be helping Jeb that he’s a policy wonk, of Hillary Clinton proportions. (If these two were ever to marry, they could talk to each other for decades and never run out of government programs to dissect.) Clearly Jeb loved being governor of Florida (in the White House, W always looked as if his club membership was temporary), and in those seven years he learned a lot about immigration, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment.

Most of his prescriptions to improve the economy are a mix of government benevolence and free-market economics, but his social positions would work equally well in the Democratic as the Republican party. Jeb’s first term would look a lot like Bill Clinton’s second, and its economic model would be Jeb’s dynamic Florida economy, with its AAA bond rating and happy immigrants launching tech start ups.

Only on foreign affairs does Jeb show the extent to which all Republican candidates believe they have to run on a declare-war platform: “Our friends can no longer count on us. Our enemies no longer fear us.”

Jeb wants to rebuild the military, start a war against ISIS, embed troops with the Iraqi army, sandbag the Homeland, re-arm the Kurds, reawaken the Anbar Sunnis, establish a no-fly zone in Syria, mine metadata, and round up the usual Islamo-fascist suspects. In tone and substance, he sounds like one of the Dulles brothers (John Foster or Allen), getting ready to unleash Chiang Kai-shek.

With Jeb in charge, government would look like a charitable corporation, with enlightened board members and noble goals—the ASPCA comes to mind. Instead the government we have is Obamacare and the EPA, a hopeless despond. Bush’s slogan, “Jeb can fix it,” picks him as the Handyman in Chief.

The only Twilight Zone moment in my Bush day came at the American Legion post, when a college kid stated that he would respect Jeb more if he would stop talking about god in the context of government. (Actually I didn’t find Jeb very religious in his talks.)

The governor went off on the kid, at one point puffing up his chest and facing him directly. (I thought of a howler monkey, getting ready to fight.) He ended the question and answer by testily saying he refused to hide his beliefs (“I am informed by my faith”) and then, putting his hand in his pocket, confessed that he always carries around “a little baby Jesus. It’s my strength.”

It was all a bit creepy. I almost expected him to start humming:

I don’t care if it rains or freezes

As long as Ive got my Plastic Jesus. . .

Otherwise—even though I don’t agree with whole sections of the Bush canon and maybe because he is losing—I warmed to Jeb personally. He is clearly the smartest Bush, and absent much vanity. At the same time, he’s going nowhere, although in a big hurry and on a huge budget ($113 million and counting, for his 5% in the polls).

Governor James Gilmore: Retirement Project

Former Virginia governor James Gilmore, who I had missed at the Manchester Airport Diner, showed up at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, which is ground zero for many primary events. It has its New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library, and a venue that is perfect for candidate events. Had I known more about it, I might have spent all my time there, and waited for the candidates to find me.

I had never heard of Governor Gilmore (in his mid-sixties) until reading up on the campaign, and even then he made little impression on me. In person, I liked him as well, although that may be because, for a change, he tracked me down and gave me some time to interview him. Normally I went to the candidates, but Gilmore’s staff is dedicated to his cause.

With the mien of an insurance executive (somber suit, lace shoes), Gilmore talked about living in Europe in the early 1970s, and serving as an intelligence officer in the army during the cold war. He later went to law school at the University of Virginia, and was elected governor of the state in 1997.

He served one term, until 2002, and his signature issue was repealing the property tax on automobiles. After leaving office, he served on various boards, including some dealing with terrorism. He was also a commentator for Fox News and a board member of the NRA.

Unlike Jeb, he is opposed to “means testing” for social security, and made the point that the quick fixes to the system (increasing the age of retirement or “scrapping the cap”) are feel-good solutions, not remedies for a pending bankruptcy.

Instead, he proposes lifting the economy with a flat tax for individuals (10, 15 or 25%, depending on income), and revamping the corporate tax code by having one tax (15%) and eliminating so-called double taxation. He would strip away much Obama regulation, including Dodd-Frank, and calls the Affordable Care Act “a drag on the economy.” He would end inheritance taxes. All those changes would put more full-time employees into the economy, lessening the burdens on social security funding.

Gilmore is the only Republican I heard, except for Carly Fiorina, who denounced Donald Trump. He said: “I reject Donald Trump’s approach to politics. That’s not who I am.”

On foreign affairs, however, his views may be even more hawkish than Trump’s, as he spoke of rebuilding the military, adding another brigade to the Marine Corps, and striking out against ISIS.

