This week I sat in one of those wonderful diners in Wisconsin where the pies are homemade and come with that special baker’s sugar on the top crust. The waitress was a local woman who offered as many smiles as she did refills of beverages. She may never have seen me before but like in diners everywhere there are no strangers. The one on the outskirts of Plainfield is no exception.
Everyone seemed to know one another and greeted each other with either a nod of the head or an extended hand. As I looked at all the good-natured folks I wished to have been able to slide into a chair and have a conversation about the way they view the presidential election landscape.
After all it will be these types of voters–average mom-and-dad types–who will sway the outcome in the April 5th primary. The success of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz hangs in the hands of people who spooned chicken noodle soup or decided on meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The degree to which Hillary Clinton wins or losses will be left up to the ones who just sipped their final cup of coffee or decided to add some ice cream to their bill.
Real Wisconsinites are about to play a crucial role in American politics. As I scanned the people in the diner, but also kept current on the conversations with those at my table, my mind momentarily thought of Teddy White. This diner would have been his type of place to scour for hints of what voters were planning to do in the privacy of the voting booth in just a matter of days.
Most politicos have read White’s classic retellings of presidential races with vivid insights found in the Making Of The President series. There had been no other such richly penned attempt before White decided to write a book in 1960 about the life of a campaign and the ways voters come to their conclusion about who to support. White was a trailblazer for his profession.
It was not only the story he told that impacted me but the way he penned his words.
Speaking of the 1960 Wisconsin primary he noted that John Kennedy stopped at a diner in Phillips. There seemed to not have been much interest in his offered hand or introduction. White sums up the stop with a line that is representative of his grand style of writing.
He left the town shortly after noon and the town was as careless of his presence as of a cold wind passing through.
One can only imagine what White would write or reflect on this year given all the upside-down, inside-out, twists and turns of this election cycle.
We have Trump trashing Walker in spite of the fact among hard core conservative voters the governor still is highly respected. Then to add more questionable behavior Trump seems more than willing to continue making waves with House Speaker Paul Ryan. As if that is not enough the billionaire speaks at length on CNN how core principles of the Republican Party are not where he stands on the issues. Be it trade or taxes or health care there is a wide and seemingly growing divide between Trump and the party he wishes to lead.
Meanwhile Democrats are in a bruising fight over the best path to impact our nation’s future. The pragmatic and skilled approach of Hillary Clinton versus the more raucous and feel-good path espoused by Bernie Sanders. One can sense at times the same under-currents of disdain for the establishment element of the Democrats that are on full display within the GOP.
These are the personalities and battles which White would have examined and tried to expose with his sharp eye, keen analysis, and pithy writing. He would have loved the chance to drink coffee with the diners in Plainfield.
He surely would have noted there are not many converts to sway at this point. But with a smile he would add the political landscape in Wisconsin is so rich and potent this year that the challenge is not to sway anyone as much as just enjoy the show. For it is a large, messy, chaotic, and marvelous campaign we get to view up close.