Amid the petty bickering, loud rhetoric and sordid attack ads in this year's primary election campaigns, the death of a giant — Justice Antonin Scalia — suddenly overshadows all of that.
The vacancy created on the Supreme Court makes painfully clear the huge stakes involved when we choose a President of the United States, just one of whose many powers is the power to nominate justices of the Supreme Court.
Justice Scalia's passing would be a great loss at any time. But at this crucial juncture in the history of the nation — with 5-to-4 Supreme Court decisions determining what kind of country America will be — Scalia's death can be catastrophic in its consequences, depending on who is chosen to be his successor.
Given the advanced ages of other justices, the next president is likely to have enough vacancies to fill to be able to shape the future of the court that helps shape the future of America.
Already many people are complaining that the America they grew up in, and loved, is being changed into something they can barely recognize. Record numbers are renouncing their American citizenship.
Meanwhile, people with high level experience in the military and in the intelligence services are warning us against extreme dangers in a world where our adversaries' military power and aggressiveness are increasing, while our military forces are being cut back.
Against this background, the frivolous rhetoric and childish antics in the televised political "debates" are painful to watch. If ever there was a time to choose a president with depth, rather than glitter or glibness, this is it.
Whatever the achievements of anyone in some other field, we cannot afford a novice in the complex world of politics and government at a time of grave dangers at home and internationally.
Some seem to think that Donald Trump's lead in the polls and in the New Hampshire primary make him the most electable candidate, even if he often acts like an overgrown spoiled brat.
But the fact that Trump leads in the polls does not mean that he is electable in the general election this fall. He is ahead only because the majority vote among Republicans has been split among so many other candidates.
Although Hillary Clinton is said to have been beaten badly in the Democrat's primary vote in New Hampshire, she still had a higher percentage of the Democrats' vote than Trump had of the Republicans' votes.
Unfortunately, the way the Republican primaries are set up, Trump can win all the delegates from some states without having to get a majority of the votes in any state. But in the general election in November, a candidate usually has to win a majority in a state, in order to win that state's votes in the Electoral College.
The Republicans can end up with a candidate who cannot even get a majority of Republicans' votes, much less a majority of the votes in the general population.
If, by some miracle, Trump became president, what kind of president would he be? Do we need another self-centered know-it-all in the White House to replace the one we have now?
Among the other Republican candidates, Dr. Ben Carson is a monumental figure in his field, and he is clearly revered even by people who would not vote for him. But votes are how elections are decided.
The governors among the Republican candidates can at least be judged by how their track record stands up in running a governmental organization. So can Senator Ted Cruz, who was solicitor general in Texas. But Senator Marco Rubio has no comparable experience — and his inexperience has shown up in his abortive attempt to join Democrats in promoting amnesty.
If the Republicans are to avoid having Donald Trump lead them — and the country — to disaster, they are going to have to have the majority of non-Trump supporters get behind some given candidate.
Senator Ted Cruz has been criticized in this column before, and will undoubtedly be criticized here again. But we can only make our choices among those actually available, and Senator Cruz is the one who comes to mind when depth and steadfastness come to mind.
As someone who once clerked for a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he will know how important choosing Justice Scalia's replacement will be. And he has the intellect to understand much more.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.