Following developments in the Republican presidential nominating contest the instability of the race is stark. Every political contest involves flawed candidates: how could it be otherwise? But often the public develops a firm sense of the perspective of the candidates and chooses to join a team. As primary campaigns are waged on a state-by-state basis, it is expected that in some realms one candidate will do better than another, but psychiatric mood swings are something else. We saw the politics of allegiance in the competition between Barack and Hillary (and the wormy love apple: imagine our blue dress politics in an Edwards presidency!). In the states of the industrial Midwest, home to Reagan Democrats, Hillary posted strong numbers; Obama was more successful in states not so hard hit by industrial decline, states with a rainbow electorate, and those open to a new type of politics. Soon one knew the metrics of the race, even if the outcome was uncertain. But the Republican campaign upends these rules as voter preferences lurch wildly. This is a campaign year that reminds us of voters’ cultural fickleness – their political ADD. They are watching a reality television show and so are we (Jeff Goldfarb describes his pained reaction in “The Republican Reality Show”). If one is not newly tickled, one turns away. Media narratives set our politics.
We have gazed at candidates, quasi-candidates, and proto-candidates – Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and The Donald – dance with the stars. Can parties fire their voters? Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty could have had his turn had he the internal fortitude or cockeyed optimism to recognize that to be dismissed in August might lead to be crowned a year later. If politics were based on a comparison and conflict of ideas, this would be inconceivable.
But American politics has become, as Jeffrey Goldfarb emphasizes, a reality show – adore it, dismiss it, or despise it, but depend on it. Voters demand diversion; they want bread and circuses, at least circuses. Around the scrum are kibitzers, now Sarah Palin and . . .
Read more: The Florida Primary and The ADD Electorate