UP CLOSE IS NO BETTER

During the week prior to the South Carolina Republican primary, we’ve been treated to a lot of “up close and personal” interviews of the candidates by an eager press, all anxious to get their faces on air and improve their own prospects for life and luxury when the elections are ended.

Among the very worst of these face-to-face sessions was between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and John Kasich.

In a nutshell, Matthews has been on air too long and is too prone to answering his own questions. Worse, he likes to put positions into the mouths of his interviewees. Kasich could hardly speak, and he needed to. Add to this the accusatory tone of Matthews’ voice, and its amazing volume, and what do you have? An interview of Chris Matthews by Chris Matthews (whom he loves). Kasich, on the verge of actually improving his standing in the polls, had to wait, and wait, and wait to get a few ideas out, and when he did, he was interrupted, corrected, rephrased. It was a mess. Kasich has our entire sympathy.

Shortly after that debacle, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski took on Donald Trump in a town hall setting. These interviews are unusually easy to get from Trump, because (a) he loves himself dearly and (b) it’s cheaper than advertising. He thinks he’s getting a bargain and advancing beyond the scope of any other Republican candidate in the polls.

Now we admit to a certain fondness for the character of the Donald, developed over these past few months. True enough, he would make a hugely embarrassing First Executive. He has no military background, no social background to deal with taxes, healthcare, food stamps, jobs, international relationships. The people he mentions as friends and advisers are, to a man (or woman, although we doubt this last) “great negotiators, great dealmakers.” He sounds as though he picks them off the street. Clearly they are his pals and cronies, few of whom we know, and those who have names we recognize are not held in high esteem by the general public.

Instead of a bargain, what Donald gets for this kind of one-on-one attention are moments in which viewers and probably voters are exposed to the little-ness of the Donald. The unpreparedness, the lack of learning, the lack of the will to learn. He becomes in these circumstances boring beyond belief even as he exposes his shortcomings. It is one of the certainties of our lives here that Donald loves Donald to the exclusion of all others. When he heard Mika draw an outline of an unnamed fellow candidate in generally approving words and tone, he immediately said that the hero mentioned and imaginatively drawn was none other than himself. (Actually it was Bernie Sanders to whom she referred.) There is, you see, no one else in his universe.

Queried by young people throughout the hour, Trump deflected all direct questions with his answers of “It’ll be huge, it’ll be great, believe me.”

Even Mika admitted she had trouble with the “believe me” assurances offered again and again instead of facts, hard figures, real plans. But she’s not likely to get anything else because Donald ad libs his way through interviews, never for a moment doubting his own experiences and greatness. We’ve all read how Hillary Clinton seemed to assume naturally she would be the next Democratic flag carrier. Hillary has nothing on Donald.

Following Trump we come to a town hall setting for Bernie and Hils. Bernie goes first, for an hour, and for that hour he takes his standard stump speech and breaks it up into shorter segments. Nearly any question asked of him by the moderators can be answered by a slice of this speech. Which is to say, Bernie performed well but without surprises or special insights. Bernie was Bernie, and for many – because he is so vague about how he will fund his changing government- this is not enough.

Hils bounced on stage after a fairly disastrous interview with CBS about honesty. No matter what she said or meant, it didn’t make her look good. In the town hall setting, she got caught a second time. Admittedly there seems to be an anti-Hillary bias in much of the press. This will probably remain until the moment when the press has to choose between Mrs. Clinton and the Republican nominee. (The press seems to subliminally remember what so many millions have forgotten: how in the waning days of the Clinton administration, all America wanted was to be rid of them both.)

As side-bars to these final days of South Carolina’s prominence, the following occurred:

The popular Governor of South Carolina endorsed Marco Rubio. Now if Rubio can’t win or come in second, he’s toast.

The Pope decided that building walls between countries, between peoples, between civilizations was un-Christian and said so. The Donald went ballistic unnecessarily, we thought.

Barbara Bush is being pulled out once more, today, to assist her son. This way Jeb will not be embarrassed alone.

And John Kasich, the most qualified nominee on the Republican front, demonstrated what compassion and sympathy and understanding are all about. A simple but real hug given to a distressed young man elevated Kasich beyond every one of his rivals. We can only hope that the voters of South Carolina feel the same way.

Only he looks better up close and personal.

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