"Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help?" -- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
While trying to explain the 2016 presidential election to my 12-year-old, Harry Potter obsessed daughter, it occurred to me that the only really good way to fully explain each of the candidates was with the Mirror of Erised, a magical mirror with impressive powers.
As Dumbledore explains to Harry and Ron:
"It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible."
And to a large extent, we can actually get a pretty good idea of what each of the presidential candidates would 'see' if they were to look into the mirror.
Jill Stein would look into the mirror and see a race where she achieved the almost impossible task of having ballot access in all 50 states. Currently, she's on the ballot in 23 states, plus D.C., with 8 more pending review, and two states with 'write-in' ballot access status -- bringing the total number of states to 33 assuming all of the petition reviews come back positive.
She has to be given credit, she's made huge inroads gaining ballot access, but that's not quite the same thing as campaigning -- and it's going to hurt her overall chances in the long run.
Gary Johnson would look into the mirror and see himself as Abraham Lincoln winning the 1860 election.
Plurality is the name of the game for Johnson, and he knows that any shot of winning will come from a badly chopped-up electorate -- where the two major parties have created so much collateral damage to themselves that the defections to his and Stein's camps create a four-way race with a popular vote winner with less than 40-percent of the total vote.
It would be more on the delusional side, however, if he looked into the mirror and saw the House of Representatives crowning him as president after no one reached the magical 270 electoral votes. Even as fractured as the Congress is, it's highly unlikely for the states to cast their one vote for an outsider.
Hillary Clinton, taking her turn with the mirror, would see her pet-projects being enacted to law.
There's simply no doubt that both Hillary and Bill Clinton have devoted their entire political careers to projects they care about -- often ones with a severely fractured and sharp dissent from their own party as well as outsiders.
But there's a drawback to this as well.
Clinton is simply not a great campaigner; she has a difficult time explaining on the campaign trail her ideas in a way that those outside the 'party faithful' are willing to jump in and support. While Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had a decent grasp on convincing swing voters on the campaign trail, Hillary's 'eye on the prize' is simply not as strong -- even with strongly developed policies and ideas.
Finally, there's Donald Trump and he's the easiest to predict what he'd see if he gazed into the mirror . . . WINNING!
He wouldn't see winning by a squeaker in the mirror, he'd see a crushing victory, a Ulysses S Grant-style blowout that would make his opponents pout themselves to death.
And to a large degree, that's Trump in a nutshell. Love him or hate him, he's a winner (at least personally) when it comes to business, and win at all costs will be his objective.
But just as Trump's view into the mirror is easiest to predict, the challenges and shortcomings of this are also just as easy -- he's not doing enough to prepare for what it will take to lead after winning.
His brash style gets him an almost limitless amount of free press coverage, but will 'style' be enough to convince people to vote for him?
As one Facebook politico so eloquently stated, 'I am seeing reasoned attacks on Hillary, and reasoned attacks on Trump, and reasoned defenses of Hillary, but almost no reasoned defenses of Trump.'
And this is a real problem the Republicans are going to face, both in the presidential race and down ballot -- how do we convince voters that we really do have a plan?
It's really sad that a pop-culture book can basically sum up the entire 2016 presidential election, just by examining what appears to be the 'most desperate desire' in each candidate's heart.
But in reality, most elections can be summed up this way.
Once we get past the straw-man liberal and tin-man conservative rhetoric, we're left with people with ideas. Some may profoundly impact one group more than another's, but at the root of American politics is still the desire to advance our nation.
But just like in Harry Potter, the candidates must eventually quit looking into the mirror, and really get into the mode of looking at the electorate and seeing what needs to be done for Americans.
Because in the end, nobody wants a candidate that sits in front of a mirror all day long.