Vetting Candidates 2016: American Idol Style (Part 3 of 4)

Photo courtesy of BBC

Photo courtesy of BBC


In polls we trust?

 So now these media driven popularity polls decide who will be allowed on stage for the GOP primary debates. Candidates not polling in the top ten of an average of polls used by the RNC and network news to determine viability and electability have been relegated to a lesser debate forum mockingly dubbed the “Kiddie Table Debate.” As Reince Priebus told Jon Karl on ABC This Week Sunday “And the reality is, and it might be a little harsh, but you can’t necessarily treat someone that’s polling at 18 or 20 percent the same as someone that’s polling at a half a percent or 1 percent.” Maybe Mr. Priebus needs a refresher that 4 years ago the eventual winner of the Iowa Caucus, Rick Santorum, was polling at 1 to 2% all of 2011 while all the other candidates enjoyed whirlwind turns riding high in the polls before falling off into obscurity. I tend to believe that Priebus is fully cognizant of this,and the thought of it happening again scares the daylights out of him and the RNC bosses.

These early national popularity polls are absolutely meaningless and give a flawed and outright bogus gauge of actual voter support. These, um, new and improved debate rules would have denied Santorum a spot in the 2011 debates had the field had been as crowded as this bunch, and I’ll point out, too, how throughout the course of all his 22 debates he progressed as the Dragonslayer of the pack, dismantling everyone on the stage on policy and never going negative personally. He was the thorn in the side, the irritating pebble in the shoe to the RNC establishment and the Romney campaign they so clearly heavily promoted. Had Santorum been given a one on one with Romney, the Republican primaries and the general election would have had vastly different outcomes. I am firmly convinced of that. The shocking success of Santorum’s gritty, exponentially underfunded, understaffed campaign in 2012 is actually the reason the RNC conjured up these new uber restrictive rules for the debates and helped orchestrate this outrageously large field of cookie cutter candidates to thwart a repeat of Santorum 2012 (more about this in an upcoming blog.)


 Media kingmakers flex their political muscles

With an overflow of super star candidates competing to poll high enough to bag one of the coveted 10 spots on the “big” debate stage, we now have the media picking winners and losers in the contest of poll numbers by choosing which candidates they will have on their shows and how often. Take for example the meteoric rise of Scott Walker after his pre-campaign stump speech at The Iowa Faith and Freedom Summit in January. Only a tiny fraction of voters nationwide actually saw his speech in person, watched on C-SPAN, or learned about it from Iowa media.  It was only after Rush Limbaugh took up the cause to promote Walker daily for a week on his show, playing audio clips, interviewing him live on the air, and discussing his speech every day that week, that Walker’s poll numbers went into orbit. Rush gets to play Kingmaker, and he knows it. His current obsession is with Trump, and the lovefest is a sustained one this time (but only for a season, and for a reason. Stay tuned for more on that.) And it’s not just Limbaugh but all media with round the clock coverage of Trump that rocketed him to off the chart poll numbers.

At the opposite end of media blanketed candidates are those getting scant to little attention or even a mention at all. Take again the example of Rick Santorum. Despite the fact he has the sixth highest state and vote tally in political history for a runner up to his party’s nomination in 2012, Santorum has been roundly snubbed by Fox News and in particular by their popular prime time shows ever since Romney’s embarrassingly bruising loss to Obama in November 2012, and his poll numbers are unrealistically, but not surprisingly, low. All of 2013 and most of 2014, his name never came up in any talk of 2016 and no mention of his brushfire campaign fell from the lips of prime time show hosts on Fox News, the go-to news source for most Republican voters. His interest in running again in 2016 was widely known and even expected, yet he’s been given the cold shoulder for what traditionally has been a presumed next in line candidacy. I know people who exclusively watch Bill O’Reilly or listen to Limbaugh, Beck, or Hannity and had no idea Santorum was running much less even still around.  If you can’t see or hear him and his policy views, do you even know he’s running or that he’s a serious contender? A few others are getting scant coverage as well but nothing compared to the shabby treatment Santorum gets. And is it fair for media to give wall to wall coverage of certain candidates to the near total exclusion of others? It’s not only unfair to the candidates, it’s a total disservice to voters entitled to see and hear from all those who have offered their candidacy for consideration.


 But aren’t they all better than Obama?

