The in-tray awaiting the next US president will be the most toxic and challenging in that great country’s peacetime history: Three interlocked domestic crises — a public health disaster, a ravaged economy, and race clashes — plus, if that was not sufficient, simmering trade and military skirmishes with an increasingly belligerent China, growing trade disputes with the EU bloc, and unresolved contests with Iran and North Korea. Rarely if ever will voters, when choosing the candidate with the confidence-inspiring track record, imagination, creativity, empathy, and honesty that will be required to see the union safely through the next four years, have such a miserable choice of names on their ballot papers.
There’s no need to turn to Donald Trump’s Democrat rivals when looking for damning assessments of the president’s character flaws. Republicans have them, too.
“I challenge my fellow Republicans,” writes former White House aide Anthony Scaramucci, “to summon the nerve to speak out on the record against Trump. Defy the culture of fear he has created, and go public with the concerns you readily express in private. Hold on to your patriotism, and help save the country from his depredations.”
Ex-FBI director James Comey — a registered Republican until he joined the bureau — points to Mr Trump’s tendency to lie “constantly on all matters”. The president, said Comey, must embody respect and adhere to the country’s core values. “The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.”
What of Joe Biden, now confirmed, after a series of caucus contests with equally lacklustre runners, as the Democrat nominee? Republican critics have plenty of options to highlight from his 36 years in the Senate and his two terms as Obama’s vice president. It’s a career blemished by dealings with corporate donors, whose increasing support during the Democratic selection was highlighted by his rival for the candidacy, Bernie Sanders, as “the political establishment” backing its own. His links to Ukraine, including his son’s position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, continue to provoke questions and blight his rallies. His comments in a radio interview that “if you’ve got a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black” were rightly rebuked.
“The reason many of us are so turned off by Biden,” writes a Democrat commentator who has watched him closely, “is that, over the course of a many-decade career in Washington, he has let us down on the key issues when it matters most. Joe Biden has shown himself to be fundamentally weak, unreliable, and dishonest. He seems more interested in making friends than advancing Democratic ideals... He’s a man with little integrity or moral character, whose choices in office have caused a lot of people a lot of harm.”
Delaware’s Uncle Joe, then, stands accused of being a creature of the Washington DC swamp that Trump says he wants to drain, albeit to refill it with one of his own making.
Events between now and November will push polling intentions this way and that, but what is clear now, with Biden’s hat in the ring, is that neither candidate appears to have anything remotely close to what’s known in the employment recruitment world as the person specification needed for the job.