American politics has been building toward this for a long time.
American presidential politics are now uncharted and turbulent waters. The key to Donald Trump’s success in the primaries and in thrashing the mainstream Republican Party, which sank without a ripple apart from the hundreds of millions of dollars it had squandered to pick up only about 20 per cent of the vote, was that he was not complicit in the blunders of the George W. Bush regime nor compliant in the blunders of the Clinton and Obama regimes. He was revolutionary change in style and moderate change in policy, apart from a radically new attitude to illegal immigration, trade deals that imported unemployment, and the back-scratching, log-rolling ambiance of the great Washington sleaze factory. And Trump would neither charge blindly into foreign wars as George W. Bush did in Iraq, nor roll over like a poodle for Iran as Obama has.
The Clinton campaign is the ultimate last stand of continuity. She privately dissents from Obama’s appeasement of Iran, and her husband has openly debunked Obamacare. But Mrs. Clinton can neither alienate the Obamas nor run on business as usual, and her entire campaign has been based on a savage denigration of Trump as a deranged, boorish, megalomaniacal racist and sexist monster. This was always a fragile strategy, as it depended on Trump to behave as a rampaging bull spluttering out self-destructive nonsense, as he did through the birther and “Mexican judge” and Khan affairs, (although the Democrats’ manipulation of Mr. Khan was pretty tasteless). He did the necessary to rope in the Archie Bunker vote. After securing the Republican nomination, he became a good deal less accident-prone and gained appreciably in the comparative polls after the pop Mrs. Clinton got from the unity fest at the Democratic convention, where the principal speakers had occupied the official residences of the president and vice president for 40 years.
It was generally assumed that past comments of Trump’s would be extracted and deafeningly amplified by the uniformly hostile press led by CNN (Clinton News Network), and the (Never Yes to Trump) New York Times, news outlets incapable of a fleeting moment of impartiality. As the candidates appeared to be about even in the polls but with the Trump rise stalled, it was a piquant irony that the grenade that was lobbed was an open microphone recording by a nephew of George W. and Jeb Bush, revealed by the Washington Post, wreathed still with the laurels of the Watergate assassination of 45 years ago. (Bob Woodward appeared on Sunday night just before the debate to give Bill O’Reilly his po-faced assurance that there was no relationship at all between the journalists and editorialists at the Washington Post.) I believe the needless Watergate hecatomb is the principal reason for the decline in quality of candidates for national office since Reagan.