I didn’t have the heart to ask Gilmore why he was persisting with his uphill climb of running for president when no one knew who he was. But when I asked him how he was liking New Hampshire, he mentioned going to a local college football game.

He went up and down the grandstand, greeting the fans, who, he said, appreciated it that a candidate for president—even a long shot—was taking in the game.

Finally a fan rushed down the stadium steps and started pumping his hand, saying how much he admired the governor and how pleased he was to meet him. A bit startled, Gilmore thanked him, and then the fan said, “You are Governor O’Malley, aren’t you?”

Later I had the idea that Gilmore should be running as a Democrat (even though he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Republican). Party labels mean almost nothing these days (Trump used to be a Democrat, and Bernie is a socialist), and as a conservative Democratic candidate, and former southern governor, Gilmore would be well positioned to follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Plus his views would contrast sharply with those of Bernie and Hillary, and his slogan, “I am not an amateur” might play well among Democrats.

Instead he’s off the grid in the New Hampshire polling, with less than the 0.3% of George Pataki. That said, Gilmore seemed to be enjoying himself, another reason I came to think of presidential politics—many candidates this year are over age 65, as are those attending their speeches—as an ideal activity for senior living.

Christie, Cruz, and O’Malley: They Also Ran

Among those candidates not campaigning in New Hampshire while I was there, several sent surrogates to events or taped prerecorded messages to certain groups. In this way I got second-hand access to Chris Christie, Martin O’Malley, and Ted Cruz, but surrogates, in general, all sound like college reference letters. Name the candidate, and the surrogate will talk about his or her love of country and family, hatred of ISIS, shock at San Bernardino, kindness toward children and animals, and, finally, their faith in god.

Actually, I learned more about the campaigns that never sent surrogates to any events. Ben Carson and Rand Paul, for example, missed many chances to have a wing man or woman speak on their behalf. I can only assume, from these absences that the campaigns are short of funding or friends, or both. Paul, in particular, needs to do well in New Hampshire, but he prefers to go it alone on the campaign trail and, in my estimate, will struggle to break 5% in the polls.

Carson may be betting his ranch (that with the informal hallway painting that has Jesus with an arm around the neurosurgeon) on Iowa and South Carolina. In New Hampshire his presence, as best I could tell, is limited to front yard placards (of which there are plenty). Such penetration might allow him to say he’s “doing well on the ground,” although he’s fallen behind Rubio and Cruz in the polls, and more drops are to follow.

Christie has invested a lot of his time and energy, in the early campaign cycle, in playing the tough cop to New Hampshire voters. It won him the editorial endorsement of the influential (among Republicans) New Hampshire Union Leader, and after San Bernardino, when people in New Hampshire caused traffic jams around gun ranges, he has benefited from his prosecutorial demeanor. Christie appeals to 9/11 Republicans who share some of Trump’s outrage but can’t quite fathom voting for a gold-plated casino owner.

Cruz’s hope in New Hampshire is that he expects to do well in Iowa (possibly winning there). Then he could come into New Hampshire a week later with street cred and ample TV coverage. Cruz’s risk in New Hampshire is his perceived weakness in talking tough to terrorism and ISIS, preferring to concentrate on other conservative hot buttons than the Allah menace. For the moment all New Hampshire Republicans want to hear is how to keep ISIS or active shooters out of their parking lots.

All I picked up in New Hampshire about Martin O’Malley is what an aide told me (and a few others in a small room): the former Maryland governor gets involved in drafting his own position papers and he “likes talking to other politicians.” (Neither item is of a stop press nature.) He does not see social security in crisis (Christie has it broke in seven years) and he would not increase the retirement ago.

He is also perhaps the only candidate in the New Hampshire who is calling for outright gun control. (Hillary is close, but has a way of talking nice about “responsible gun owners” and promising never to take away their heat. And Bernie has his Vermont hunting constituents.)

I also learned from his aide that, as governor, he liked inviting both Democrats (his party) and Republicans to a weekly pizza night at the governor’s mansion. Once that led to him inviting a vitriolic Republican opponent, but when a member of O’Malley’s staff protested the invitation, the governor responded: “Hey, it’s only pepperoni.”

Unfortunately he’s only making one New Hampshire appearance in December, and maybe for that he’s trying to raise Megabus fare.

