BY HOWARD BARBANEL
In New Hampshire 64 percent of Republicans voted against Donald Trump. In Iowa 76 percent of Republican voters told Trump that “he’s fired.”
The big story out of Iowa and New Hampshire isn’t that Trump came in first or second, it’s that the overwhelming majority of GOP voters are rejecting him. Trump has failed to approach or surpass the 50 percent threshold to claim any kind of majority whatsoever, yet the media keep proclaiming and anointing him. The real winner was “not Trump.”
Similarly but for very different reasons, the Democratic voters in the aforementioned states also clearly decided that most of their votes would go to “not Hillary.” Unlike Trump however, Bernie Sanders did pull down a whopping 60 percent of the Democratic vote in New Hampshire, which is way more than a simple majority. Again, Trump has been nowhere near that figure.
The Trump phenomenon is partly the Republicans’ own fault and partly the fault of the media, particularly broadcast but also web to a lesser degree.
The Republican Party in scheduling a bazillion nationally televised debates many months before Iowa and allowing practically anyone with a pulse to participate based on pre-balloting popularity polls of as few as 450 people (how truly representative can even 1,200 be when there are 153 million registered voters?) essentially created a two-ring circus by giving legitimacy and exposure to bloviating dilettantes and amateurs such as Trump and also nice soft-spoken amateurs such as Dr. Ben Carson. While anyone can run for President of these United States, the party should be a way better gatekeeper.
There should have been fewer debates and they should have stared just six weeks before Iowa, not six months. Criteria for admission should have been a mix of polls, funds raised from the American people prior to the first debate (to demonstrate concrete popular support) along with the prospective candidates’ having either held public office, been a serious candidate for national office (i.e., Congress) or have significant military experience (officer). The minimum threshold in the polls should have been at least 10 percent, not one percent. This would not have precluded Trump or Carson or anyone else from running but it would have denied them the Republican Party’s communion until after balloting had actually begun. This would have kept the forums serious and not turned them into a reality TV show.
The party should also have been policing and disqualifying anyone from appearing on the ballot or in debates who espouses racist, misogynist or pejoratively uncivil comments directed against other candidates (no matter how popular these inflammatory comments might be in the ratings) because the party has to have a standard of baseline decency and professionalism to be taken seriously by the American people. The party has to stand for our country’s best values and for professionalism in governance. Let racists, bigots and malicious slanderers run as independents without the party’s imprimatur.
Trump is serious “vid-bait” and “click-bait,” which is why he’s been irresistible to broadcast producers and many webmasters. It’s no wonder why: Trump has been a successful reality TV star and he knows how to say outlandish things to generate coverage and exposure. There’s a reason why WWE Raw gets such high ratings (and Trump has appeared on professional wrestling shows) – its chock full of trash talk, insults, put-downs and endless smack-downs. The inner id is unleased around the ring and often it’s not about the physical action.
The problem with all this is that broadcasters in particular (and I don’t care if it’s on cable, they use the public spectrum to beam satellite signals all day long) should have a sense of being custodians of the public trust and welfare. Empowering incivility and even outright racism in the pursuit of ratings is an abuse of the public airwaves while enriching themselves in the arena, potentially jeopardizing the nation by providing 24/7 platforms for whatever lunatics might help sell more commercial spots. Serious candidates with real platforms and experience are ignored and the smack-down mashup is what’s offered the American people as serious political discourse. That the country could be made to suffer for many years for this by electing unqualified candidates is somehow not taken into consideration at all.
How to Save the Party
As indicated by the election results, most Republicans thankfully aren’t buying the bullying and the insulting braying spewed by Mr. Trump. The problem is that there are still a whole scrum of wannabee presidents vying for the GOP nomination and they’re divvying-up that 64 to 76 percent of non-Trump voters so that Trump gets to sit atop the herd along with all the attendant media hoopla that that entails.
The remaining serious Republican candidates and the party need to go back to the 80s for inspiration – the 1880s. The party poohbahs need to push marginal candidates to drop out of the race post haste then they need to lock Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush in a back room somewhere far from the media’s prying eyes. These four guys need to be told to temper their hubris, their overwhelming lust for power and the messianic sense that only in them can the nation find true salvation. They need to hammer out a deal whereby one of them becomes the opposing candidate to Trump, one will become the vice presidential candidate and join forces and the other two will either just go home and wait for next time or be promised cabinet positions or prestigious ambassadorial posts if the Republicans win in November in exchange for their endorsement of a unified ticket. Jeb Bush would make a fine Secretary of State.
By putting the needs of the country and the party first above their own needs for power and glory, some of the candidates will really be saviors by dropping out and allowing someone to defeat Trump and save the soul of the Republican Party for generations to come.