How the Mighty Have Fallen

Turns out Bill Kristol isn’t the only major conservative magazine editor who’s concluded the gigantic GOP presidential field has turned out to be lacking. Here’s National Review‘s Rich Lowry at Politico Magazine with a piece entitled: “The GOP Field That Failed.”

The rise of Donald Trump is, in part, a function of a vacuum.

He is thriving in a Republican field that is large, talented and, so far, underwhelming. There’s 17 candidates and nothing on. Except Donald Trump.

Wow. Whose fault is that? Well, the godless liberal media, of course. But Lowry doesn’t stop there:

The weakness starts at the top, or what was supposed to be the top. In the normal course of things, the establishment front-runner provides coherence to the field. Hence, the expectation that the field would have Jeb Bush and a not-Bush, or maybe two. For the moment, this assumption has collapsed, as the current shape of the field is Trump and everyone else.

This is quite the comedown for Bush. His “shock and awe” has turned into getting sand kicked on him at the beach by a loudmouth and bully. It’s not just that Bush is trailing Trump badly in the polls; he has acceded to the terms of the debate being set by the mogul. It wasn’t long ago that Bush swore off talking about Trump, as basically beneath him. Now, he is sniping with him daily….

Bush is not a natural performer to begin with (he struggles with set speeches), and he believes his contribution to the race is to be the nonthreatening Republican, which is often indistinguishable from the uninteresting Republican. So while Bush has methodically built the superstructure of an impressive campaign — with fundraising, organization and policy proposals — he has so far barely warmed up an ember among voters.

Keep in mind that Lowry’s the dude who tried to cajole and flatter Jeb into running in 2012, with a NR cover and everything. Clearly, his own “embers” for Bush have grown very cold. He goes on to give poor reviews to the other former front-runners Walker and Rubio, and while he guesses Cruz could inherit some of Trump’s support, he doesn’t sound too confident about it.

It is still August, of course. The rules of gravity say Trump will come back down to earth. The media interest that is so intense now could burn out. His lack of seriousness should be a drag over time, and he will still have to weather more debates and presumably — should he stay strong — a barrage of negative ads.

Even if he fades, though, someone else will have to fill the screen. To this point, No one else has been big or vivid enough to do it.

We’ve come a long way fast from all those earlier columns about the brilliantly deep and adept cast of characters running for president on the GOP side this year, haven’t we?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.