Certainly on the Republican side, the presidential race has crashed through the looking glass into Alice's Wonderland replete with Mad Hatters and tea parties.
The latest Republican debate reaffirmed this condition, dare we say in spades. Three of the candidates are incredulous and most likely unelectable. The fourth was the only adult on the stage and hence unlikely to win the nomination.
How America got to this point is useful in informing how we extricate ourselves from the grim electoral prospects that lie ahead, especially if the leading Democratic candidate is indicted for mishandling classified material on private email accounts. Only in America....
Donald Trump is, at present, in a post-position to become the Republican Party's nominee. That he is massively ignorant in terms of policies and issues and seemingly invincible to even the worst publicity is one of the most stunning contradictions of this year's race to the White House. Conventional wisdom explains that anger, fury and frustration have empowered Trump, along with the Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, except that Donny boy is jet propelled. But that wisdom is wrong and symptomatic of the larger ills.
Americans are insecure, frightened and filled with anxiety about the future. This is manifested in widespread anger and frustration with Washington and a badly broken government. However, unless solutions are found to correct the larger causes of our malaise, treating symptoms won't work. Neither Trump nor Sanders understands this fundamental difference. Hence, if Trump had any prescriptions, each would fail. Sanders is living so far inside the looking glass that his proposals could be those of the Red Queen.
Inconceivably, Trump has promised that, if elected, he will be a felon. By embracing torture and killing terrorist families, whether deterrent or revenge, Trump will break both U.S. and international law and become a war criminal. Imagine a scene in the White House where the attorney general, chairman of the joint chiefs and director of Central Intelligence tell President Trump that they will not and cannot carry out his illegal orders. And Trump's response is that he will convince them otherwise. Good luck.
Unfortunately, ("Little") Marco Rubio and ("Lyin"") Ted Cruz, in Mr. Trump's lexicon, lack the experience, maturity and understanding to be effective presidents. The forcing question posed by the Fox moderators about how each would deal with the crises confronting Detroit, where the debate occurred, was telling. Trump and the two senators provided further descriptions of the city's dire straits. Only Ohio Gov. John Kasich gave a real answer. His was a compelling response in how he turned around Cleveland, a city with problems similar to Detroit's.
Sadly, because the governor is the adult and prepared for the presidency as much as anyone can be, he has not tapped into American's insecurity and anxiety. The public prefers hearing incendiary slogans that magnify their outrage rather than practical means to resolve these legitimate fears. Perhaps the character of the campaign will change. However, for the moment, Alice reigns, and common sense is left behind.
Cruz also has other problems. While the law is not settled, there are strong grounds that he is not constitutionally qualified for the presidency, being born in Canada. The Constitution specifically distinguishes between the requirement of being a "citizen" for election to Congress and a "natural born citizen" for the presidency. Unmentioned, while Cruz's mother is a U.S. citizen, the law specifies certain domicile rules within the United States if citizenship passes on to children born outside the United States. So is Cruz a citizen?
On the Democratic slate, only Hillary Clinton can lose the race. After the March 15 primaries, she will probably be the presumptive nominee. But the email debacle remains a Damoclean sword. And while Hillary's website's descriptions of the key issues facing Americans are comprehensive, they have two flaws. First, none addresses the fundamental factors of insecurity and fear. And second, her policy prescriptions are either insufficient to the task or focused on the symptoms and not causes of the nation's problems.
None of this augurs well. Of course, the hope and strategy on the Republican side is to force a "brokered" convention in which the Mad Hatters of the party are rejected, and Alice is returned to Kansas with an electable alternative. That may happen. And Democrats are hoping that the email mess will die a quick death.
The sad and even tragic consequence for the nation is that hope is never a basis on which to bet the presidency of the United States.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and at Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."