WASHINGTON — Whoa, Nellie! This one-horse town is as jumpy and jittery as I've ever seen it. Even the horse, named Government, is stressed out over the tied presidential race and is working on his breathing. Pundits, Ethiopian taxi drivers, Georgetown students, baristas and marble Thomas Jefferson — everybody's an expert on Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in the caffeinated chat happening here. Even the elegant embassies are braced on edge.
So what else is there to talk about? Six weeks away from Tuesday, Nov. 8, our town reflects the deeply divided country — writ small, jammed on a scenic wedge by the Potomac River. Washington, D.C., is the fulcrum.
The first divisive debate seen at the Woman's National Democratic Club gave hope to the faithful. The setting gave Clinton luck; the vintage townhouse was a haunt of Eleanor Roosevelt's, her spiritual mentor. Easily 150 women and men gathered there to share the experience. I came in the door as Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, was floating out. Her father was mayor of Baltimore, where she was known as "Little Nancy." Political families abound.
The upstart of all time, Trump crashed the gates of the Republican Party.
The first presidential debate is often the fateful one, as in the Kennedy-Nixon 1960 knockout. Hillary Clinton played it like the Rachmaninoff 3 — the Russian composer's third piano concerto. Wearing a brilliant red, Secretary Clinton kept her perfect pitch tone, with a drop of irony on her smile through a flawless policy recital. She hit every note, every key, every pounding chord (which takes hours of practice.) She memorized the score. And the high note: speaking of her "stamina" to visit 112 countries as secretary of state and to face 11 hours straight of heated House hearings.
We felt good at the Club, making new friends and going home happy. On the Hill, Democrats had more spring in their step. How jazzed they were over a clear victory for Clinton, as everyone agreed it was — except for Trump. Despite being way out of his depth in front of 84 million people, the temperamental Republican nominee insisted he won, of course, because he can't lose to any woman — especially not one he insults relentlessly every day. No gentleman, he grunted when she said, "Donald, it's good to be with you." Just a pleasantry.
How grumpy and negative can a populist billionaire be? That's not smart. Does he think he can fire Hillary at the end of the show? Trump is a man with no plan — other than "Trust me, I'm Trump." The rest of us are just the house. Jane Austen would need a cold compress if she ever met this scoundrel — a braggart about how "smart" he us in not paying taxes to the federal government he hopes to head. Very good, Trump. Keep digging.
Trump captures the worst in us, dealing in sound and fury. Clinton is a class act in the American character: with a strong work ethic and a serious dedication to public service. She's not perfect — no need to count the ways. But we know her strengths and weaknesses. We know her opponent, too, based on his crude dominance of the primary debates.
Here's the thing: That guy and that ugly game can't win against Clinton, one on one. Her ground game on policy is just too good — which she started developing as a senior in college as class commencement speaker. Back in 1969, Hillary Rodham became the leading woman of her revolutionary generations.
But don't assume anything. The Republican Congress overrode President Obama's veto of a bill to greenlight 9/11 terrorism lawsuits against Saudi Arabia. On the same day, Michelle Obama campaigned vigorously for Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has throngs and millions mystified. What worked before — raucous repetition and insulting nicknames — won't work in this new forum. The goalpost moved. But is he capably coachable?
The best words he uttered were the last: "If she wins, I will absolutely support her."
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com