PETER: It’s hard to get a grip on this election season, at least so far. The differences and divisions within the Democratic and Republican parties are almost as profound as the distinctions between the two parties. To me, this is more interesting than whatever happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
ADAM: Oh, no question. The most interesting conversations I had this weekend were with Bernie Sanders supporters about whether they'd be able to back Hillary Clinton if she's ultimately the nominee. A couple told me they would, albeit without great enthusiasm. But one young woman (19, to be precise) told me she simply couldn't envision casting a vote for Clinton under any circumstances. Another, who was a couple years older, said she'd consider a Clinton vote--but she also made it clear that she's offended by the argument, advanced by Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, and others, that no right-thinking woman should be backing Bernie.
And Clinton may be making this problem worse! By casting Sanders as a starry-eyed dreamer whose dreams of "political revolution" will never come to pass, she's also suggesting that his devotees are naive rubes who just don't get the way the world works.
But enough about the Dems. What's your take on the Republicans?
PETER: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the most radical candidates the GOP has fielded since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Like former Alabama Governor and unapologetic segregationist George Wallace in 1968, Trump, and Cruz play to the dark side of the nation’s psyche – as did Goldwater. New Hampshire, of course, has voted hard right before, most recently in 1996 when former Nixon and Reagan aide Patrick Buchanan won the Republican primary.
The common thread here is an appeal to authoritarianism, in defense – paradoxically -- of democracy. Trump is embalmed in a mist of buffoonery, and Cruz seems to bask in his weasel-like nastiness. I find them scary. And it depresses me that they are so popular. To me, they conjure the memory of the Angela Lansbury character in the classic political noire thriller The Manchurian Candidate, who -- at a pivotal moment -- says that when her crowd takes power, “Marshall law will seem like anarchy”.
ADAM: So are you you more spooked by the prospect of a Trump presidency or a Cruz presidency? While there's much that frightens me about Trump--including his xenophobia, his need to showcase his own toughness, his attendant contempt for weakness, and his white-hot hatred of the political press--I've taken some solace in his political heterodoxy. (The man once backed single-payer healthcare, after all.) Cruz, in contrast, seems to be more of an ideological purist and true believer--and that's a type that always freaks me out. Which is more ominous, to you? And could either actually win a general election?
PETER: I can't imagine either Trump or Cruz as president. I mean that literally. But just because I can't conceive of it, doesn't mean it can't happen. The founding fathers knew in their hearts as well as their heads that democracy had the potential to frighten, to go wrong. That's what the Federalist Papers were all about, but the dreams of a federated republic are long since past. It's a form of intellectually respectable romanticism, a bookish fantasy, to assume a republic can return.
I think the only way to understand what is happening at the moment is to take developments one week or so at a time. This week, the object lesson is New Hampshire. By how much will Sanders beat Clinton is one question. The other is how will the guy with the rented dog do? I mean, of course, Rubio -- a nut boy if ever there was one.
ADAM: Wait, Rubio rented a dog? Is there something I missed? As for Trump, the single best analysis of his campaign I've heard came from one of our WGBH News cameramen--Bob, whose last name I fear I don't know. He said something like: Americans have spent the past decade-plus having the conventions of Reality TV, and Donald Trump has successfully turned the presidential race into a Reality TV show. (He put it more eloquently than that.)
But there's another dynamic we haven't even touched upon yet, and that's the extent to which Trump--and Sanders, actually--are thriving because they embody qualities Barack Obama lacks. Like many people, I've been frustrated, throughout Obama's presidency, by his seeming conviction that the merits of his ideas and arguments are so self-evident that he simply doesn't need to make the case; he's right, the president seems to think, so he'll ultimately get his way. That's accompanied by a demeanor that's frequently Too Cool for School; witness his infamous description of ISIS as a "jayvee team," or his suggestion that American anxiety following the attacks in San Bernardino was driven by cable TV.
I'm meandering, but I'm also heading toward what may become (for me) a unifying theory of the 2016 election. Aren't Democrats and Republicans alike currently engaged in a full-throated repudiation of Barack Obama's approach to the presidency?
PETER: You may be onto something. But as someone who has been critical of Obama time and time again, at the moment he’s looking pretty, pretty good.