scott walker and the entertainment theory of the GOP
You will read a lot of insightful and nuanced discussion of Scott Walker’s campaign for president. Here, I want to offer an additional analysis – the “entertainment” theory of the GOP and its primary process. Normally, what you’ve seen in American politics is that various factions, or coalitions, put up candidates and that each coalition gets a fair share of the vote (e.g., liberals have Bernie Sanders now) and primaries are fought between a small number of candidates.
What happened so that the GOP has now fielded 16 contenders? The answer is that one of the major coalitions inside the GOP (the populists) has abandoned normal political practice, which usually entails vetting a small number of candidates from the ranks of the party elites. Instead, they are directing attention at candidates for their entertainment value. In other words, a significant chunk of the GOP now judges candidates not on what they’ve done or their political connections, but how amusing they are on television.
Why does this matter? It matters because the dynamics of entertainment are very different than the dynamics of traditional politics. In traditional politics, people spend a career building a reputation and social capital. You help people and they help you back. That means a certain level of stability. In contrast, if you judge people on entertainment value, then you create an unstable environment. Candidates get stale, and you move from one to the other.
The entertainment theory of the GOP does imply that eventually establishment candidates have the upper hand because entertainment does not get people out to the polls and caucuses. Organization and personal attachment to the party and candidate gets people to the polls. Scott Walker was victim of this dynamic. Tough talk got him attention, boredom set in, and now we have Fiorina, Trump, and Carson.