ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN FULLERTON, California – What does the morning after feel like?
In this case, it feels like November.
After all the debates, all the acrimony, all the travel and all the fatigue, the so-called Super Tuesday is at last history - and now it is setting in that, as we all should have known all along, the finish line was a mirage.
Out in the western part of Utah, where the highway feels as lonely as a half-remembered Gene Pitney heartbreak ballad, there is a place where you can stand on the surface of the salt flats late at night and, if the moon is right, you can almost swear that there is a large white wall looming about two hundred yards away.
There is no wall. It’s an illusion. Because the salt flats stretch to just about forever, and because the human eye does not readily take in the concept of forever, the wall that isn’t there rises to give the false yet comforting impression that, somewhere where you can touch it, there is an end point. But if you walk toward the wall, by the time you approach it you find that it is gone.
So it is with Tuesday’s primary elections. Even if the results had been starkly definitive - even if there had been only one candidate per party left standing as the sun came up Wednesday - the wall, the elusive end point, would have packed up before dawn and moved a little farther down the line.
In the election nights of your childhood, when you would watch the early results with your parents and then go to bed for the evening, the next morning would arrive and there would be a sensation in the air that previously had been unknown to you: a curious amalgam of exhaustion and residual nervousness and the melancholy sense that something important had ended. The peculiar thing about the sensation was that you knew it had nothing directly to do with anyone or anything inside your own house. Yet, because election nights are the threads that run through every American house, whether they’re invited in or not, that wrung-out and confusing morning-after fog lingered for the rest of the day, and into the remainder of that November week.
But it is not November now - it’s still early February. Because, for the first time, so many primaries were held on a single day, and because the interest in, and news coverage of, the primary campaigns has been so intense, it does, for a moment, feel that Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, with Christmas within view. The classic day-after-Election-Day sensation: part spent excitement, part amorphous emptiness, mostly the concession that something that had been with you for a very long time was suddenly past tense.
There’s a hint of that feeling in the air today - but of course it’s like the towering white wall on the salt flats, the wall that moves away just as you think you are about to reach it. Nine months lie ahead before the real November arrives - nine months until the wall becomes literal. The end suddenly feels like a beginning.
Bob Greene is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.