The run up to the 2016 Presidential Race has, thus far, been a perplexing and troubling portrait of the political climate in the United States. With a lineup akin to the cast of The Bachelor, this primary season, more than any other, has been a reality TV/carnival side show mashup. Powered by an inexplicable “us versus them” mentality, on the “right” we are presented with a seemingly endless supply of firebrand personalities, each uniquely unhinged in a new and frightening way.
Looking at the candidates for the Republican nomination for President is like sifting through the broken and discarded fragments of reject crayons in a pre-K arts and crafts classroom. Sure, there appear to be a few bright and shining colors lurking amongst the rancid baby food greens and doodoo browns, but on closer inspection even these turn out to be nothing more than useless stubs of tapioca mauve hiding inside a day glow cyan wrapper. (Not that it matters because recent budget cuts mean the arts and crafts room is about to get downsized to a rolling cart and there won’t be any room for crayons.)
Take Dr. Ben Carson, for example. Here is a man who has clearly worked incredibly hard and achieved great heights in his career, he is recognized as a leader in his chosen field of pediatric neurosurgery and has found success as an author and motivational speaker as well. But while Dr. Carson seems to shine in the spotlight of a post-surgical press conference for a ground-breaking medical procedure, he appears to be a mumbling and confused Ambien® zombie on the debate stage. When confronted on the campaign trail with questions about the obvious and unnecessary embellishments and outright falsehoods of his youth and personal history, which he has published in several iterations over many years, he is unwilling to recognize that they represent real and worrying concern about his character and reliability. He refuses to even acknowledge that the stories are falsehoods, stoking the fires of distrust in the “liberal media” rather than consider the obvious excuse of polishing a half-truth to drive book sales.
Standing next to Carson are Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich,
and Jeb! Bush. These are hardly the best and brightest of the Republican Party and not a single one of them has found a moment in which to shine during the long and exhausting primary campaign. To make matters worse, this class of candidates seems to be challenged by advisors even less brilliant than the candidates themselves. Ted Cruz, who can’t seem to not look like an absent father in front of the press, either hasn’t heard his press secretary’s advice to not force himself on his daughter or simply doesn’t recognize that the teenager can’t stand him. Marco Rubio, who may or may not be a Vine loop when on stage, hasn’t managed to produce a coherent argument in front of a microphone since his nerves got the better of him in 2013. John Kasich isn’t getting equal media attention relative to the other candidates, which is genuinely unfortunate because while he doesn’t seem to be able to articulate any wellformed policy positions he is the only Republican candidate calling for a campaign devoid of low budget, tabloid talk show histrionics. And Jeb! Bush, the last of the professional politicians in the lineup, has yet to present himself as the legacy candidate he’s been lauded as. Jeb! may not like the dynastic label he wears, but so far his national primary campaign has missed every opportunity to paint a picture of an articulate and thoughtful candidate aware of policy positions, situational histories, or even constitutional precedents. Update: Jeb! dropped out of the race last night.
And, of course, then there’s Donald Trump.
Leading the field on the “right” is the billionaire realestate mogul with an ego the size of Manhattan and a combover so over-engineered it has its own branch of physics. Trump is a novel candidate. He’s not a career politician and has spent his entire life surrounded by yes-men. Because of this he’s gleefully unaware of the ideas that actions, including poorly considered verbal utterances, have consequences or that one cannot simply wave away the objections of other people. Trump’s campaign strategy thus far seems to revolve more around balancing the news cycle with outrageous statements between debate appearances and explaining to debate moderators why his supporters love him than it does with auditioning to be the “Leader of the Free World” or “Making America Great Again™.”
Trump’s mere involvement in this primary season is as close as I’ve ever come to genuinely believing a national candidate is actually a performance artist diligently working to create a frightening tableau vivant of the divisive state of our national political landscape. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of everyone who said not to worry about Trump because he’d drop out of the race before the first debate, Donald Trump is very real and very really leads the polls among Republican primary voters. That this man is in the running for the Presidency of the United States should be terrifying to anyone even tangentially connected to US international policy decisions—which, by the way, is everyone.
