Carl Golden, 7/28/2015 [Archive]

GOP Primary Already Spinning Out of Control

By Carl Golden

Driven by the rantings of Donald Trump and the perception of chaos created by the unwieldy field of candidates, the Republican Party presidential nominating process threatens to become farce.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way.More than a year ago in an effort to avoid the 2012 experience when some 20 candidates --- some serious but most marginal --- took turns beating up on eventual nominee Mitt Romney, the national committee adopted rules and guidelines to seize some level of control over the process.

National party chair Reince Priebus seems helpless to enforce the rules or exert any influence over the field of 16 and the intra-party sniping has returned, albeit not yet as intense as it was in 2012.

In perhaps the most telling example of the level of absurdity to which the process has declined, a half-dozen candidates are running to finish tenth, the final spot open to participate in the Aug. 6 debate sponsored by Fox News Channel. With less than three per cent support as averaged in polls, a candidate can earn the right to stand behind a podium alongside the nine other qualifiers in what will surely be the most watched debate in recent history.

The national committee, realizing the situation is spinning out of control, distanced itself from the debate, saying it did not set the ground rules for it and arguing there will be ample opportunity for those who do not make the cut to participate in other forums and joint appearances.

Nice try, but it overlooks the position taken by several of the candidates that their priority at the moment is to finish 10th or above because, despite other outlets, the Fox debate is the one that really matters.

The stunning rise of Trump rocked the party establishment back on its heels.His candidacy was widely dismissed as another typical publicity stunt by The Donald who would quickly back away as he had done twice before after spending a few weeks providing side show entertainment for the media.

Tapping into an unrecognized but surprisingly deep sense of anger over illegal immigration, Trump suddenly became a major player, drawing huge media crowds and forcing the other candidates to respond to his latest verbal broadsides, including egregious insults to Sen. John McCain's war record and to Mexican immigrants.

Rather than fading quickly as many had predicted, Trump is now assured of a spot in the Fox News debate, possibly even as the front runner.His presence on the stage will send television ratings soaring as an audience tunes in eager to hear his pronouncements even though they're more entertaining than enlightening and to see how he fares in head-to-head competition with others.

Party leaders can take some measure of comfort in the likelihood that Trump's candidacy will flame out at some point as Republican voters come to their senses and realize his candidacy in November 2016 would be disastrous.

The larger problem remains, however.At least half --- probably more --- of the current field have no realistic hope of securing the nomination, their viability at a low ebb, but with some level of financial support will be able to continue their candidacies, at least through early next year.

The Iowa caucuses in January and the New Hampshire primary in February will certainly winnow the field and the marginal contenders will peel away before the South Carolina contest.

The depth of damage they'll inflict on the frontrunners and the ultimate nominee is difficult to calculate.Romney suffered considerable harm in 2012 under assault from his competitors, forced to spend millions in state after state and devote serious time and energy to defending himself rather than drawing sharp contrasts in policy and vision with President Obama.

There is a case to be made that the divergent views offered by the large candidate field is healthy for the party, providingprimary voters with a wide array of philosophies and governing styles from which to choose.

It does, however, create a noise level which can drown out legitimate messages and portray a divided and incoherent party in whom trust to deal with complex domestic and global issues would be misplaced.

Understanding that national party leaders cannot dictate who can run or who is more acceptable than whom, they are left with the hope that at the end of the day it will all sort itself out and the weak will fall by the way.

If not, the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan is in jeopardy of becoming the party of Moe, Larry and Curly.

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©Copyright 2015 Carl Golden, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.

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