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.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 23, 2015 at 12:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. I think Walker was the GOP leadership’s pick. He had that little spat with unions in his state, so someone thought they could make him the ‘tough’ leader. Jeb is obviously not a tough leader.

    But Trump took up all the air out of the room. He is entertainment.



    September 23, 2015 at 1:54 pm

  2. The country is hurting. Trump brings the viewers with his bombastic narcissistic quality. Carly brings the message of hope and authenticity. Walker got lost in the pile with not one memorable moment. Such is politics and the process. We are more superficial than ever. Our country deserves better than a soundbite.



    September 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm

  3. August: He was the pick of some in the establishment, but not many. Thus he falls between Rubio/Bush and the Flavor of the month. Not much room for anyone.



    September 23, 2015 at 7:47 pm

  4. Our country deserves better than a soundbite.

    @christinadrh, I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m inclined to say that “our country” got itself into this mess (by wanting to be entertained), and we will get what we deserve. :-/ Maybe we’ll learn from our mistakes when the pain and suffering is intense enough. That seems to be the way of humans.



    October 6, 2015 at 11:16 pm

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