The Proper Victorian Gent And The Donald

In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe depicted the news media as a kind of prissy, proper Victorian gent, applying notions of marriage and conduct to the Mercury astronauts and their families that were outmoded even back in the early ’60s.  As a result, to win the public relations battle, the astronauts and their wives had to relentlessly portray themselves as examples of prim domestic perfection.

victorian-vest-1I thought of Wolfe’s notion of the press as the proper Victorian gent recently as I was reading coverage of the Republican presidential campaign.  The media pundits were reacting with horror at the tone of the Republican candidates, accusing them of falling to the level of schoolyard taunting and insults and — amazingly — being more critical of Marco Rubio than of Donald Trump, whose insults and willing embrace of crassness started the candidates down that road in the first place.  It is as if the press expects, tolerates, and perhaps even celebrates that kind of behavior from Trump — boy, he sure is a rebel who is breaking all of the rules for presidential candidates, isn’t he? — but can’t abide it when other candidates meet fire with fire.  Those other candidates are presented as somehow having lost their cool or taken the campaign to the gutter.

Of course, the press is really the reason why the other candidates have resorted to mocking Trump and trying to do so in ways that will attract media attention. The media is so infatuated with Trump, and the coverage is so lopsided, that the other candidates are starved for attention.  On the night Chris Christie endorsed Trump, I turned on CNN and it was carrying a Trump rally, live, as he sprayed water from a water bottle while belittling Rubio.  Other campaigns need to buy air time to get their message out to that kind of audience, but because of Trump’s antics he gets that kind of publicity for free.  Can anyone legitimately blame the other candidates if they try to respond in kind in hopes of attracting a bit more coverage?  In Marco Rubio’s case, his willingness to hurl a few insults back at Trump seems to have worked and attracted more press attention.  And while Trump won the lion’s share of contests yesterday, his opponents won some, too, and it looks like races were closer because the other candidates finally may be starting to break through the media wall around the Donald.

Of course, I would prefer that political candidates maintain a civil discourse and engage in a spirited, but elevated, discussion of the issues.  With Trump in the race, though, such hopes have long since been dashed, and it is senseless to try to hold other candidates to lofty standards when Trump is breaking all the rules and being effectively rewarded for it.  With the media perfectly willing to cover every outrageous incident of Trumpish behavior, rather than digging into and exposing Trump’s past, the only hope for voters who want to learn about Trump’s record will be the other Republican candidates — and if they need to throw in a regrettable bit of coarseness to get the media’s attention while they do so, I’m not going to wring my hands and bemoan the lack of propriety.  This is a case where the proper Victorian gents of the news media have only themselves to blame.

The Kasich Lane

In the most recent Republican presidential debate in Iowa, Ohio Governor John Kasich commented that the path to nomination had an establishment lane, an anti-establishment lane, and the “Kasich lane.”  It was a bold statement from a candidate who is but a blip in the Iowa polls, and Kasich was immediately mocked in some quarters with tweets about the “Kasich lane” that featured vehicles on fire and overturned cars.

plymouth-town-hall-9-360x276Kasich’s quest for the presidency is a quixotic one, and he’s not been afraid to follow his own, unique approach to trying to win the nomination.  This past weekend, while all of his fellow Republican candidates were in Iowa, the Ohio governor was in New Hampshire, holding still more town hall events.   He’s clearly staking his campaign on a good showing in the Granite State.  And where other Republicans treat the New York Times like an abhorrent, unclean thing, he was happy to get that newspaper’s Republican endorsement — even if the endorsement first castigated the other candidates for the Republican nomination and then described Governor Kasich as “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”

During the campaign, Governor Kasich hasn’t been afraid to say things that are, well, different from what you normally hear during Republican primaries, where candidates typically want to present themselves as tough and resolute.  He’s described himself as the “Prince of Light and Hope.”  He admitted recently that, in his hotel room, he thought about the endorsements he has received and cried, because “It’s amazing to come from where I came from and have these wonderful things said about me.”

In the Republican debates, he’s been the guy at one far end of the stage, not getting a lot of air time and giving answers that always seem to refer to his production of a balanced budget when he was chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee.  Unlike other candidates, his debate answers seem to be completely unscripted — so much so that some people have joked that when he gets a question, it’s time to take a bathroom break.

It’s impossible to know at this point how Governor Kasich will fare with New Hampshire voters, but you have to give him props for charting, and sticking to, his own course — whether you call it the “Kasich lane” or not.  It’s a pretty unconventional approach to winning the nomination of a party that usually seems to relish the conventional.

Graham Scram

Lindsay Graham has announced that he is suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016.

It’s kind of a sad thing, when you think about it.  Graham has been a Senator for years, and he was somebody who seemed to have a nose for getting his face in the press.  He was featured regularly on the morning news shows and Sunday morning shows, and he tried to stake out a niche in the crowded Republican field as the guy who was tough on terrorism and hawkish on foreign policy but also willing to be bipartisan at times.

lindsey-graham2Unfortunately for Graham, his pitch just didn’t work.  He never made it to the stage with the big boy frontrunners in the Republican debates — although some observers said he won some of those undercard debates that almost nobody watched — and he never really registered as more than a blip in the polls.  Now his campaign is on the scrap heap, along with those of Rick Perry and Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal.

