Michelle Cottle Tilts at Windmills

As regular readers know, since Charlie Peters’ retirement we’ve turned over his legendary magazine column, Tilting at Windmills, to a series of distinguished WaMo alumni. This issue, it’s Michelle Cottle, who is currently a senior writer at National Journal.

Right of the bat, she has an acute observation about the 2016 presidential contest:

Forget about playing shadowy, Nixonian dirty tricks on one’s political opponents. This POTUS race is shaping up to be all about the public trolling—with bonus points awarded for daffiness.

And the daffiness is coming from every direction.

After Marco Rubio got all sweaty in the endless CNN debate, Team Trump delivered a thoughtful care package to Rubio HQ, containing a case of Trump Ice Natural Spring Water (yep, that’s a thing), two towels printed with “Make America Great Again,” some Trump bumper stickers, and a note reading, “Since you’re always sweating, we thought you could use some water. Enjoy!”

Admittedly, Trump lives to publicly gig his adversaries—and has the soul of a carnival barker. But Hillary? Even as Trump was tweaking Rubio, the Clinton campaign sent the entire Republican field copies of her book Hard Choices. A cheeky comeback to attacks lobbed at Clinton during the GOP debate, the book arrived with a friendly note from Hillary: “From working to restore America’s standing in the world to bringing crippling sanctions to Iran to negotiating a ceasefire in Gaza, please enjoy all 596 pages of my time as secretary of state. With 15 candidates in the race, you’ve got enough people for a book club!”

Then there’s the desperate-for-attention Martin O’Malley. In August, the governor tried drawing Trump’s fire by rallying outside the billionaire’s Vegas hotel with a crowd of hotel workers looking to unionize. The next month, O’Malley pulled an outright goofy stunt aimed both at financial fat cats and the non-grassroots campaigns they fund. Longtime front man for a Celtic rock band, the governor donned his coolest black T-shirt, grabbed his guitar, and spent an hour busking on Wall Street to see if a guy could “make an honest buck” there. According to the video/fund-raising plea his team subsequently sent out, O’Malley pulled in $1.74 and a pack of gummy bears.

Presidential behavior clearly isn’t what it used to be. These days, even our aspiring commanders in chief feel compelled to display what fun-loving, down-to-earth characters they are. Blame it on social media or the Kardashians or Bill Clinton’s long-ago willingness to share with us his underwear preferences. But things are getting wacky out there on the trail. At this rate, I half expect to see Jeb! try to pants Rubio in some future debate.

If there’s any chance it would work, you just know propriety is not going to be an obstacle.

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.