Back in 2004, I ordered a DVD of that year’s Republican National Convention highlights off of a GOP website. Little did I know (though I really should have) that from that day forward, my email address would end up in the hands of practically every Republican candidate running for national office—well, in the hands of their campaign people anyway.
Most of the emails these campaigns send to me these days go straight to my junk mail folder, which I clean out periodically. That’s what I was doing this morning when I noticed an email from presidential candidate Lindsey Graham. It’s subject was “Brad Pitt”.
I nearly deleted it, but the notion of Graham’s campaign finding a way to connect the senator to the Hollywood heartthrob was too appetizing to discard. Thus, I gave it a read.
As it turned out, Brad Pitt was used simply a metaphor for describing how this year’s GOP presidential debate rules were tailor-made for celebrities, rather than serious candidates vying for the Oval Office.
“Under the current debate rules supported by the RNC, Brad Pitt would have a better shot of being on the debate stage than real candidates for president,” states Graham in the email.
Graham may well be right, though it seems kind of silly to reference Brad Pitt when the campaign’s really talking about Donald Trump, who is topping some of the latest GOP polls.
As everyone who follows politics knows by now, organizations (like Fox News) that are hosting GOP debates have had to make some tough choices over who they’ll allow to appear on their stages. The problem comes from the sheer number of candidates that are running (there will likely be around 15 by the time all is said and done) and how much time will be available for each of them to speak and answer questions constructively.
Fox News has limited their prime-time, televised debate (coming up in August) to ten candidates. This is already a pretty hard-to-manage number for this type of forum. They’ll be using public opinion polls to select the ten most popular of the bunch. Graham isn’t happy about this, primarily because polls show his national popularity ranked near the bottom of the field.
I do understand Graham’s frustration. Watching an unserious blowhard like Donald Trump rise to the top of the field on little more than his celebrity and hyperbole has to be tough for a longtime U.S. senator with presidential aspirations.
But while Trump may be a problem for the GOP is this election cycle, he’s not what will keep Graham and a handful of others from participating in the big debates. The GOP Bucket List Brigade will.
The GOP Bucket List Brigade is a term I came up with for the Republican candidates who are in this race not because they believe they can win, or because they think they’re uniquely qualified to lead the country, but rather for the prestige and historical recognition that comes with being a presidential candidate.
I don’t exclude second-time candidates from this categorization. Beating expectations the first time around has a way of motivating one to try and recapture some of their former glory.
Sure, such candidates exist in every presidential race, but when you get to the point where you can’t fit everyone on one stage, that’s a real problem. Serious candidates will get left out, while those who are in the race to massage their own egos, gin up publicity for future memoirs or television shows, and cross “run for president” off their bucket lists will make the overall field weaker—weaker at a time when our country is in desperate need of strong leadership.
Trump absolutely is a member of the GOP Bucket List Brigade (albeit a high-profile one), but I’ve got news for Senator Graham that he probably doesn’t want to hear: He is too.
There’s just no appetite in the Republican Party—nor is there one with the rest of the country—for a Lindsey Graham presidency. And it’s not because Americans don’t know him. Few senators have been in front of national television cameras as often as Graham has over the past ten years or so. People know what he stands for, and although many admire him (count me among those people), they don’t want him in the White House. The polls and lack of excitement behind his candidacy have made that quite clear.
Why run then? I’m guessing Graham was encouraged to by his friends (and former presidential candidates) John McCain and Joe Lieberman (who may truly believe he has what it takes), but if they’re not leveling with him on his prospects of winning, they’re doing him a real disservice. The same could assuredly be said about a number of other candidates and their advisers.
In our great country, anyone should be able to run for president. That goes without saying. But those who run should have enough humility and respect for the office not to use it as some expensive exercise in self-affirmation. The stakes are too high, especially in the year 2016.
Please… leave the acting to Brad Pitt, and leave the campaigning to viable candidates.
If you’re interested in a signed, personalized copy of my novel ‘From a Dead Sleep’ you can order one from my website. It also makes a great gift!