The 2016 presidential campaign has become the ultimate good news/bad news joke.The good news is that the race has been ugly.
The Republican Party's 2012 nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, unloaded Thursday on the frontrunner for the nomination this year, Donald Trump, by calling the billionaire a "phony" and a "fraud." GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, takes delight in calling Trump a "con man" and making jokes about The Donald's small hands, which Rubio hints are an indicator of the size of other appendages. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also has piled on. He suggests that Trump's moral and political compasses have the consistency of a weather vane trapped in a tornado.
Trump has responded by being Trump – bombastic, bellicose and bullying.
He called Romney a failed candidate for not beating Obama in 2012, then suggested that Romney might have been willing to perform a sexual favor in return for Trump's endorsement that year.
The Donald also dished it back to Rubio, calling him a "lightweight" and referring to him as "Little Marco." Trump hit back at Cruz by calling him "Lyin' Ted."
Then, as if to prove it was possible to elevate the tone of the campaign still further, during the GOP debate in Detroit Thursday night Trump boasted about the size of his penis. Take that, Marco Rubio.
Nor have the Republican candidates spared their potential Democratic opponents. They grow giddy when they discuss Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and his "wild-eyed," "socialist" and even "communist" proposals. When they talk about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – well, about the kindest description they will apply to her is "as-of-yet-unindicted."
Democrats have responded in kind. Both Clinton and Sanders have worked hard to make Trump the face of the Republican Party – in large part so that they can say that Republicans now are racists and fascists.
So, if the good news is that the campaign is setting new levels of ugliness, what's the bad news?
It's going to get even uglier.
It seems clear mainstream Republicans have settled on a Stop- Trump strategy that involves destroying his credibility. That will mean a non-stop barrage of negative advertising between now and this summer's GOP convention in Cleveland.
Trump, being Trump, will hit back. And the GOP gutter fight will rage on.
If Republicans succeed in denying The Donald the nomination, he likely will bolt and run as a third-party candidate. If Republicans think he's angry and uncontrollable now, wait until they have taken away from him and his supporters something he and they will feel should be theirs.
If Republicans fail to deny him the nomination, Trump will head into the fall campaign with unfavorable ratings high enough to break the needle on a Geiger counter.
Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, also has high unfavorable numbers – although they are nowhere near as high as Trump's.
There are very few voters in America who don't know who Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are – and perhaps even fewer who haven't made their minds up about them.
When two candidates with high name recognition and high unfavorable numbers face off, the strategy for each is pretty clear.
Go negative early and hard. Try to discourage the other candidate's soft support from turning out to vote.
Yeah, a good news/bad news joke. And, like many jokes, it really isn't that funny.