The 2022 Candidate Slate: Send In the Clowns!

In late 2015, my colleagues and I have been about to launch a weekly documentary collection overlaying the presidential marketing campaign. The chairman and CEO of Showtime, David Nevins, instructed calling the present The Circus. However at the moment, there was some concern the title was excessive—too denigrating to the noble calling of politics.


Seems Nevins was prescient as a result of alongside got here the best carnival barker of all time, Donald J. Trump. And at this time, the true circus, Barnum & Bailey, is out of business, whereas the political circus is packing them in throughout America.

It’s not like we haven’t had superstar candidates earlier than. For many years, we’ve seen the likes of Little Miss Miracle (Shirley Temple), the Gipper (Ronald Reagan), and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). We’ve watched as Clint Eastwood and basketball star Kevin Johnson have been elected because the mayors, respectively, of Carmel and Sacramento. We’ve scratched our heads as a string of personalities, from Sonny Bono to Invoice Bradley, from Jesse Ventura to Al Franken, took workplace, partly by leveraging their star energy.

However after the disastrous Trump present, one may need thought the pendulum would redirect itself—because it did in 2020, to Joe Biden—to candidacies favoring no-nonsense, steady-as-they-go, profession politicians. I’m referring to potential nominees who imagine in public service, are steeped in public coverage, and have years of expertise.

Looking forward to the elections on the horizon, nevertheless, contenders borrowing Biden’s seasoned, centrist template are few and much between. As a substitute, some among the many present crop of would-be candidates are utilizing Trump 2016 as their mannequin for 2022. They regard the Trump narrative not as a cautionary story however as a playbook for doubling down on their very own marginal superstar, as if instantly liberated to specific themselves, grasp the brass ring of energy politics, rake in some severe dinero, and redirect their careers by operating on fame’s fumes—and interesting to Trump’s base. To wit: The latest wave of cartoon candidates and clickbait C-listers, who’re hoping, like Trump earlier than them, to make use of so-called “performative politics” to catapult themselves within the primaries from freak-show clowns to credible nominees.

Girls and gents, step proper up. See the sword-swallowers, contortionists, and snake-charmers that embrace: the Heisman Trophy–winner Herschel Walker, with whom Trump had dinner in June, stating, “He instructed me he’s going to [run] and I feel he’ll”; Caitlyn Jenner (a sports activities hero turned transgender pioneer turned punch line); Andrew Giuliani (a clone of a punch line); Lara (will-she-or-won’t-she-run?) Trump (who married into the punch line); Matthew McConaughey (the alright-alright-alright punch line); and J.D. Vance (the hillbilly punch line).

What all these political novices have in frequent is identify recognition, lack of expertise, and usually some connection to Donald Trump. Or, a minimum of, a seeming want to attempt to set up one.

J.D. Vance, operating in Ohio for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, is Exhibit A. Vance, who bought well-known writing the ebook Hillbilly Elegy—about rising up in Kentucky and Ohio—had this to say (in since-deleted tweets) about DJT: “Trump makes folks I care about afraid. Immigrants, Muslims, and so forth. Due to this I discover him reprehensible. God desires higher of us.” And shortly after Trump took workplace: “In [four] years, I hope folks keep in mind that it was these of us who empathized with Trump’s voters who fought him most aggressively.”

At present, guess who’s seemingly looking for Trump’s endorsement? The large sucking-up sound you hear now in Ohio is none apart from that of J.D. Vance.

What does this say in regards to the state of American politics? Nicely, it actually signifies the pendulum ain’t swingin’ again to wherever close to regular but. If something, it’s looping additional out towards loopy. And should you’re some form of superstar geek, it’s lots simpler to get into the circus.

After Donald Trump gained in 2016, one can solely think about all of the millionaires and celebrities who wakened and thought, Nicely, if that man may be president… And it was solely a matter of time earlier than Democrats have been begging for Oprah to run. (And let’s not overlook Kanye’s ill-fated campaign in 2020.)

So, the place does it cease and when does it finish? Or does it? Possibly the desk stakes to enter American politics at this time is a few measure of fame. There’s speak now about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson operating for president in 2024. And wouldn’t that be a becoming conclusion? A president who was actually a WWF (WWE) wrestler.



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