The Fox GOP debate dominates the political news, but it could obscure the real undercurrents of the presidential campaign.
It’s important to keep the campaign in perspective, almost impossible do in the heated daily play-by-play reporting. Here’s what is emerging from the campaign.
Polls. While polling may indicate little about the ultimate nominees, even now it can influence the choice. By using polls to limit the number of GOP debate participants, Fox was carrying out, in a somewhat rough fashion, the same process voters use to define their choices. The field simply must be thinned.
Debates. Once a useful encounter in the process because so much depended on so few head-to-head debates, they have been devalued by their frequency and the many participants. Mostly, candidates have only to avoid making mistakes.
Trump. Donald Trump, a man of great wealth and self-esteem, has never run for political office and avoids all the normal caution of political candidates. He comes across as a real change, just what many people want. He shares the popular disdain for government. Above all, he makes things simple.
He’s not likely to succeed, unless voters like his style and worry little about his lack of substance. But he will force some from the field. He could become so flattered by the attention he is getting that he could convince himself he could win as a third party candidate, which worries the GOP.
Clinton. The mantra is Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination locked up, but that belief is beginning to wear thin. There are two indicators of her loosening grip on a sure nomination. One is Vice President Joe Biden’s possible run and the other would be the appearance of another woman in the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren?
Clinton generates a sense of superiority, which causes mistrust. She has held back as her problems have increased. Even if Benghazi is a phony issue, the emails on her personal computer are not. If anything, they reinforce the sense that she is not bound by the same rules as the rest of us.
Sanders and others. In 2008, voters supported “change.” but got a lot less than they expected. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, like Trump, now represents real change. Possibly too liberal to be nominated, he gains enthusiastic support, because of the simple message he would bring change. Other Democrats lack exposure. Is Secretary of State John Kerry a possibility?
Parties. The political parties are becoming less and less relevant. Many candidates now run without showing their party affiliation on their campaign materials. In the presidential campaign, a single Supreme Court decision has transformed American politics.
Big donors. The Citizens United decision opened the way for extremely wealthy donors to make unlimited political contributions. It now appears that a handful of billionaires will be able to pour more money into the presidential campaign than will the political parties. That means their personal platforms will become more important than party platforms.
Primaries. The early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina usually thin out the field. When candidates finish in third or fourth place, their funding tends to dry up, leaving them no choice but to abandon their campaigns. It is possible that the big donors will not be so easily discouraged and will keep their candidates in the race until they hit larger states.
Wedge issues. It has become increasingly clear that many voters decide based on a single issue. In effect, if the voter likes a candidate’s position on same-sex marriage, abortion, environmental regulation or Iran, they automatically are deemed to endorse the rest of that candidate’s positions. That has a major effect on debates and campaigns.
Overpromising. Presidential candidates promise bold policy changes, without mentioning that they could not keep their promises without congressional support. Surprisingly, the voters believe these promises, though we almost surely will be disappointed. A more realistic candidate does not garner much support.
Congress. Congressional and presidential campaigns have grown more disconnected. In the districts, voters may decide based on much different issues than those influencing presidential races. That difference is part of the reason why presidents cannot produce promised results.
Campaigns. Presidential campaigns involve big money. While there are few outright attempts to buy votes, most of the money is used to influence voters, usually by massive television advertising or single-issue direct mail. Voters often go no further than the ads to learn about candidates, just what the big donors want.
It’s still early innings, but we need to recognize the selection of a president is more than a sports event.