You could poke fun at Lindsay Graham, I suppose, and question his ego, and wonder why he ever thought he could possibly be elected President in the first place.  But sometimes politicians have an itch that they just need to scratch.  Graham obviously thought that his particular combination of message and personality and positions might strike a chord with the country as a whole.  He was wrong.

So let’s not make too much fun of Senator Graham.  Somebody’s got to want to be President, or our system wouldn’t work.  He took a stab at it, at least, and he fell short.  Now somebody else will be the nominee.

A few more departures of candidates, and we’ll be able to fit all of the Republican candidates on one stage, just in time for the first caucuses and primaries that are scheduled for the first months of 2016.

Batten down the hatches, folks — the campaign is about to start in earnest.

The Republican Campaign Rolls Into The Buckeye State

On March 6, the Ohio Republican primary will be held.  Today, when I was driving to and from Cleveland — more on that later — I heard the first radio ads of the primary season, which means that the vote cannot be far away.

Today a Rasmussen poll reported that Rick Santorum has a big edge over Mitt Romney among Ohio voters.  I don’t question the mechanics of the poll, but I suspect it means very little.  Santorum was the Senator from neighboring Pennsylvania for years, but I think very few people know much else about him.  Those who say they currently support him, I would wager, are expressing support that is probably not much more than skin deep and largely a reflection of their lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.

I’ve not heard anyone in Ohio talking about the Republican candidates in any kind of significant way.  There have been jokes about the peccadilloes and blunders of candidates who have since withdrawn, and some water cooler chatter about the seemingly endless debates, but very little discussion about the candidates’ respective substantive positions or other attributes.

That probably makes Ohio fertile ground for aggressive TV and radio campaigns and the kind of “negative advertising” that everyone bemoans — but that has been proven, repeatedly, to be effective.  In Ohio, the Republican candidates largely remain blank sheets of paper.  What will that paper look like when March 6 finally comes?  Over the next few weeks, I’ll report on what I see and hear in that regard.

The Race Rolls On, And The Big Issues Linger

The Republican presidential primaries, already seemingly endless, roll on.  With Newt Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina, the race is in disarray.  Gingrich is on the rise, Mitt Romney’s shield of inevitability has been dented, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are hanging on.

The focus now moves to Florida.  As has come to be the pattern, that means another debate tonight (No!!!!!!), lots more negative ads, and probably some new revelations before Florida goes to the polls on January 31.  We’ll hear lots of buzz words and scripted retorts and talking points, but what we probably won’t hear is much substantive talk about exactly how the remaining contenders are going to tackle the budget deficit.

You can argue about how we select a President in our country, and whether beginning with states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina makes any sense.  The early primary voters never seem to share my perspective on the big issues of the day, but perhaps that is just a reminder that ours is a large and diverse land where people have many different views.  In Iowa, social issues always seem to take center stage.  In South Carolina, the votes for Gingrich seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by anger — anger at the news media, and anger at President Obama — and a desire to select a candidate who, the voters believe, will cut the President to ribbons in debates.

Social issues just aren’t on my radar screen, I’m not mad at the news media, and scoring debating points with glib jabs at the President isn’t important to me.  Instead, I just want to hear how specifics about the candidates will cut our spending, balance our budget, resolve our debt issues, and get our economy growing again.  Those are the issues that are most important to me and, I think, most important to our country.  Maybe — just maybe — some Floridians share that view.

Newtered

Today South Carolina Republicans vote in their state’s presidential primary.  Polls indicate it is a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich apparently has been given a boost by the most recent Republican candidates debate.  Gingrich was asked about the recent comments of his ex-wife, who said he asked that she agree to an “open marriage” in which he could have both a wife and a mistress.  In response, Gingrich lashed out at the questioner and the media, generally, for focusing on irrelevancies and making the first question in a presidential debate one about his long-ago personal affairs.  The audience of Republicans, who apparently hate the media with every fiber of their beings, ate it up and gave Gingrich a standing ovation.

I don’t care about Gingrich’s past personal behavior — but I also don’t see why his set-piece smackdown of a question about it is such a great thing.  Some rock-ribbed conservatives seem to despise the media and love to see them publicly criticized for any reason; I don’t share that view.

To me, the little diatribe was an obvious, planned bit of political theater, and the fact that Gingrich palled around with the questioner after the debate just confirms it.  Gingrich has deep roots and connections in the Washington social milieu of politicians, lobbyists, reporters, and consultants.  When he gave his little angry performance, his inside-the-Beltway buddies no doubt leaned back, nodded to each other, and agreed that Gingrich was just doing the necessary political thing, knowing the rubes would eat it up — and they did.

Gingrich’s debate diatribe may well win South Carolina for him, but I think his performance really exposes him as just another calculated politician.

Huntsman Off The Trail

Today, Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for President and endorsed Mitt Romney.  It’s not exactly an earth-shaking development.

Huntsman was remarkable mostly because he was the only Republican in the field who really never had his moment in the limelight.  In a year when many Republicans seem to be looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney, no one really ever looked Huntsman’s way.  He never made an impact in the debates, he never caught fire in the opinion polls, and he therefore never had the chance to crash and burn like other candidates in the field.  After spending lots of time and money in New Hampshire, he finished a limp third.  No wonder he decided to toss in the towel.

I doubt if Huntman’s endorsement of Mitt Romney will influence many voters.  The main impact of Huntsman’s departure will be to eliminate another podium and another suit from the stage during those interminable Republican debates.  For that, at least, American voters can be grateful.