What GOP candidate recruitment says about the GOP
I aim to raise questions about candidates for higher office who are so inexperienced that, if they won, they might be in constant need of advice from their sponsors, likely to supply an unelected “puppeteer”.
First, let us look at portraits of the candidate pairs for four of the 2022 major races. I have tried to show all of them at their best.
Even if the candidate is competent with a microphone in hand, and you like what the candidate talks about, you nonetheless need to ask if the candidate will require helpful “handlers” if elected. In other words, who are you really voting for?
Education (helpful for analyzing complex topics) and executive jobs (that involve informing oneself and making decisions) become less relevant once one has a political track record. In those trying to jump the line, educational level and best job help identify candidates unlikely to function independently in office if elected.
The GOP has a sixty-year history of persuading actors to run for office (George Murphy in 1964; Ronald Reagan in 1966, Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006). One would have thought that this was a risky business, given that everyone knew (if reminded) that actors were merely speaking with emotion the words written by the behind-the-scenes scriptwriters. Appearing elsewhere, the actor speaks a different author’s words. (Editor’s note: I am old enough to remember Ronald Reagan selling laundry soap in TV commercials.)
Why should anyone assume that what the actors emote represents their own values? Or that their expressed sincerity for people’s problems will carry over into initiating action?
How about other public figures where fans had an investment in couch time? Would voters trust a pro wrestler, “Jesse, the Body,” to be the governor of Minnesota? They did in 1999, and his admirer Donald Trump came to take lessons from him, learning the grandstanding pro wrestler style that many people find entertaining. (Editor: In the early 1950s, my grandmother and I loved to watch “Gorgeous George”, who specialized in breaking the rules and getting away with it. One foundation of humor is when the next event you expect to happen suddenly turns out differently.)
But who might such political beginners turn to for policy advice, once in office and faced with decisions to make? (Hint: track down the major donors named in their quarterly campaign finance reports; they tend to volunteer their own people, sometimes held in reserve at a well-funded think tank.)
How about retired hosts from the nightly newscasts? Like actors, they are accustomed to lending personality to scripts that others write. They were picked for their anchor jobs by media executives, often utilizing focus groups that critique. Will the potential anchor immediately “connect” with viewers? Will viewers return to see more of this possibly faux personality? In their second careers as political candidates, who will be writing the words that come out of their mouths? Some may prove to have reputations of their own as independent thinkers or reporters, but this trend needs analysis, as my final example shows.
The latest thing that someone seems to be trying out on the more inattentive voters is: Might a pretty face suffice, one with no fame and no political baggage — but decades younger than the incumbent, a winning smile, and a demonstrated ability to turn heads at a party. Sieve that group for the ones who are quick enough to challenge authority figures on a pretend call-in talk show. There are many more such people from which to choose than there are retired actors or news anchors.
Paired portraits of the opposing candidates may be all that many voters ever see of them. Even if we know nothing else about them, we automatically judge which of a pair is the more attractive.
It turns out that the portrait-pair selections made by Swiss children correlate nicely with who wins French parliamentary elections. As the researchers concluded, “the judgments we form about political candidates [merely] from their facial appearances develop quite early and remain surprisingly stable, well into adulthood.” Do your own due diligence. Someone has to.
I am trying to suggest possible patterns in the overall forest, not to pin down the history of an individual tree. The recent GOP recruitment practices suggest that a con-artist type of disrespect for the voter may be emerging. Someone appears to have been “fishing for suckers,” persons easily deceived.
How else would you characterize a claim that Hillary Rodham Clinton was dead when she ran for president in 2016? The standard reply is “And if you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you.” Though the GOP might incidentally benefit, the motive may simply be to benefit a commercial enterprise trying to pad a subscription list, where higher numbers allow them to charge more for advertising. In such a case, the GOP becomes blameworthy only when GOP leaders persist in cheering them on rather than pointing out a fraud in progress.
The GOP probably believes that they succeed with those apolitical voters among the Independents who have nothing more to judge the candidates by than an attractive face or other entertainment value. But consider the unintended consequences of this practice, as popular democracies have some vulnerabilities. In my opinion, the GOP has been playing with fire.
Up until 2016, like many political analysts, I hesitated to talk about my suspicion in public. “Don’t give them ideas. The less said, the better.” But there was no need — they were far ahead of us. Their public lies were on display with worldwide media coverage every day — recall, if you will, that weekly tally of false statements from their President (the “firehose of falsehood” propaganda technique). Had such manipulation come from a corporate leader trying to mislead the public, the SEC would have imposed million-dollar penalties or declared fraud.
It seemed as if lies had no consequences, not even good follow-up stories. [Editor: That is just like the 1950’s Gorgeous George, hurrying to another distraction before the faux wrestling referee could get a word in edgewise.]
I keep recalling Ben Franklin’s 1780s quip about his favored form of governance, “A republic, if you can keep it.” These days, I fear that the GOP has already demonstrated to competing countries how to go about taking over the US government. (Editor: The GOP exposed to the world a vulnerability that I, for one, did not realize the US had, pre-Trump.)
Were some country to mimic the GOP’s tactics, we could end up with a Quisling- or Vichy-style government where no occupying army is needed for a foreign government to call the shots. There is a large country that regularly practices this strategy with its smaller neighbors, initially via a soft takeover of a major political party, only sending in the army when less expensive bullying tactics fail to achieve the desired results.
But there are also many medium-sized countries dependent on US grain exports who might desire to ensure themselves the top spot on the priority list if US grain exports were curtailed by a midwestern drought. The traditional route is to corrupt government officials ahead of time as a precaution. Drug dealers are not the only ones with motivation. Enough bribery already goes on that the FBI has a major task force to root out corruption of officials.
Is this influence-buying scenario possible? Possible but improbable? Probable, but not established? Or just “Everybody knows that.” I hope that more knowledgeable analysts will speak on the matter.
— Will Howard