Vetting Candidates 2016: American Idol Style (Part 2 of 4)

Photo courtesy of BBC

Photo courtesy of BBC


 The ultimate American Idol candidate

American Idol Syndrome has opened the political doors for anyone and everyone who can scratch itching ears with the same hot rhetoric you hear at any given time of day on conservative talk radio. Enter one, Donald J. Trump. He didn’t simply waltz through the open doors. He busted them off their hinges, riding in on a malevolent storm of collective voter disgust at a feckless GOP Congress and fueled by a media obsessed with his celebrity. He effectively lassoed and bridled the pall of political acrimony at its prime, and he’s milking it for all its worth. Voter acceptance of Trump’s candidacy, devoid of actual substantive policy prescriptions and any experience to back up his buzzword-studded talking points, is the worst type of American Idol vetting since Obama.

Trump has the media feeding at his trough and a motley crew of supporters comprised of starry eyed, celebrity obsessed fans, TEA Party conservatives, and most shockingly, evangelical Christians, all clamoring for a glitzy, bombastic, self-promoting, self-absorbed celebrity billionaire from Corporate America with a history and life so checkered with self-serving business and political moves, progressive liberal ideology, and questionable character that he puts the Ralston-Purina logo to shame. How this man who so brashly lives and flaunts his affluent lifestyle has so convincingly shape-shifted into a champion of blue collar America is absolutely dumbfounding. (I’ll elaborate on this political epiphany of Trump’s in an upcoming blog.) Loud and shallow rhetoric based on pure anger-centric emotion is guiding the spectacle that is the Trump campaign, and his entry into this race has added the specter of entertainment value into the candidate evaluation process. He is the living, breathing tabloid candidate most of us would never have imagined in a Republican race much less as an invited speaker at faith and family venues such as The Family Leader. Why nothing Trump has said or done prior to his entry into this race, or even last week, matters to his supporters and his drooling cheerleaders on the airwaves is breathtakingly similar to how Democrats vet their own. It’s not only embarrassing, it’s downright scary.  Fox News regular, establishment banshee Ann Coulter, exhibits full blown symptoms of American Idol Syndrome in her over the top near worship at the feet of Trump. She might even have replaced her 2012 Romney shrine with a replica of Trump Tower.


Stagecraft or Statecraft?

Thanks to American Idol Syndrome we now have candidates discarding the traditional stationary podium to roam and prance across the stage televangelist style, performing bits of stand-up comedy, chumming audiences with red meat TEA Party speak and clever, snarky bumper sticker slogan one-liners, taking it to Obama and his lapdog GOP leadership like nobody’s business, and they send crowds and conservative media heads into a frenzy. I fully expect soon to see a panel of judges just off stage flashing numerical scores on their paddles in direct proportion to the crowd response each candidate generates. “Three standing ovations and 8 applause interruptions.  I’m giving him a perfect 10!” It’s showbiz, folks! This is stagecraft, not statecraft, and it’s the shallowest and most ignorant way of vetting I’ve ever seen from conservative voters.  Lost in this euphoria is the serious meat and potatoes candidate who actually respects voters enough to not treat them like teenyboppers at a rock concert. America desperately needs a Statesman unafraid to talk tough truths, not a showman regurgitating popular talking points.

I urge you to watch these two speeches by Ted Cruz  and Rick Santorum  at The Family Leadership Summit in August 2014 and compare the two on stagecraft and statecraft. Put emotions aside and study both speakers. Who is giving an early 2016 stump speech, throwing out red meat TEA Party lines he thinks the audience wants to hear, and who is delivering a sobering and poignant message to wake up and shake up the party faithful with truths they need to hear? Who is serving up dessert to put the audience on a sugar high, and who is putting forth a real meat and potatoes message with a vision and real solutions to actually address the issues that have savaged and fractured our nation for years and actually wants to heal and unify not just the party but the whole country? Who looks and sounds more like he’s auditioning to be president of a wing of the Republican Party, and who looks and sounds like he could very well be President of the United States? Who looks and sounds more like a Statesman, and who looks and acts like an entertaining showman? Who feeds off of and basks in the applause, and who exhibits a real degree of humility over audience reaction? Which speaker seeks crowd reaction, and which one wants them to digest what he’s saying?  One was gushed over and hailed by conservative media talking heads and bloggers as a political rock star, THE one to watch for 2016, and the other was barely given the time of day by the same media. These media personalities are the people constructing and picking conservative candidates for us. That has become their mission to thwart the moderate squish losers the party establishment forces on us with their own hand-picked candidates. Style, not substance, is what wins them over. Iowa radio talk host Steve Deace and Rush Limbaugh wannabe Erick Erickson have been severely afflicted by American Idol Syndrome for some time now, Deace since Cruz gave his maiden stump speech in Iowa back in August 2013 and Erikson in 2012 during Cruz’s run for the Senate. Their infatuation with Cruz has hit critical mass.

Unfortunately, this is the new reality of how we get most of our candidates these days. We have these media created candidates like Carson, and to a large degree Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, freshman senators with no actual substantive legislative accomplishments meriting their requests for a huge job promotion. Their dramatic antics from the Senate Floor via bladder busting, hours long stem-winders, complete with premeditated event hashtags (aka 2016 campaign PAC moneybombs) dominated the airwaves for weeks, propelling both to hero status, to presidential material, and then on to the top of the polls. American Idol vetting again. Remember the good old days when members of Congress did things like this did because it was their job to fight to preserve freedom, not for self-promotion and PAC raising for a premature pursuit of higher office? Ah, I remember it well.

A good example of American Idol Syndrome was on full display at the candidate forum hosted in July by The Family Leader in Des Moines, Iowa.  Pollster Frank Luntz interviewed candidates individually and evaluated the performance of each based on how successfully he or she racked up standing O’s and sent applause meters into a whirl, and how often they did it. He baited every candidate (except for one, Rick Santorum) with good, hot button, emotionally charged questions that each had the easy opportunity to answer with fire and passion, often answering with solutions that were not doable or based in reality but guaranteed to please the crowd nonetheless. And boy, did they deliver!  Rack up those political brownie points! Bobby Jindal really lucked out being on the receiving end of the most diverse, raw meat questions pertinent to the 2016 election; and in the midst of one of Jindal’s multiple standing ovations, Luntz  pointed out “That’s number six.” In the first 7 minutes of his interview, Jindal had already roused the crowd to their feet 6 times, I believe a total of 8 or 9 by the time he concluded—and he became the newest rock star of the pack. He even surpassed current standing O champion Ted Cruz.

Do stuff like this often enough and you will enjoy regular and generous national media attention, particularly on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc., and you are on your way to the top of the polls. Media figures have the power to influence voters in one way or the other by the amount of time they spend talking with or about these candidates, or not, and this is what largely drives the poll numbers that now dictate to us who is worthy to be seen and heard on the debate stages. It’s a fact those at the top of the polls have had numerous appearances on and have been discussed frequently by all the Fox News prime time and conservative talk radio show hosts. Conversely, those polling low have gotten little to no airtime on those same programs. I challenge anyone to prove this not to be the case.

Go to Part 3