Let’s face it, stories are better than reality – the characters are bigger and broader, the events are epic, the consequences stupendous and there is ACTION. Reality is often tedious, hard work, and just not so shiny. Thus as we retell events of our own lives we “embellish” in classic “fish story” style. Thus the Jerry Springer Show encourages real-life personal conflict to become cartoonishly violent. “Reality TV” is anything but real with contrived situations and producers egging the on camera people to do things that are interesting, but that is about it.
Someone once said to me that “people run for president of the United States for a lot of reasons, and many of them have little to do with the reality of becoming POTUS.” Those are wise words. In the old days the other reasons had mostly to do with making sure certain issues, or views on issues, were represented – or that a particular state or region got noticed. In the modern age; however, those other reasons are mostly about media. There are rumors that one of the current “candidates” is required to run by virtue of a media contract of some sort. Certainly Mike Huckabee has demonstrated that a failed run at the nomination can be turned into a pretty decent media career. Pat Robertson has demonstrated that there is a feedback loop between a run and media success. These kinds of media successes, based on runs at the nomination, are likely to lead to more and more people walking, more and more purposefully, the same path to a media career.
This phenomena, because of the unspoken alliance between the MSM and the Democrat party, has not hit the Dems with near the force that it has the Republicans, but it likely will at some point. In the meantime within the Republican party it is moving from oddity to problem. The problem is exacerbated by a left-leaning MSM willing to fan the flames for two reasons. For one, “candidates” that play for media are more than willing to make of themselves bigger and broader characters. They simply make better copy because copy is precisely what they are after. Secondly, of course, as some people fall for the “candidacies,” the divisions created within the Republican party, even if only temporary, weaken the coalition (a repair is never as strong as the original structure) giving a boost to their unspoken allies in the Democrat party.
This trend also results in people in the party looking for “star power” when they should be looking at governing ability. I certainly think that tendency, along with a healthy dose of anti-Mormon sentiment, drove many of those that backed Huckabee last time and urged him to run again this time. Such people, now that Huckabee has made it clear he will not run seem to be casting about for their next “star” and this entire phenomena was almost transparent in the coverage of the Republican field this week past.
So Who’s Playing For Media?
Well, let’s cast about a bit. Despite the fact that the experts think the field is more or less set, many are agitating for “surprises.“ The field is not nearly as “weak” as the MSM wants us to think.
Nobody draws more press faster than Sarah Palin, and she stuck out like a sore thumb this week. She has a movie coming out and is starting a bus tour – which most sane people would read as a promotional thing for the movie – you know like recording artists touring after an album release. But no, particularly in Evangelical circles, people got all weak in the knees swooning over the possibilities. But people that watch politics and not media, note that she simply is not doing the things a person that is seriously running for president would do. Does that mean she will not run? Not necessarily, but it does indicate that if she does it is not to win – it is for some other reason.
Relatedly, and interestingly, were the Palin/Bachmann comparisons. This is the same sort of non-serious analysis as we see with the Romney/Huntsman comparisons. Aside from gender, what really connects these two? There is more than in the Romney/Huntsman deal, but not much. They both appeal to a certain constituency, but even that is a sub-set of a sub-set and not likely to make a big difference. Bachmann is doing some things that look like she is somewhat serious, but not doing well at them. Bachmann may be playing this more seriously than Palin, but I still see her as a media candidate.
Texas Governor Rick Perry was urged and cajoled to reconsider running this week. I think Perry is the “Star Search” guy. Those that are looking for a star lost Huckabee – Christie gave them a flat “NO” and so now they return to Perry. It’s flattering when people urge you to run, and when the press asks you if you’re going to run. There is a tendency not to say a flat “no” because you want the flattery to continue. Perry is a serious guy, if he ran he would run for serious reasons, not media, but in this case he is a media candidate becasue the media is driving the rumors, not him.
Rudy Giuliani may be the best mayor in NYC history. He was pitch perfect as the mayor on 9-11 and in its aftermath. But he is also one of the most disgraced, by virtue of a practical “no show” when the actual balloting began in the last primaries, as a presidential candidate. He simply cannot be serious about running. And yet, we are treated to story and story after story after story. What’s up? We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again, he still has debts from the last campaign and he needs to raise money to pay them off – it’s as simple as that. He has to keep his brand alive so that he can keep the cash flowing to some extent.
Oh yeah, and maybe Iowa counts in this category too.
Straddling the Fence
Some candidate try to have it both ways when it comes to being serious and playing for media, or something else. Newt Gingrich seems to fit in that category. He is a serious guy, but so far his efforts have been some comical, not to mention he is so divisive, that he does not really stand a chance. Newt has a major commentary/think tank operation to support. He is trying to look serious, but my guess is he is working to improve his image to support the operation.
Rick Santorum, making it formal this week, is a traditional “representing a specific constituency” candidate. He is a good guy and serious about his issues and stances, but the constituency he represents simply is not big enough to carry the day. He will do a good job, however, of making sure the voice of that constituency is well heard and plays an important role in the convention and platform.
Who’s Playing For Real?
Two names are the absolute real deal and one seems to be a for real candidate even if, in the opinion of this observer, is doomed for failure.
Certainly playing for real is Tim Pawlenty. Last week represented the first week of his “official” campaigning. He called himself a “truth teller” and set about by appearing in important places and, essentially, telling them the bad news. Some called it “pitch perfect.” However, he drew some attacks and there was a bit of buzz about his apparent lack of charisma. I think the “truth teller” thing’s appeal is limited. The base wants it – but the vast majority of the American people do not – they want entitlements and small government too. It’s schizophrenic, I know, but it really does seem to be what most people want and expect. It also means a politician has to thread a needle. In Pawlenty’s case, I think the turn towards the center that he would inevitably have to make will, with this approach, be too drastic and torpedo his chances.
Also playing for sure and for certain is Mitt Romney. He will make it official June 2, in New Hampshire. This lead to renewed speculation about his Iowa strategy. But if you want to know why he is announcing in New Hampshire, look no further than his polling numbers there. Most analysis is that he is the guy to beat. Even those that are not “in love” with him are starting to turn towards him. There is no surer sign of his strength; however, than the fact that he is being targeted by the left and attacked from the left-center.
At the moment, the primary that is is between Romney and Pawlenty, but that can change. Gingrich has the ability to turn his candidacy from the farce it has been to the real deal if he applies himself. Likewise, Jon Huntsman is playing for real and can be impactful if he plays smart. His wife is on board. Some think he is taking the “Daniels spot,” but given that he is setting up shop in Florida, I wonder if he is taking up the Giuliani spot from last time? Although I have no idea why he would as that strategy is a proven loser. He is very much to the center, maybe even left, of the center-right grouping which definitely puts him in the Giuliani slot.
But most telling for everybody are the continued, albeit lazy, Romney comparisons. Which brings us to…
The Whole Mormon Thing
Some are still asking The Question about Romney. They are asking it derisively about Huntsman. Huntsman is trying to have it both ways, and I really believe that will, in the end, hurt him severely. There is even some very slanted “historical” analysis, and analysis of the political activity of the LDS church.
But the tide actually seems to be turning. There are pagans pointing out the absurdity of religiously biased voting. The most left-leaning paper in the English language defends Mormonism as one of many religions in the wake of the Broadway show. And the Southern Baptists are becoming less predictable than they once were. Some are even beginning to see the synergy of faith-based public services in an age of smaller government.
That said, there was one outrageous article published in the week past, but we will leave that for another post.