While the contest for the presidency should focus on the candidates' qualifications to run the world's most powerful nation, the current one instead is getting bogged down on personal behavior and trustworthiness.
Donald Trump's business record finally has come under sharper scrutiny from the news media. Simultaneously, Hillary Clinton's handling of classified material while heading the State Department is under ever deeper investigation by the government.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump, Ms. Clinton and their strategists have largely joined the pivot away from substantive policy discussions, effectively shunting the public's attention to the question of which of them is least qualified and least trustworthy.
Sleuths at The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Politico and other newsrooms are reporting at considerable length on Mr. Trump's involvement in Trump University, his real-estate trade school facing litigation from disgruntled former students. Reporters are checking into other Trump business enterprises, as well as into his alleged charitable donations to veterans groups and the like.
Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton's personal actions as secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first term at last are the subject of a just released State Department Inspector General's report, giving new life to the saga of her handling of classified material.
The report just sent to Congress says she never sought permission to use a private email server to conduct government business and that, had she done so, it would have been declined. She repeatedly has said it was a mistake to so use the server, and her prime Democratic foe for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, said in their first debate that he had heard "enough about the damned emails," but the issues lives on.
The inspector general's report says Ms. Clinton "had an obligation to discuss using a personal email account to conduct official business with officials responsible for (handling) records and security" and they found "no evidence" that she had done so.
Both presidential campaigns have plunged into the political fray. Mr. Trump's first response, on "Fox & Friends," was, "(F)rankly, she shouldn't even be allowed to run for president."
A paid principal Clinton advocate, David Brock, head of Correct the Record, a campaign monitor of all news-media attacks on her, predictably observed, "All of this has been a political hit job from the beginning."
Mr. Brock is eminently qualified to say so. A former conservative hit man who did a smear job on Anita Hill after the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, he somehow found religion and became a pro-Clinton apologist. He pledged his group "will do as we have from the beginning: preempt, debunk and push back on these partisan lies."
A pro-Trump advocate, David Bossie of Citizens United, the group that won Supreme Court approval of unlimited campaign contributions, further opening the gates to super PACs, commended the inspector general's report.
He said it was taking Hillary Clinton "off her message and making her have to answer questions related to these issues that she doesn't want to talk about. That's called winning, if you're Donald Trump."
Thus has the 2016 presidential campaign already been reduced to negative gun-slinging exchanges, in keeping with a growing consensus that the prime issue may be which of the prospective nominees is disliked the least, and which is the least unqualified. It's a hell of a commentary on the state of our politics, and of the American electorate today.
In such a campaign, Mr. Trump apparently is counting on the public mood of disaffection from organized politics to carry the day for him. Ms. Clinton in turn hopes that her dogged commitment to activist government and work ethic will somehow win out.
When all is said and done, it must be hoped that by November American voters will realize they have the civic responsibility of rejecting a bloviating entertainer in favor of an experienced political leader who knows what being president is all about. Even if she is only, in Barack Obama's stinging phrase in that 2008 debate, "likable enough."
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is email@example.com.