By John David Dyche
Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump may be one of this presidential campaign's defining moments. That farce forces us to ask what has happened to the American process for picking a president.
The Founders, who were the political "establishment" of their era, designed a presidential selection process in the original Constitution that would "afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder," according to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68.
It was a process putting the ultimate choice not in the people directly, but in a "small number of persons" chosen by the people and being "most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations."
Hamilton optimistically continued, "The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."
He concluded, "It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue." Hamilton was right … for a time.
The process was not problem-free, but somehow produced George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, among others. But the system evolved as political parties developed.
After amendments and the advent of things like caucuses and primary elections, we now have what is essentially a direct election by the people except as still tempered by the Electoral College, which many would also imprudently abandon.
Palin's endorsement of Trump was a comically depressing illustration of the sad current situation. It is hard to imagine any political pairing or event more completely alien to the notion of "characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue."
The catalogue of Trump's contradictory, insulting, and vulgar comments during his career and this campaign is thicker than anything Sears Roebuck & Co. ever published. His demagoguery, inconsistency, opportunism, and superficiality are obvious, but many have nonetheless fallen under his spell.
Palin, whose reappearance in the national spotlight and with a giddily grateful Trump is the antithesis of everything the Founders envisioned about how best to elect a president, is even worse. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post charitably described Palin's rant as "a zany, rambling endorsement announcement filled with garbled syntax and malapropisms."
This is what America has come to 227 years after the Founders had the elitist arrogance to create a presidential selection process that would not "convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements." Now it seems a candidate must cause extraordinary or violent movements to get any attention.
Hamilton and his colleagues sought to guard against contenders with "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity." Ecce Trumpo, or, roughly translated, "behold The Donald."
Despised as he is by so many who have had close political contact with him, and every bit as cynical as Trump, at least Texas Senator Ted Cruz is capable of talking seriously about important issues. But Cruz wanted the increasingly bizarre Palin's endorsement, too.
Other Republicans better fit the Founders' profile, but in these angry days may be insufficiently furious for the masses. Republicans will be especially unwise if they fail to appreciate the potential of Rubio, whom the Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last recently and rightly described as "the guy with the biggest upside and the best chance to not just beat [Hillary] Clinton, but redraw the political map."
The Democratic Party's prospects are even poorer. Clinton is dishonest and venal, but female, which the Founders did not foresee, but would not have deemed a sufficient qualification if they had.
While the press was preoccupied with Palin, the Intelligence Community Inspector General, no partisan, reported that the private email server Clinton used as secretary of state contained not just many classified documents, but many at an even higher level than "top secret." This should, as Rubio says, disqualify Clinton, but in these topsy-turvy times it somehow does not.
Her rival, who leads or is statistically tied with her in key early states, is 74-year old socialist Bernie Sanders. He proposes a "Medicare for all" plan that would cost $1.38 trillion a year in a nation already almost $19 trillion in debt, and that staggering figure is according to his campaign's estimate, which many others say is way too low.
Will the modern system produce the kind of president America deserves or the kind it needs? The Trump-Palin spectacle and the depressing Democratic duo chillingly portend the former.
There is still hope and a chance to redeem the system with wise voting. Failing at that, however, we should perhaps reconsider our presidential selection process while we still can.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.