Carly Fiorina Lays Off America

I caught up with Republican Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, at The Common Man in Concord. It’s a chain of faux diners or country kitchens, meant to evoke the family style dining of the 1950s (when ketchup saved a lot of bad cooking).

The New Hampshire bankers association had booked out the event room, and Carly spoke for almost an hour to a group of money men and women, who, needless to say, warmed to her messages in praise of entrepreneurship, capitalism, and innovation—although this wasn’t a cheer-on-the-table crowd.

Carly showed up forty-five minutes late (very un-corporate on her part), but she shook hands with everyone in the room and thanked them personally, using their name, for coming. Her dress was executive sober, although it had lace covering her décolletage and a nearby jewel-encrusted cross (a tiny version of something the Crusaders might have carried aloft to Jerusalem).

Carly’s a corporate titan, not a rock star, so a hush covered the room as she went around it, giving her appearance the feel of a budget review, at which everyone knew the boss would not be happy.

Carly’s also a force. After graduating from Stanford University, she worked in a real estate office, “typing and filing,” until the two partners asked her if she “wanted to do more.” An MBA and some jobs later, she was appointed CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the tech giant that paid her well enough for her to throw millions of her own money, in 2010, on a failed U.S. senate bid in California. (She lost to Barbara Boxer when it turned out she had not one, but two yachts and a possible net worth in excess of $100 million.)

She married her husband, Frank, 34 years ago, and together they raised his two daughters (until one was “taken by the demons of addiction”). She never had children of her own and survived “a long battle with cancer.”

In her standard stump speech, she describes America as a failing company (with heavy union rules, lots of red tape, lazy executives, and no strategic plan), and she’s the turnaround expert that shareholders need to put in the top job. Looking at her, you can tell that the one part of the job (HR Director-in-Chief) she would love is laying off the entire staff of the EPA.

A vote for a Carly is a vote for ruthless corporate efficiency, if you think those words go together. She hates the inefficiency of the Homeland Security folks, Obamacare, the tax code, Dodd-Frank, compliance regs, metadata sweeps (as a tech exec, she’d do them better), coal regulations, and government waste.

She’d bring back zero-based budgeting and give citizens the chance to vote weekly on their smart phones, by posing questions to the populace and asking them to click on a “democracy” app.

On her mythical “first day” in office, she would call her “good friend” Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and tell him he finally had a friend back in the White House. Then she would call the president of Iran and let him know that “Personnel” had some “issues” with his “file.”

Perhaps later that day she would return to the active military list what she calls “the Warrior Class,” the likes of generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal (“my good friends”) and unleash them in the war against ISIS. She would let the world know, especially the many leaders with whom she is personally acquainted, that the United States “is back in the leadership business.”

At one point she spoke confidently about wanting to survive long enough in the presidential race to debate Hillary Clinton. Now that would be a cat fight: a tough corporate executive versus a class action lawyer, and a believer in the corporate gods versus an architect and au pair of the nanny state.

I am not sure on whom I would bet in such a melee. Believe it or not, Hillary has a little more personal warmth than Carly (think of the supervisor that fired your spouse and only left a month of severance on the table), but Fiorina has the unwavering conviction of a medieval saint (something she studied as an undergraduate at Stanford before “typing and filing”).

Although Carly is well under 10% in all of the primary polling, she has done better since the summer (thanks to all her retail appearances in New Hampshire) and now will remain a fixture in Republican debates, where her only five minutes of fame came when The Donald said, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Later she cut back at him, noting he had been “forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, four times — why should we trust you to manage the finances of our nation any differently?”

My guess is that she has staying power in the race—both because of her own money and because she’s a no-nonsense candidate of the Richard Nixon variety (and a woman), who might be the perfect vice presidential candidate, as an attack dog against Hillary.

She has enough humor (although I would put it in the single digits) to maintain some rapport with voters, but maybe too much money or too many yachts to charm working-class women. Under national media attention, she might show a little too much pink slip for a populace already nervous about keeping their jobs.

Donald Trump Packs a Lot of Heat

My swing through the New Hampshire primary ended in Portsmouth, at the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel, where Donald Trump was accepting the endorsement of the executive council of the New England Police Benevolent Association.

Trump showed up more than an hour late for the event, which featured—in front of the hotel—several hundred demonstrators (some from Bernie World) against what their signs described as Trump’s xenophobia and racism. The protesters even brought along a marching band, which gave the demonstration the air of a football half-time.

