A.B. Stoddard: A disappointing campaign

A.B. Stoddard: A disappointing campaign
© Getty Images

Turns out the 2016 presidential campaign, unprecedented and exciting, is pretty depressing too.

We already know the GOP is riven by an ugly civil war, with party stalwarts openly rejecting the top two front-runners in the race. There is also a fight underway in the Democratic Party, pulled left by an ascendant progressive wing while Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonComet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty Time for 'J. Edgar' Comey to take his leave Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE — once the defacto nominee — tries hard to sell pragmatism to voters who want purity.

But it turns out the 2016 presidential campaign hasn't just dented the two political parties, it has disappointed voters as well. 

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 42 percent of registered voters now have a more negative view of the Republican Party, while 28 percent of respondents now have a less favorable view of the Democratic Party.

A new Pew Research Center poll shows 52 percent of voters said Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden: I regret not running for president De Blasio blames Trump for 'dynamic of hatred' in US Dem to Trump: 'You truly are an evil man' MORE, ahead in 49 states and by some surveys in Iowa too, would make a poor or terrible president. Thirty-eight percent said he would be terrible, while 31 percent said he would be good or great. Clinton tops the list, with 35 percent of respondents saying the former secretary of State would be a good or great president.

It’s downhill from there, with Bernie SandersBernie SandersMichael Moore warns Dems: Now is not the time to gloat Warren: 'Today is a great day... but I'm not doing a touchdown dance' Sanders: Canceled ObamaCare repeal vote 'major victory' for working class MORE at 30 percent great or good, Ted CruzTed CruzHow 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation AIPAC must reach out to President Trump Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE at 28 percent, Ben Carson at 26 percent, Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE at 24 percent, Chris Christie at 19 percent, Jeb Bush at 17 percent, and John Kasich at 13 percent.

The parties aren't united and the voters don't love their choices. And with terrorism now topping the list of issues that are most critical to voters for the first time since 9/11, voters would be dismayed to hear what many national security experts say in private about several of the front-runners becoming commander in chief.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates could not find anything encouraging to say about them in an interview this week.

In an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Gates was asked to choose a word for the three presidents he worked for, all of whom have led the country during wars. Of President Obama, Gates said he had the willingness to make tough decisions; of former President George W. Bush he said he had courage; and of former President George H.W. Bush he said he could unify by building coalitions.

When asked if there was any 2016 candidate who would match that combination Gates said, "I don't see any."

But it's not those four words as much as it is his unwillingness to follow them with any compliments for any candidate running. Ouch.

As for "outsider" fever, which has defined the GOP race, Gates made it clear he thinks experience is necessary to succeed. "If you have never been in government, your ability to make the government work is going to be significantly reduced."

Gates isn't the final arbiter of greatness, of course, yet he certainly understands the terrorist threats we face, and what we can and cannot do to mitigate them. He has also seen government up close, during war after war.

Voters are angry and scared, and they lack trust in nearly all institutions in American life, most of all government. Last time the country hired a president there was hope for the change he was selling. Not now.

The next commander in chief will face vexing challenges at home and abroad and an electorate that still desperately wants change but is no longer hopeful. To lead, he or she will need the faith of the American people.

Between now and Election Day, let's hope someone can meet this moment and rise to the occasion.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.