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6 August, 2015 00:00 00 AM
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There are, to be sure, thoughtful candidates on the Republican side who have ideas worth examining. But the policies they are proposing have been drowned out by the excessive news coverage given to the demeaning verbal antics of their challengers

Republican race is a contest devoid of dignity

James Zogby

The 2016 Republican presidential contest has barely begun and I want it to end already. A part of the problem is the plague of too many candidates, 17 at last count, with many of them competing for headlines by making outrageous statements targeting Hispanics, Muslims, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or each other. They apparently feel the need to do so not only because Donald Trump draws the most media attention, but because, as his poll numbers demonstrate, a significant body of Republican voters feed off of the anger and insult that is being dished out.  
Instead of a serious policy debate, we are forced to endure a campaign based on xenophobia, personality attacks and crude taunts.
In the past week alone Trump continued his rant against “illegals”. Ted Cruz called his party’s legislative leader “a liar” on the floor of the Senate. Scott Walker was slightly more refined accusing his party’s leaders of making “false promises”. Mike Huckabee charged that with the Iran deal, Obama was marching Israelis into the ovens and Marco Rubio criticised Trump saying that America didn’t need another president with “no class”, because we already have a president with “no class”.  
Now there are, to be sure, thoughtful candidates on the Republican side who have ideas worth examining. But the policies they are proposing have been drowned out by the excessive news coverage given to the demeaning verbal antics of their challengers.
We’ve not yet had the first GOP candidate debate and the race up to that event has itself fed the problem of rhetorical excess. Since there are so many Republican contestants, Fox News, host of the first debate, has arbitrarily decided that they will only invite the candidates who rank in the top 10 in average poll ratings. This has left those with lower poll numbers to feel that they needed to use insults or outrageous stunts to draw the press attention they will need to lift them into the top 10.
While the media can be blamed for covering the candidates’ bad behaviour and Fox News can be faulted for creating a competition for those “who can say the nastiest things”, the core problem lies with the base of today’s Republican Party.
This isn’t a new development. It began in 2008 when the combination of the reverberating shock of the economic downturn, the dawning realisation that America had lost lives, treasure and prestige in two failed wars, and the prospect of the election of a black president, caused a substantial number of middle class, middle aged whites to become unmoored.
In their bewilderment, they fell prey to the demagoguery of the likes of Sarah Palin and later of Michele Bachmann, a rejuvenated Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain. All of these factors and personalities gave rise to the Tea Party and the “Birther Movement” – conspiracy theorists who believe Obama was not born in the US.  Back then, responsible Republicans warned that a monster was being created that would first attack the president and Democrats but would ultimately turn on the party and devour it as well.
The Republican party faithful paid no heed to these warnings and, believing that they could ride this insurgency to victory, they fed the beast of anger and frustration.  
The warnings proved true. In statewide elections moderate Republicans were defeated by the Tea Party and the establishment of the GOP found itself losing control of its base.
Though Bush is seen as the brighter and more capable son of former president George H Bush, the country is said to be suffering from “Bush fatigue” and so the dynastic connection could prove to be a liability.
Christie has a compelling personality, but this sometimes means his brashness gets him into trouble. Rand Paul inherits his father’s fervent libertarian following, but with every attempt that he makes to distance himself from his father’s positions, some feel that he has lost his clarity. Mr Cruz is known as a brilliant debater and a cunning self-promoter who knows how to play to a crowd and get headlines. But he has alienated many colleagues who see him as more of an irritant than a leader.
This leaves Scott Walker. Though not well known nationally, he is a solid conservative who could be the Republican “dark-horse” candidate. But he is less well known than the other “establishment” candidates (Bush and Christie) and the “social conservative” ones (Huckabee, Cruz, and Santorum) and is therefore, at a disadvantage in the early race for money and supporters.
In addition to struggling to define themselves in a large field, the Republican candidates must contend with the problem posed by the hardline elements of their party. A combination of Tea Party activists, anti-immigration crusaders and social conservatives from the Christian right will play a dominant role in the early Republican contests.
Eventually, of course, whoever wins the Republican nomination will have a handsome campaign war-chest for the 2016 election. But to get there they must first run the gamut of the primaries hoping to emerge unscathed and still electable. This drama played out on stage during the many debates that shaped the 2012 Republican primary contest.
Smart and thoughtful candidates like Jon Huntsman were drowned out by the antics of those who played to the majority. While Mitt Romney ultimately won the right to represent his party, what happened to him along the way proved fatal to his chances of winning the presidential election.
It has been argued that if Mitt Romney had run in 2012 as the moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts he might have won the presidency. The problem, however, was that a moderate could never have won the Republican primary. In the end, the Romney who emerged from the primaries had been so battered and bruised and his party’s brand had been so tarnished that he could not carry the nationwide vote.
All signs point to the fact that the same tragicomedy will be playing out this time. In all likelihood, the results will be much the same. As my brother John Zogby is fond of saying, America needs a third party – the Republican Party of old – in which George HW Bush and James Baker could be at home.
Alas, in the atmosphere of today, we will not see sanity on the right side of the aisle this year or in the foreseeable future.
    Bloomberg

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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