We're in a silly season of American politics, and with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary upon us, we're about to see if American politics can get any sillier.
As a supporter of our form of democracy in a constitutional republic, I do put my trust in the voters.
But that thought simply prompts remembrance of the line made famous by former Republican President Ronald Reagan: "Trust, but verify."
What must be verified? In my mind, it's nothing short of whether "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The line, of course, was uttered by our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln — when our country was arguably in its darkest days.
Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson (and former speechwriter for George W. Bush) posed this question on these pages last week: What is the worst-case scenario for the Republican Party? "The worst outcome for the party would be the nomination of Donald Trump."
Although Trump might still defeat the Democratic nominee, whoever she or he is, Gerson wrote that "Trump's nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP's ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be."
I agree. The situation could become that dire.
There are so many Republicans — let alone independents or Democrats — who would not support Trump.
That's why it's so important for voters to seek for a candidate who can unite the party and ultimately the country around our best ideals.
In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama tried to sound that same theme. But the country seemed unconvinced. Has the president himself lived up to these bipartisan aspirations?
The way I see it, our democracy inevitably pushes us into two equally sized factions, the Democrats and the Republicans. After a nomination process in which each party attempts to rally their strongest supporters, the nominees tack to the center.
For more than 60 years, the pattern is clear: Eight years of Republican presidential dominance, followed by eight years of Democrat dominance. That cycle has been interrupted only twice. There was the victory of single-term President George H.W. Bush (think of it as Reagan's "third term"), and the loss of Jimmy Carter at a time of Democratic malaise.
But if it truly is the Republicans' "turn" to take back the Oval Office, will they earn that trust? The mainstream Republican establishment is dead-set against Trump. That was elegantly displayed in Tuesday's Republican response to the State of the Union by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. She decried giving in to the loudest voices in the room.
So what are the other Republican options? I believe that three remaining candidates present a strong case to their party.
Ted Cruz. Liberal-leaning sources have attempted to link Cruz and Trump. The New York Times ran one such piece, "For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split," but it was all about Trump, not Cruz. Cruz declines to criticize Trump. Perhaps he is living up to Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Cruz may be divisive in Congress, and his shut-down-the-government tactics are akin to those of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. His strongest link to Republican principles is his fealty to the Constitution, and he is best positioned to highlight the Republicans' strengths by linking them to our country's founding document.
Marco Rubio. Will the stalking-horse for the mainstream ever take on front-runner status? Many believe that Rubio can become the candidate best positioned to unite moderates and conservatives. This is not only because of his tea party roots, his telegenic demeanor, and his outreach to faith groups of all sorts. He is simply the most optimistic and future-oriented candidate within the party. That's his particular calling card for ensuring a vibrant future for the GOP.
John Kasich. Those of us living in Washington in the 1990s recall Kasich as the creator of a balanced budget. More than President Bill Clinton, it was Kasich and Rep. Tim Penny, D-Minnesota, and their "Penny-Kasich" that created a surplus of government revenue by the end of the decade. He also has impeccable foreign affairs credentials and is a much-beloved governor in Ohio. He is a natural and seasoned alternative to the rest of the pack: Don't count him out.
Why'd I leave out Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul? Different reasons for each. But whether the nominee is Cruz, Rubio or Kasich — or one of the other men or woman — I'm confident than one of these candidates will emerge and begin the process of uniting their party in 2016.
Drew Clark is of counsel at the law firm of Best Best and Krieger, where he focuses on technology, media and telecommunications. Connect on Twitter @drewclark or via email at email@example.com.