“Politics is show business for ugly people.”
Normally, the silly season of politics does not come into bloom until mid-Summer, when the frenzy of the also-rans turns into desperate pleas for voter recognition, the most ridiculous of accusations and promises made that have neither the practicality or in some cases the credulity of being made good.
But the 2016 presidential race has been an entertaining show from the start, akin to a bus full of clowns heading downhill. And who is at the wheel but Donald Trump, a self-promoting billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV show success. Despite spending less of his own money in the past 6 months than Jeb Bush spends in a week, he has stayed atop the polls as the Republican candidate, despite an increasing level of pomposity that hasn’t been seen before.
Donald Trump is the P.T. Barnum of US politics. And he is exactly who the Republican Party deserves.
And that’s a problem that the Party leaders don’t want to admit and haven’t figured out how to solve. And neither have the other candidates. Trump’s rise and success can be attributed to a perfect storm of societal changes:
The Republican Party Base[ment]
Over the past few decades the traditional, conservative values of the “Regan Republican” base have been subjugated to a constituency whose fervent belief in All Things Republican has served to give strength to an undercurrent of bigoted, homophobic, racist ideals. Rather than being a party of conservative ideals and Christian fundamentals, the Trump candidacy has thrown the covers off the hypocrisy of a party that is no longer respectful and accepting of individuals regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. The new majority openly flaunt their selfishness, bigotry, racist and homophobic beliefs because they can. They have provided the funds, votes, and direction, while the Party puts on a face that that so many lemmings have found comforting despite clear evidence of the contrary. As a Party, the GOP have to solve for how to effectively distance themselves from Trump without losing the base they need to have any hope of winning the presidency.
The Unrealistic Reality of Reality TV
While I’m not a Reality TV junkie, I do on occasion enjoy watching the life as lived by people who go through their day with a film crew and produces piping in the most dramatic of scenarios for them to deal with. As a society however, we’ve lost sight of the fact that there are sometimes real consequences to our decisions, consequences that can’t be solved after a commercial break or with a heartfelt monologue. This is compounded by the fact that we’re still a youthful nation that has successfully grown to the size and stature that we have because of our self-reliance, our willingness to take risks, and our lack of long-term planning. We are a “why not” society, with a “Watch what happens next!” culture. And the fact that most (all) of the candidates, their campaigns, and the debates seem to be straight out of Reality TV 101 doesn’t help either. And so the collective thought seems to be, why not have Donald J. Trump as President? Worse case, it’s only four years, right? How bad can it be? No worse than [fill in the blank]! Combine that with a masterful manipulator of the public and media, and you have a juggernaut of a candidate whose every action is preplanned to stock the base, frustrate opponents, and leverage the media to dominate airtime without spending a dime.
So do I think Trump will be the Republican Party nominee? Barring a bloody battle on the convention floor and in the back rooms, yes, absolutely. Do I think Trump will be our next President? Of course not. I think he will be trounced by the Democratic nominee (likely Hillary Clinton) or a 3rd-party candidate likely to present themselves should he win the Republican nomination. But it will be yet another defeat for a Republican Party that has to face that fact that they have lost their way and will need to clean house in order to have any hopes of ever having a candidate reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in our lifetime.