The bug: Trump, Walker, Jindal and the burning need to be president

Trump’s ravening is, from a certain point of view, understandable. What is less understandable is the presidential fever that has gripped such doughty men as Governor Scott Walker and Governor Bobby Jindal, both of whom have long and distinguished records in public life and both of whom have, envying Trump’s celebrity-driven summer romance with poll respondents, attempted to imitate him, with Jindal spitting schoolboy taunts at his rivals and Walker denouncing as unseemly the president’s plan to meet with Chinese leaders whom Walker himself not too long ago ventured to China to meet. Trump’s daft say-anything approach has at least this much to its credit: It has helped to identify those among his rivals who also are willing to say anything to advance in the polls. This is pathetic in a business mogul, but absolutely perplexing in a governor, as though a life left unfulfilled by a succession of political offices were going to be satisfied by the addition of yet another political office. This silly tendency has constitutional scholar Ted Cruz refusing to say whether as president he would order the deportation of U.S. citizens, something no president, Congress, or justice of the Supreme Court has any legitimate legal power to do. That is “the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask,” Senator Cruz scornfully told Megyn Kelly when she inquired. It’s an easy question, and the answer is: “No. Have you lost your mind?” Egad…

But none of that is what really hampers these candidates. I have spent at least some time with most of the candidates, and what Perry, Paul, Fiorina, and Rubio really lack isn’t an issue or a slogan or a strategy — it’s that terrifying, insane glint in the eye. Some people call that passion, but it has always seemed to me closer to psychosis. Neither Rick Perry nor Carly Fiorina needs to be president; at times, Rand Paul visibly detests the dog-and-pony-show element of politics. Marco Rubio may harbor a deep desire for the White House, but he is canny enough to know that 2016 is not the end for him. That unspeakable need makes for great candidates and troubled presidents: George H. W. Bush did not need to be president, and Bill Clinton needed it worse than any normal human being can imagine. Bush was a war hero, a deft statesman, and the operational heir to the Reagan legacy; Clinton was a lecherous nobody governor from a backward state without much to say for himself.

But he had the bug.