In this current field of clones we have a whole lot of vetting not going on. That’s because at least everyone in the GOP field is better than Obama, right? Don’t you hear this all the time when scrutinizing the shallow resumes and/or questionable backgrounds of some of the candidates, that at least these lesser-knowns have the same or more experience than Barack Obama when he first emerged as a presidential candidate? They won’t be running against Obama in 2016, but he’s become the new standard of measure in acceptability in Republican candidates. How and when did Barack Obama become the qualifications poster boy for the Republican Party? But the mantra is “this is the strongest field of candidates we’ve had in a long time.” Well, that pretty much depends on what your definition of “strong” is.

Having all the right enemies does not make you a strong candidate. Steve Deace (who has recently endorsed Ted Cruz and once even admitted he had a mancrush on him) gets positively giddy every time Cruz ticks off another leader in his party, and Deace considers it a sign of strength and an actual endorsement. John Boehner makes a derogatory reference to Ted Cruz and that is supposed to seal the deal that Cruz is the right guy to put in the Oval Office. I ask you, where would Ted Cruz be if not for having enemies in the Republican leadership? Seriously, think about that one for a minute. Were Cruz instead a Democrat with the exact same experience, or lack of thereof, and just his soaring rhetoric and renegade reputation carrying him to national attention, those lauding him now would instead be ridiculing him for being too green and unaccomplished to seek higher office. But, but, but … he STOOD UP!  Yes, he stood up, and I can list dozens of others who have done the same over the years, but that didn’t automatically qualify them as presidential timber. I can list many who stood up and delivered actual results for it. Cruz’s quasi filibuster to nowhere resulted in us getting Obamacare meted out anyway and he got celebrity status and a fat 2016 campaign warchest to boot. I’ll have more to say about that later in a candidate analysis post.

Having billionaire donors and nice, fat Super PACs do not make you strong either, just well-funded with lots of strings attached. Being a billionaire with a big mouth, and an ego to match, who can fund your own campaign also does not make you a strong candidate. In 2012 Mitt Romney proved that while you can succeed in buying your way to the nomination, no amount of money will net you the general election. It’s a pure and simple fact, Jack. Message and messenger are what wins the general election.

Being one of these several governors who apparently single handedly saved his state from economic and societal ruin isn’t a gauge of political strength either. It means you had a dedicated slate of legislators who worked their hearts out to deliver good legislation to your desk you could sign into law, and then you could take credit for it. Sure some governors actually championed these causes with inspiring speeches and all, and some of the issues may well have been on their agenda when they ran for office; but the real battle was waged and won by state representatives and senators who fought it out and had to come together to give these “Super Governors” a reason to use their pens. I’m not denigrating some of the impressive accomplishments and admirable service of these governors; but to equate the duties and responsibilities of a governor with that of a president is a far stretch when you are now dealing with federal and international matters. Governors are woefully lack in that arena.

A truly strong candidate is the one who is the best communicator, who connects in a real way with voters across the socioeconomic spectrum, fires up the base of the party, relates to and resonates with voters sick of partisan politics, has proven he can win over voters in the Heartland and Rustbelt areas of blue collar America, you know, those 5 million plus disaffected blue collar voters who didn’t show up to vote for either Romney or Obama in 2012.  A truly strong candidate is one who is speaking to the very same issues and concerns the Democrat candidate is running on. He fully understands that the liberal media controls the narrative to prop up the Democrat candidate every time, and he knows those are the issues he must dominate on with conservative solutions counter to the socialist, big government. class warfare message the Democrat is using to win over voters struggling in Middle America. A truly strong candidate is a bold conservative culture warrior who will put the Democrat on defense for a change and force him or her to defend his or her indefensible positions on the very same social issues the Democrat historically uses to beat up our establishment moderate squish nominees. And a truly strong candidate offers realistic, doable solutions to the problems plaguing our nation and has the character and record of actual experience and accomplishments to merit our trust he can handle the job Day One and deliver what he says he will do. A candidate like that, even vastly underfunded, beats out the Mr. Moneybags in the end.  My observation is that NONE of the rock star candidates being championed and endorsed by slobbering conservative talk hosts and pundits meet any or even a fraction of that criteria. The only one who actually does match up 100% with every single attribute I listed happens to be the only one they are intentionally ignoring or marginalizing as a viable candidate this time. How utterly, utterly stupid is that??

Go to Part 4