By: Sam Friedman
Since the start of 2012, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has gotten considerably smaller. The Cain Train has returned to the station, Rick Perry went back to New Mexico (“oops,” I meant Texas), Michele Bachman put the crazy eyes to rest, and Jon Huntsman was probably reconsidering leaving the White House. The remaining contestants on “Who Wants to be the President?” include Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. At times, the contest to occupy the White House can seem like a reality show, from the outlandish actions by the candidates to the surreal debate moments. It is easy to get lost in the entertainment and forget that one of these people could in fact be the next president of the United States.
The economy is falling apart, North Korea has Nuclear Weapons, and you’re having the state dinner, what would you do? GO! Every day on the campaign trail, the candidates are faced with “what if?” questions that sound awfully like the ABC show, “What Would You Do?” For example, a question was asked during the debate in Florida on January 26, about how the candidates would react if Fidel Castro called them up in the Oval Office. Ron Paul answered, “I’d ask him what he called about.” Good answer, Ron, we knew we could count on you to bring us down to earth. Who can forget Rick Perry forgetting which three agencies of government he would cut during the November 9, debate in Michigan on CNBC. His “What Would You Do?” moment was characterized by literally not knowing what he would do. While this version may not have ABC News correspondent, and current host of “What Would You Do?” John Quiñones, I bet he could teach some of the candidates a thing or two about how to handle a moral dilemma.
No one does reality television better than host of the “Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert. In a stranger-than-fiction, classic entertainment moment, Colbert held a rally in South Carolina for presidential hopeful Herman Cain. Entitled “Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary Rally,” what made this event ironic was, at this point, Herman Cain had dropped out of the race due to surfacing reports of affairs and allegations of sexual harassment. While Cain’s name was still on the South Carolina primary ballot, the pizza mogul had officially ended his bid. Nonetheless Colbert even funded an ad campaign intent on “Raising Cain,” claiming that a vote for Cain was a vote for America. On his Comedy Central show, Colbert explained, “Because Herman Cain and I are so similar, I think that if this Saturday Herman Cain were to get a significant number of votes that would be a sign that voters are hungry, hungry for a Stephen Colbert campaign.” Although Colbert’s endorsement was seemingly meaningless, it was nevertheless a great example of political satire at its finest.
Campaigns often rely on endorsements by key political figures to show support for their potential nomination. Some endorsements, however, are more significant than others. Donald Trump essentially told all the other candidates “you’re fired” when he endorsed Mitt Romney on February 2. The two business moguls have similar hair and lots of money, so maybe that’s how Trump came to his decision to endorse Romney. Others might speculate that the endorsement coinciding with the premier of “Celebrity Apprentice” on February 12 was no coincidence. Regardless, Donald Trump always finds a way to bring America into his boardroom, whether it is through his TV show or his involvement in politics. While the reality TV personality and businessman decided not to run for president in 2012, his life in politics was not over. At the very least, if Romney doesn’t get the presidential nomination, there is certainly a spot for him on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” As evidenced by his crusade for President Obama to release his birth certificate last year, Trump knows how to get the media’s attention.
One of the biggest issues focused on by the media and electorate throughout this campaign is how to get Americans back to work. With unemployment still at record high levels, almost every voter wants to know what plan a candidate has for job creation. For Newt Gingrich, the answer is a permanent “lunar colony.” Gingrich’s plan to establish a civilization on the moon by the end of his second term as president has become the subject of endless tweets and SNL skits. His idea is to turn it into a tourist destination, a place for manufacturing and research in science. Some have argued that this is an entirely feasible idea, while others (including the other GOP candidates) have mocked the mere suggestion. During the January 26 debate, Romney said it could cost “hundreds of billions, if not trillions” to fund the moon mission. Rick Santorum also did not believe that the idea was “responsible” due to the current economic climate in the U.S. Ron Paul, while agreeing with Romney and Santorum, came up with his own idea: “I think maybe we should send some politicians up there sometimes.” While we can applaud Gingrich for his forward thinking, ideas like these make the American people question the candidates grasp on reality.
Based on his wealth, many have criticized Romney of just this. Romney’s net worth is the sum of the last eight presidents, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, multiplied by two. The sense of his being out of touch surfaced in his “misspeaking” about the poor. Mitt Romney, who is known for his often-awkward social interactions, is the king of saying things that he really didn’t mean, but probably shouldn’t have said anyway. After winning the Florida primary, Romney told CNN in an interview that he was “not concerned about the very poor.” He said there is a “safety net” for those people. When running for the president of the United States during an election year with a stagnant economy and record high unemployment numbers, it is probably best to stay clear of anything that could sound remotely negative about the poor.
Speaking of “misspeaking,” Rick Santorum recently said that he does not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” In an interview with John King on CNN, Santorum tried to back track, saying that he “started to say a word and then sort of changed and it sort of — blah — mumbled it and sort of changed [his] thought.” Did he really think anyone was going to buy that? At least try and come up with something more creative. Nevertheless, no politician can really afford to make those kinds of blunders in today’s media-dominated society that is searching for a sensationalized sound bite.
America’s current political landscape is a state of nonstop news stories about the candidates’ every moves, combined with Twitter wars and tell-all interviews. This creates the perfect storm of crazy coverage that rivals any reality show out there. (Except maybe a GOP version of “Wipeout.” My money would be on Ron Paul). Every time you turn on the TV, a new reality show has popped up with even crazier premises and stranger contestants. Now you can add the GOP quest for the highest office in the land to the list.
(This article was written pre-Super Tuesday.)