Waiting inside the Sheraton ballroom was a phalanx of police from Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire, seemingly all keen to give their political blessings to The Donald. I waited with the cops from York, Maine and enjoyed their company more than I did their descriptions, firsthand, of New England’s heroin epidemic. The drug is cheap, comes from everywhere into Maine, and sometimes hospitals treat the same patient three times in a day for an overdose.

Before Trump arrived, his personal security agents made a sweep of the ballroom (actually we were all packed into a smaller part of the bigger room). Unlike the Secret Service, who also protect him and who have a non-nonsense look about them, Trump’s home army reminded me of department store detectives, and every time I saw them eyeing the crowd suspiciously I got the feeling they were watching the lingerie racks for shoplifters.

From where I stood at the back of the room, Donald was hard to see coming into the ballroom. At first all I could make out, bobbing along the stage over the heads of the adoring cops, was his trapezoidal hair, which is the color of marmalade and turns on more angles than the track of the Daytona Speedway. That his “do” stays in place is a marvel of Western spray technology.

Trump’s remarks were a salute to the gathered police, whom he praised by blowing his own trumpet and hoping that some of the high notes might fall on his hosts.

Donald praised his wisdom and judgement for having always admired and liked police, and he singled out his own sagacity, even before San Bernardino, for believing that the police deserved their own tanks and heavy weapons. (“Let them have the finest equipment available.”)

He quoted his earlier critics as now saying, “You know, he’s right” on immigration, and he bragged about monopolizing the national conversation after he said that muslims should be banned from coming to America.

He patted himself on the back (the sound of one hand flapping) for coming up with the idea of a Great Wall of Trump along the Mexican border, and he emphasized that it would be a “real wall,” not some temporary barrier like those set up inside skating rinks.

He shared with the audience his prescience in year 2000 for having doubts about Osama bin Laden and wanting him to be killed—almost two years before 9/11. He wished the current administration had been as skeptical about the bombers at the Boston marathon or the shooters in San Bernardino.

Many of Trump’s homilies about the current state of affairs ended with prayers for relief—something that often involves some kind of death wish or demand for capital punishment.

Listening to Trump’s New York accent, I was reminded of the boxing promoters who floated through my childhood Saturday afternoons on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. After Trump paused a few times for applause, I half expected heavyweight Mike Tyson to come out and weigh himself.

The other side of Trump’s personality reminded me of a Catskills entertainer, those that mug the crowd with exaggerated facial expressions and seem a little too eager for laughs or applause. (“Did I tell you the one about the HP executive running for president?”) If only he had worn a checked tweed jacket, the persona would have been complete.

I left the event with Donald posing for various pictures with the New England cops, many of whom were sporting the Kojak’s buzz haircut. In such company Trump had the look of giddy boy, dreaming of growing up and becoming a policeman.

With his beefy look he could well have been mistaken for a homicide detective, except for his casino bouffant and speech pattern that at times has him sounding like Police Squad’s Lt. Frank Drebbin (…blowing away a fleeing suspect with my .44 magnum used to mean everything to me, I enjoyed it, well who wouldn’t?).

The less comical side of the evening and Trump’s emergence as a serious candidate (the clear frontrunner in the polling) is that it speaks—to paraphrase a popular campaign construction—to homegrown fascism, perhaps a bigger threat to the democracy than the mall gunners.

At the events of most candidates in New Hampshire, I could still imagine I was at a town hall meeting, even if the citizens were reduced to asking talk show questions (“How did you feel about San Bernardino?).

But a Trump event, at least this one, is a variation on Mussolini shouting from his balcony overlooking the Piazza Venezia. Just to get into the Sheraton, I had to run a gauntlet of armed guards and sniffer dogs, and once inside the politicial platform called for detention, wire taps, barbed wire and walls, more guns, a heavier police presence, municipal tanks, and death penalties.

For now, Trump may have a more amusing personality than Il Duce, but he looks like someone who would be very comfortable carrying out his state duties in a troopers’ uniform, complete with the jack boots. He already has down the guise of a buffoon.


Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author, most recently, of “Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited,” a collection of historical travel essays, and “Whistle-Stopping America.” His next book, Reading the Rails, will be published in early 2016.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails, Appalachia Spring, andThe Revolution as a Dinner Party, about China throughout its turbulent twentieth century. His most recent books are Biking with Bismarck and Our Man in Iran. Out now: Donald Trump’s Circus Maximus and Joe Biden’s Excellent Adventure, about the 2016 and 2020 elections.