The Republican primary season has resembled a professional wrestling match more than a consideration of who is best qualified to lead the nation. From the so-called debates, with a dozen shouting candidates, to the sucker punches at rallies to the dirty jokes, taunts and accusations, what began as a raucous process has turned into something totally unprecedented.
Even as candidates dropped out, the campaign got uglier, nastier and meaner. What started as an curiosity has become almost unwatchable, even for those sticking with their Grand Old Party.
We’re not going to bemoan the lack of dignity or rail against those who have turned this process into bad television. Millions of Americans were drawn to it. They were tired of politics as usual and couldn’t care less about policy discussions or endless discussions over some nuanced point of economic policy. Instead, the angriest candidates became their champions.
In those fiery speeches, they heard echoes of their own frustrations.
But as the process has played out, many of those who were initially enthralled have become alarmed, disenchanted or turned off. It’s gotten that bad.
Only one thing could make this political process worse: If people come to believe the outcome is rigged. If that happens, they’ll be unwilling to attach even a shred of legitimacy to the eventual Republican Party candidate.
Sadly, that appears to be Ted Cruz’s strategy. It’s increasingly unlikely Donald Trump will have the requisite 1,237 delegates needed for a first-ballot nomination. So Cruz has started working the selection process for delegates. He’s trying to make certain those selected – though they might be compelled to vote for Trump on the first ballot – will be loyal to him thereafter. In this, Cruz appears to have the tacit approval of party leaders, who don’t much care for Cruz but prefer him to the flamboyant TV star. And it’s hard to feel sympathy for someone as self-satisfied as Trump.
That’s why there’s so little backlash over Cruz’s ploy. Many shrug and say Trump should have checked the rulebook before lacing up his sneakers. Try explaining that to 40 percent of Republican voters.
We’re not saying Donald Trump should be the GOP candidate; we’re not suggesting the party shouldn’t save itself by finding a more electable standard bearer. We are saying that if people believe Cruz has gamed the system to burgle the nomination, then the party might as well fold up its tent.
Will anyone be inspired by a smarmy conniver? Will anyone want such a person to become president? Aren’t our leaders supposed to stand on principle, not flexible interpretations of rules?
Many believe this campaign will forever change politics. Expectations for what is permissible in pursuit of the presidency have been officially lowered, along with the bar for civil discourse. Others say it has altered what we, as a nation, believe is important. To draw attention, future candidates will be forced to embrace the outrageous; take extreme positions; pick fights rather than build coalitions. Anything to keep from boring the voters.
Over the next few weeks, this traveling circus will arrive in California with all its rhetorical glory and gory subplots. We’re likely to see a verbal bare-knuckles brawl. And, like a guilty pleasure, we’re looking forward to it. We just hope the winners are the candidates with the most votes.