The Republican Primaries: One Long Slog

One look at the reaction to Bruce Jenner on Vanity Fair’s cover, and it’s obvious that the public’s interest in someone running away from sexual constraints is a whole lot greater at present than it is for anyone running for president of the United States.  Still, there is a common thread.  To make the cut in the most crowded primary in U.S. history, Republican hopefuls must find a unique way to separate themselves from the pack by grabbing the attention of the American electorate. 

It’s a daunting task, and it won’t be accomplished simply by declaring oneself the only true “conservative” on board.  In today’s political environment, electing a candidate based on some indefinable measure of ideological purity is as outdated as holding out for another virgin to bolster the reputation of British royalty.

Besides, all Republicans in contention identify themselves as conservatives.  And when a term shows up on everyone’s resume, it becomes virtually useless.  In the upcoming GOP primaries, voters will be looking for other, more substantive reasons for their choice.  If contenders hope to stay in play, they must find a way to stand out from the crowd through some combination of the following:

  1.  Capitalizing on demonstrated leadership experience in public office or in private enterprise.
  2. Forcefully communicating one’s message on the campaign trail and in televised debates.
  3. Taking strong positions on important issues, even if it bucks the trend.
  4. Connecting with the voters as someone who identifies with their concerns and knows how to deal with them. 
  5. Generating an enigmatic sense of “charisma,” or “star power.”

It’s a tall order.  The present occupant of the White House nailed it by concentrating almost exclusively on #5.  He was also, of course, running as the first black American to seek the presidency.  The press fell in love with the idea and with Obama’s soaring rhetoric for hope and change.  After six years, however, the ardor has cooled in some journalistic quarters.  As TV news anchor Bob Schieffer recently admitted, “[t]he media was not skeptical enough of Obama,” whose prior leadership ability had been next to nothing.

This admission, however, could be just another way of warning that this time around, the press will be a whole lot more skeptical – of the entire GOP field!  As it is, many Republicans worry that by the time we move into campaign mode against Hillary, the standard-bearer will be tripping over the bloodied bodies of his/her fallen comrades.

Still, competition has always been an American mainstay.  “It’s a jungle out there” pretty well sums things up.  With a sluggish economy making the workplace environment even more competitive, it is not unusual for companies to be swamped by hundreds of applications for any good job available.  And what more prestigious position is there than that of the president of the United States? 

Democrats will scoff at the plethora of Republican wannabes, even as they find themselves stuck with a pretender who lays claim to the highest office of the land by virtue of her gender and her presumed “right of succession.”  Her progressive challengers thus far are like pups yapping at her majesty’s heels.  Yet in the Democrat camp, there has been a gnawing concern that no competition could be worse than too much. 

As a result, an improbable candidate like Bernie Sanders is actually attracting respectable crowds.  It could be no more than a question of curiosity killing liberal political cats.  But registered Democrats seem clearly to resent being left out of the primaries hoopla.  Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is counting on that to generate some attention.

Don’t expect front-runner Hillary to get peeved, even in private, by these detractors and their declarations.  In fact, they may be all that saves the Democrats’ message from oblivion during the crucial Republican primaries, especially with Hillary intent on saving her breath and energy for her final protagonist.  She’s been so quiet, in fact, that she intends to make a second announcement of her candidacy…just to remind everyone that she’s still running. 

There are plenty of wannabes in the Republican lineup whose present chances for the nomination are slim.  They may fall by the wayside or continue onward; it won‘t matter much in the long run.  The same could be said of the superfluous Democrats, except for the fact that liberal politicos are pretending to take them all seriously.  One even opined that Bernie Sanders will become the “real darling” of the press.  Never mind that he is a small-state avowed leftist, who forty years ago wrote a steamy treatise on sexual fantasies.  (America is so sex-besotted that the revelation, in some perverse manner, could give the septuagenarian a boost.)  The liberal press are only too eager to allot competitive face time to anyone who spouts their brand of progressive pap.  But we all know whom they’ll be championing in spades when the primaries are over and Bernie is back in Vermont. 

Meanwhile, even as Republicans likely drop from serious contention, ego-trippers like O’Malley, Sanders, Chaffee, etc. will still be hanging around, aiming their vitriol not at Hillary, but at her potential rivals.  It is rumored that her running mate has already been chosen.  Yet if one of her “challengers” manages to get even a modest bounce, he could end up on the ticket as vice president. 

That’s their worry, though.  Ours will be to avoid being hoist by our own petard, which could happen if Republican contenders quit selling themselves and start savaging their fellow competitors.  An internal food fight is the last thing we need…and the first thing Hillary hopes for.  The only given is that this Republican primary season will be long slog, demanding discipline and patience from candidates and voters alike.  It might help if we view the process as an opportunity to get better-acquainted with an impressive array of candidates, all of whom have the potential of keeping the Republican brand alive for decades to come.

If the number of GOP hopefuls still seems too overwhelming to fathom, consider what happened in California a dozen years ago, when Governor Gray Davis was removed from office in a special recall election, and voters were given a ballot with the names of 135 candidates who wanted to replace him.  Only four of them received at least 1% of the final vote, and Arnold Schwarzenegger had the star power to get elected.  There’s a good chance that the survivor of the grueling 2016 GOP primaries will by then have achieved a well-earned degree of star power as well.