Now that the Olympic Games are over people will begin thinking seriously about the presidential election and not liking what they see. At a time when the public should be debating the merits of the candidates, the question is instead, “How did it happen?” How did two candidates so unpopular with voters become the only choices of the greatest nation on earth? Of the two, the biggest flummox is Donald Trump. “How,” our inner psyche and the world at large wants to know, “did Trump happen?”
Here is my answer: Cable TV.
Usually in a presidential voting year the first mutterings of the election, which is not until November, comes in early February at the time of the New Hampshire primary. This year the primary was on Feb. 9. Only what was different from the past was that by the time the primary was held the event was already a well-trodden topic. I remember on that date a year earlier one of the cable talking head shows focused for an hour on who might win in New Hampshire, which was still 12 months away and 22 months from the actual election.
With so much time to fill, cable needed to jump-start the election. The talking heads needed something to gab about. They got a break: Donald Trump jumped into the campaign. At first no one took Trump seriously, but he was good copy and his penchant for saying outrageous things in an outrageous way was red meat for the talking heads.
Although no one really liked Trump, his bandwagon was the best ride in town. But the time of the New Hampshire primary, followed by the Iowa caucuses, Trump was the most talked about person in the country. Voters are willing to vote carelessly in the early primaries. The wanted to make a statement, and since Trump had no chance of getting the nomination anyway, why not give some support to the candidate’s tough talk?
So it happened that once the debates among Republican candidates started (another creation of Cable TV) Trump was the star of the show. The nation cheered as he pounced on the media; the other candidates and life’s enemies. Before we knew it the bandwagon was unstoppable.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton gathered her votes by default. She shares a home, and a name, with one of the most skilled politicians of all time and was thus able to come into the election year as so heavy of a favorite that no serious candidate dared run against her – except Bernie Sanders.
Vermont’s junior Senator put on a good campaign, but in the end America was not ready for a Socialist president. The field belonged to Clinton.
I checked the Constitution for some obscure clause that would, hopefully, allow for the party nomination process to have a second chance in September, but there is no such language. Actually, the Constitution says nothing at all about how parties make their selection. What we have is a system that has evolved and is shaped by circumstances. Cable TV was the big circumstance this time around. We may not like what we got in the end, but it was great theater in the first act.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
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