Presidential Race — Great Reality TV

Aug 9, 2015 by

In 15 months we will choose our next president and most political pundits thought they had it all figured out. Many expected it to be a match of the political titans and a rematch of political dynasties. A Bush-Clinton matchup seemed inevitable. At least that’s what the talking heads told us.

But in any good reality show there are always plenty of twists and turns. On the Republican side, candidates just kept throwing their hats in the ring until we got to the 17 candidates now vying for the nomination. Instead of decreasing the number of candidates from the previous election spectacle, the field grew even larger, creating a logistical nightmare — especially for debate organizers.

Candidates with credible political resumes find themselves falling into several tiers based on early poll numbers. The field includes U.S. senators — Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz — and a former senator, Rick Santorum. It includes governors — Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal — and former governors, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.

The other candidates never held elected office. Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett Packard and Dr. Ben Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon. But it’s the final candidate — Donald Trump — who’s shaking up the Republican primary.

Despite an awkward, rambling, disjointed campaign announcement, Trump struck a chord with a surprising number of primary voters. I must admit, I found it amusing and at times painful to watch. I wasn’t alone.

Trump’s undisciplined rhetoric was quickly dissected by many in the news media. What many of us considered to be political mistakes, verbal gaffes and unforced errors turned out to be the kind of politically incorrect message that Republican voters craved. Trump was on to something. When questioned or criticized, he unapologetically doubled downed on Trump-speak.

After calling Mexicans crossing into the United States rapists — no apology. After saying U.S. Sen. John McCain was a war hero only because he was captured –no apology. He even offered the cringe-worthy comment that he liked people who weren’t captured. Other Republican candidates started calling him out on his inappropriate statements. He retaliated with very personal attacks. His supporters cheered.

The pundits continued to predict doom for a Trump candidacy and pointed out its farcical nature. Decorum, tact or diplomacy was unwelcome in Trump-world. Instead of disqualifying him, his brash statements and scrappy fighting endeared him to a growing number of voters.

Talking heads were having a hard time making sense of it. Trump masterfully dominated the news media while simultaneously trashing it. He appealed to a portion of the party that has disdain for the “mainstream media,” doesn’t trust the establishment and abhors political correctness.

Trump hasn’t taken many policy positions and hasn’t stuck with the ones he has. After visiting the border town of Laredo, Texas, he now believes only a partial wall is necessary. His popularity is based more on his persona than his positions, more on his celebrity than his experience, more on his wealth and success than his political knowledge.

Republicans gravitating toward Trump like his bluntness, his feistiness, his oversized ego, his refusal to back down, and his willingness to call people names and pick a fight. They love when he attacks the president and Hillary Clinton but they also love him when he attacks establishment Republicans. They think he’s authentic and — despite being a billionaire — one of them.

I’m not sure those are qualities I look for in a president but he certainly tapped into Republican anger. Trump is at the top of the polls. His average in the three most recent polls — Fox, Bloomberg and CBS — is 24 percent of the Republican vote. Jeb is next with 13 percent.

Isn’t the same happening on the Democratic side? U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was summarily dismissed by the media, is striking a chord with similarly disaffected voters on the left. Sanders, who was expected to garner single-digit poll numbers and pose no threat to Hillary, has raised tens of millions of dollars, has attracted more attendees than any candidate in either party and is polling at 22 percent. Democratic voters cite his authenticity and bluntness but focus on his policies rather than his personality.

Watching the news media bob and weave is almost as entertaining as watching the candidates. And we’ve seen some pretty good stuff — Trump’s escalator descent, Trump’s self-described life-threatening trip to the border, Rand Paul’s taking a power saw to the tax code, Lindsey Graham’s obliterating a cell phone and, of course, Ted Cruz cooking bacon on a machine gun.

Will Trump continue to dominate? Will someone break out of the pack? Remember this time last election we were looking at President Herman Cain. There’s still a lot to come, so sit back and enjoy the show.



All columns are (c) Paula Dockery | No reprint rights to whole columns are ever granted without express permission. | To syndicate Paula Dockery's columns please write to PBDockery@gmail.com