Allow me to date myself and admit that I have covered campaigns when it mattered what candidates said.
It mattered whether their statements stood up to even passing scrutiny. It mattered whether they were polite to one another — or, at least, were perceived so. Remember the hit candidate Barack Obama took for remarking that Hillary Clinton was “likable enough”?
It mattered if the candidate changed his or her mind, or admitted he or she was wrong about something. And it mattered if someone who wanted to be president refused to rule out nuking Europe.
I speak, of course, of this topsy-turvy campaign year. And although Donald Trump is guilty of all the things I’ve cited — including name-calling, spit-balling foreign policy, and appearing to make it up as he goes along on a hot-button issue like abortion — my question is not about him.
Trump is doing what he thinks works, and by and large, the polls back him up. For some reason, most of his gyrations have not disqualified him as they would another candidate.
In the old days (the old days being four years ago), Mitt Romney was set upon for being too rich, too elite, and too fond of sports like dressage. His remark about giving up on the “47 percent” sealed his fate mostly because the storyline had become set in stone.
Trump mused aloud about preferring limousines to motorcycles while in Wisconsin, the home of Harley-Davidson.
Let’s go back a little further, to the wilds of 2004, when John Kerry was brought down by the same charges of inconsistency and elitism. A photo of him windsurfing turned into one of the most dangerous images of the campaign, after it was manipulated to show him flipping this way and that over his positions on the Iraq war, education and Medicare.
The tagline was brutal: “John Kerry: Whichever Way the Wind Blows.” Now, the accusation of flip-flopping seems such a quaint notion.
By now, all the examples seem prehistoric.
Set aside the Trump abortion comments this week. (In case your cable was cut off, he said women should be punished if they violated nonexistent laws banning abortion. He later recanted.)
Set aside the spectacle of a gold-plated candidate’s appeal to working-class voters. And ignore the contradiction of a television star who amplified his fame by firing people, yet, in real life, adamantly refused to fire a top aide charged with assaulting a reporter.
What I find more interesting is how rapidly we have come to accept the head-snapping nature of this campaign. Is it because this is what revolution looks like?