As we close in on next week's Super Tuesday -- when more than a dozen states and territories hold presidential primaries -- it seems as good a time as any to assess the state of the 2016 presidential race.
My assessment is: Ugh.
Seriously, can we start over and re-cast this whole thing? It has the makings of an epic flop, particularly on the Democratic side. (If nothing else, the Republicans, with Donald Trump, have cast one of the all-time-great villains.)
Let's start with Hillary Clinton.
Former first lady. Former senator. Former secretary of state.
It's a remarkable resume for someone who is widely despised and even more widely distrusted. Between liberals who consider her a sell-out to the Wall Street crowd and conservatives who consider her evil incarnate, the core of voters who truly like Clinton is perilously small.
I don't agree with the argument that she's not qualified. I don't agree with the argument that she's not intelligent. And from a policy standpoint, I agree with most of what she supports.
But she is tragically divisive, and that should matter. Yes, Republicans will try to destroy any Democratic presidential nominee -- they would find a way to demonize an adorable kitten if it was the candidate. But still, it would be nice to have a presidential hopeful whose baseline with people from the other side of the aisle wasn't: She should be in prison.
Also, Clinton can dismiss her private email server debacle all she wants, but that won't make it go away. Per the Washington Post this week: "A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that State Department officials and top aides to Hillary Clinton should be questioned under oath about whether they intentionally thwarted federal open records laws by using or allowing the use of a private email server throughout Clinton's tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013."
Spin it any which way, this is red meat for a GOP presidential opponent, and for Donald Trump it would be enough red meat to fill a Brazilian steakhouse.
Burdened by all this and widely viewed as only a so-so campaigner, Clinton is still the Democratic front-runner. And many must be asking: Is this really the best we can do?
Sanders' issues, promises
Which brings us to Bernie Sanders. Oh, Bernie. I've just about had it with you.
I like Sanders' focus on income inequality in this country, and I would technically love to see some of his ideas -- free college, health care for everyone -- come to pass. But the question of how that would all be paid for is a legitimate one.
Most of what Sanders promises requires a wide-ranging political revolution -- including a complete ideological shift in Congress -- that is a virtual impossibility. Would I like it to happen? Sure, to a degree. And I can respect those who say that you can't achieve change without trying, even if you fail at first.
But failure at this moment in history means: a possible Trump presidency; the rolling back of almost everything President Barack Obama has accomplished; at least one and possibly several arch-conservative Supreme Court justices; and, it's worth repeating, a possible Trump presidency.
Sanders seems to have less attack-ad-worthy baggage than Clinton, but he has not been thoroughly scrubbed. He would already be a target of massive fear-mongering because of his open embrace of socialism, and given his revolutionary bent and outspokenness, can you imagine what lies in wait? Articles he wrote that haven't surfaced, college papers, past associations, meetings he has attended.
Whatever is out there may be perfectly mundane and innocent to people who like Sanders or to liberals in general, but it will be fodder to scare the pants off Republicans and independent voters.
Zero crossover appeal
And that's the lineup, folks. It's a short batting order in desperate need of a superstar.
With Trump winning big in Nevada on Tuesday night, he enters Super Tuesday like a roaring, preposterous freight train. Republicans don't look like they can take him down, and the Democrats' current firewall between that Trump train and the White House is a candidate most people don't trust and a socialist whose core voters will turn out unless it happens to be spring break.
Does that mean Trump, if nominated, will win? No, not necessarily. But it does mean that both parties, with whoever they pick from the current cast members, are embracing candidates who have zero crossover appeal.
Who here can inspire, broadly? Who here can an independent-minded person vote for without a clothespin over the nose?
I'll ask it again, for Democrats and Republicans: Is this really the best we can do?
And if it is, why?
Write Rex Huppke, a Chicago Tribune columnist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.