Editorial: Let’s see who these candidates really are

The Detroit News

While there are still primary votes to be cast, it appears now certain that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton will represent the Democrats.

An overwhelming victory by Trump in Indiana put the billionaire businessman on a path to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to claim the nomination outright and avoid a brokered GOP convention in Cleveland this summer. Many observers thought that was farfetched just a few weeks ago.

And though former Secretary of State Clinton lost another big state to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who edged to victory in Indiana, her huge lead in super delegates keeps her on an inevitable course to the nomination.

Now that the field is apparently set, voters should be trying to assess each of the candidates as a potential president who must represent all of America, and not as primary candidates courting the party base.

Unfortunately, the bizarre nature of this primary season has not helped answer their questions.

Trump has avoided substantive policy discussions in favor of populist pronouncements, such as his promise to build a wall on the southern border and get Mexico to foot the bill.

Such foolish promises fired up a certain segment of Republican primary voters who are given to nativism, and played off a broader frustration with the failure of Washington to secure borders and enforce immigration law. But it is not a winning position in a general election campaign.

Similarly, Trump’s solution for putting Americans back to work by launching trade wars is disastrous economic policy (witness how the stock markets reacted to his Indiana win) and will plummet this nation into recession.

That would be a fine issue to draw a contrast between Trump and Clinton. Except that she has allowed Sanders to drag her so far to the left that she, too, is preaching protectionism on trade.

Once she gets past the convention will she once again become a Clinton of the Democratic Leadership Council, returning to sensible pro-growth economic policies? Or will she stick with her own populist promises of big government giveaways and the tax hikes to pay for them that she rolled out to counter Sanders?

Who these two candidates really are is the big question as the general election campaign gets underway.

It would be nice to believe Trump could pivot away from his Howard Beale “I’m mad as hell” act and conduct a serious presidential campaign built on thoughtful policy positions, rather than insults and gossip. And it would be a relief to see Clinton embrace the moderate positions of her husband’s administration rather than the promise to stick with President Obama’s stagnant economic strategy. Clinton surely understands that when two-thirds of the people believe the country is on the wrong track, staying the course is not the message voters want to hear.

These two candidates have not always been true to themselves as they’ve battled for primary voters. From here on out, they must give Americans a legitimate look at who they would be as president, and how they would really govern.