*Even before he officially suspended his presidential campaign last weekend, Herman Cain’s ship was taking on some serious water. The candidate who has gained the most momentum from Cain’s misfortune has been Newt Gingrich which elevates the number of front runners we’ve seen to five.
The up and down nature of the poll numbers for the Republican candidates leads to conclusions about the length of the campaign season, the circus that it has become, and the serious problem facing the Republican Party in 2012.
The campaign season is too long. At this point we have seen nearly a year of Republican hopefuls declaring, denying, and flirting with the possibility of candidacy – and we haven’t yet entered the election year. With each person trying to outdo the other by crisscrossing the country, perspective candidates begin earlier and earlier to visit strategic states, cities, and towns. This extra campaigning leads to a situation where people are proclaiming their suitability to be president because of their work ethic while neglecting their current job; in the case of candidates like Bachman, this means neglecting duties to the public they are being compensated for.
Secondarily the extra campaigning creates a need to upstage one’s rivals for a longer period of time. Combined with the amount of media coverage and the trends in contemporary television production, the length of the campaign season creates a circus like atmosphere even before one is facing off against the incumbent. This is why minor mistakes (Perry only naming two agencies he would eliminate) become major transgressions, while major transgressions (Cain being accused of having a 13 year affair) are insurmountable. Only twenty years ago Bill Clinton was able to overcome the same allegations because there was not the same and length and culture of the campaign season.
These two issues, the length of campaigning and the coverage, highlight the real problem of Mitt Romney. Romney has been at the top of conservative polls since the last Presidential election. Romney has seen rivals get built up and seen them swept away. One way to view this is to say that Romney is a strong candidate. But another way is to say that conservative voters and groups are repeatedly rejecting Romney and constantly looking for someone else to challenge him for the Republican nomination. Perhaps this is because he is a fairly moderate voice in a Republican party shifting further to the right.
All of these things combine to make the campaign season worthless. Because it is so long (and candidates need to continue to create sound bites so their core ideas are lost in the deluge), because it is covered like a reality show (and candidates are attacked for inconsequential trivia), and because there is always someone new to fixate on, the important ideas and positions of the candidates (particularly Romney) are not paid any attention. In other words, the things that are supposed to be the reason to support an individual are unknown. In fact the one person, Ron Paul, who consistently pushes his ideas and positions to the exclusion of sound bites is not being covered as a serious contender for the nomination.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so important. It is critical that candidates be evaluated on their ideas and philosophy, not on their hair and wardrobe. And that’s what happened when there was only 10 months (rather than 24 months) for someone to put out a message.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org