A few decades ago, a Texas Democratic political consultant told some political reporters he was going to quit sending his candidates into San Antonio for press conferences.
“Because I am so tired,” the consultant replied, “of the only way to get on TV there is be stabbed in a knife fight or be in a kitchen fire or car wreck.”
That reference to the “If It Bleeds, It Leads,” and “Cops and Robbers” approach of too many local TV newscasts, of course, brings us to Donald Trump, and the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Trump is the poster boy for the dilemma the Republican Party faces trying to choose a standard bearer for next year’s presidential race. How do you have a serious vetting of 16 contenders – so far — when one is a rich, egotistical, camera-hogging blowhard, who will say anything?
The same question faces the news media. A New York Times story Saturday (July 25) canvassed several news organizations about how they’re covering the Trump Circus, and the candidates frustrated by Trump’s capture of the spotlight.
The media are in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. They can choose not to cover The Donald, or consign him to the entertainment section, as The Huffington Post has done.
But, if the media ignore Trump, they’ll risk criticism for not joining the herd covering the “news,” such as it is.
The news business is naturally attracted to combat, or calamity, or controversy. We focus more on the one plane that crashes than the 10,000 that land safely.
The other candidates, and Republican Party honchos, are puzzled about how to deal with the Trump political circus.
Two Texas candidates – former Gov. Rick Perry and junior U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz – have opposite approaches in dealing with “Trumpism,” as Perry calls it.
The Donald’s choreographed outrageousness is a “cancer on conservatism,” Perry declared. He says Trump is a disgrace to the Republican Party — and not too long ago idolized Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton.
(Perry better warn his speechwriters not to go too far down that “yesterday” road, lest opponents bring up Perry’s own Democratic history – including helping lead a Texas committee for Tennessee U. S. Sen. Al Gore’s 1988 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.)
Perry says Trump should quit the race for insulting Hispanics, and war hero John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict.
Cruz, by contrast, says he likes Trump, and admires Trump’s direct talk. It is a combative style with which Cruz is intimately familiar.
Some say Cruz obviously is hoping to pick up the “crazies,” as John Mc- Cain called them – those voters currently dazzled by Trump’s tear-it-alldown assault that victimizes logic — when and if Trump’s appeal fades.
The problem facing the GOP in dealing with Trump’s un-reality show – a mixture of “American Ninja Warriors,” “Survivor,” and “Laugh-In” – is his threat of a third-party run if they don’t treat him with the respect he doesn’t deserve.
The GOP establishment’s fear is that even though they consider Trump about as likely to become president as your dog, he nonetheless might siphon off enough otherwise Republican voters to tip the scales to the Democrat.
There is certainly precedent for that. Just ask the first President Bush whether he thinks he’d have been re-elected in 1992 over Democrat Bill Clinton if Ross Perot hadn’t run an independent campaign.
Or, ask Al Gore about his 2000 presidential race, when the race between him and Republican George W. Bush came down to who won Florida.
Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy got 97,488 votes in Florida – most of which would otherwise have gone to Gore — and the U.S. Supreme Court declared Bush the winner, by 537 votes. That was about half of one percent of the votes Nader got.
The continuing challenge for the other Republican presidential candidates, like the pols in San Antonio a couple decades ago, is getting any notice.
After Trump insulted Lindsey Graham and gave out his phone number at a televised rally, Graham — desperately, but probably astutely — filmed a variety of humorous ways to destroy a cellphone. Graham managed to steal at least a few bites of notice from the Media Hog for at least a little while.
The problem in the crowded primary with direct attacks on Trump is that any criticisms that stick to Trump likely will benefit other candidates more than the one who made them.
The effect of the Trump political extravaganza for the Republican Party may be like what the late, famous University of Texas Longhorn football Coach Darrell Royal, said after the 24-point underdog Texas Christian University’s Horned Frogs upset UT in 1961.
“They’re like a cockroach,” Royal said. “It isn’t what he eats or totes off, but what he falls into and messes up.”