What’s unfortunate about the Republican candidate pool is that it reflects a wanton disregard among the population for the intricacies of national and international policy. The casual ease with which these candidates place the blame for any number of issues on some outside influence or group is vaguely reminiscent of the sort of generalized xenophobia behind Japanese internment in the 1930s. It’s always China or Islam or the French or teachers or “takers” or blacks or rap music or abortions or Mexicans or liberals, etc etc, responsible for “ruining the country.” It’s never their fault. Even when their reprehensible and abhorrent rhetoric encourages and supports the efforts of domestic terrorists, vocal conservative leaders and Republicans in office effortlessly shrug off any responsibility for their statements in front of their adoring constituents. They are never to blame if anything bad happens. It’s always because of someone else.
Now, I recognize that my criticisms here are indistinct and seemly cosmetic: I haven’t highlighted nor addressed any of the serious problems with these specific campaigns, policy positions, or track records/histories. But, honestly, the reason for glossing over this stuff is that I genuinely do not view any of these men as serious candidates. I can’t, because they aren’t. As successful as the professional politicians of the group have been at finding support from a fanboy constituency practically foaming at the mouth with unjustified rage at minorities, women, the LGBT community, consumer market regulation, environmentalists, and “the Islamists,” they do not make sense as candidates for executive office. Likewise with the two “outsiders” currently in the running, I do not understand why or how anyone with a passing grade in high school US Government or even the most tenuous grasp of current affairs (domestic and/or international) can look at these men and get excited about what they would mean for the country.
And that’s the real problem with the Republican party, they’re just not serious anymore. Say it’s because of the Tea Party or “grass roots conservatism,” say whatever you want, the reality remains the same: Republican politicians are more concerned with celebrity and “winning the news cycle” than the actual realities of government. Take, for example, Senate Majority Leader, and part-time Dana Carvey character, Mitch McConnell’s assertion that the recently vacated seat on the Supreme Court be left for the next President to fill and his personal guarantee that any such nominations from the Obama Administration will be held up by the Senate confirmation process only moments after the US Marshals confirmed Justice Scalia was dead. In addition to being drastically insensitive to the occasion and a flippant disregard for Scalia’s judicial prerogative of strict constitutional “originalism,” this is the very position he advocated against—calling it “advise and obstruct”—in 2005 when he defended the sitting President’s right to nominate judges. This is not good government, it’s amateur hour at the Apollo. But political memory, much like political honesty, is short-lived in modern society… as short-lived as the 24 hour cable news cycle.
The United States’ political landscape has become too much of a game which too often leaves the country in a bad and embarrassing position. Can you think of any other developed nation, aside from Greece, whose annual budget approvals have been used as political ransom notes and taken to such heights of brinksmanship that those countries’ national governments shut down? The legislature has fallen prey to radio shock jocks and fear mongers working tirelessly to rile traditional, establishment “conservatives” into a mindless and aggressive vocal minority and has lost the ability to function through the deliberate paralysis of its most basic mechanisms. Votes aren’t called on the Senate floor anymore but for the certainty of “filibuster-proof” 60 vote majorities; experts called to testify before committees are forced to waste time responding to ridiculous questions from committee members who ask staffers only to provide them support for their dogmatic preconceived conclusions; elected officials and their political parties have sued the other branches of government to circumvent the interwoven system of checks and balances. But I digress…
The Republican party has suffered several difficult years recently and has, since 2008, been fighting tooth and nail to stake out a moral certitude around traditional “values.” It’s just that no one knows what those values are or where they came from, or why they keep changing. Gingrich-era Republicans of the “Moral Majority” surely would not recognize their party today for the consequences of their own actions in the 90s. From internal turmoil surrounding the very heart and soul of the party to reactions to external pressures and world events, the GOP is in the midst of a slow and violent nervous breakdown right now, which has prevented fielding any good candidates for the Presidential nomination. Unfortunately for us all, the resulting candidates are a mockery of democratic government, its people, and the United States’ position on the world stage.
At least Sarah Palin isn’t running.