Many people have a celebrity crush, a media notable whose public persona evokes a mass appeal beyond their performance skills.
I would argue there is an equivalent in the political arena as well.
While the Democrats are not in charge of any branch of our federal government at the moment, they have their darlings—personalities who attract attention and admiration despite their current lack of political might. Names that come to mind are former President Barack Obama, presidential candidate and senator Bernie Sanders, along with his colleagues Kamala Harris (hailing from my home state of California) and Cory Booker from New Jersey.
On the Republican side of the aisle, finding that one person who commands the respect and support of the majority is difficult. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz could convert their 2016 presidential bids into a national bully pulpit, but right now there aren’t standing out from their 98 other colleagues and don’t have the mystique Booker and Harris do. The same holds true for Jeff Flake.
What Republicans are looking for is someone who can unite the party (and the nation) and lead it forward. Typically, this would be the President, but Donald Trump is having trouble in that regard these days. He currently is hovering around 60% in the polls, but unfortunately, that’s the people who think he’s doing a bad job as Leader of the Free World. More and more people would rather impeach him than keep him in office.
Trump was in classic form at his recent Phoenix rally, so much so that SNL found plenty of material for a sketch (at least Alec Baldwin won’t be out of work any time soon). Pardoning Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio didn’t win Trump any love either.
Trump’s Tweet-now, retract later, approach is not what Americans seem to want in their leader. If we look to the world of film for our national ideal, what we long for is someone who possesses Jimmy Stewart’s ardent idealism in the face of corruption in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Morgan Freeman’s fatherly calm in the aftermath of calamity in Deep Impact and Bill Pullman’s patriotic bravado against an alien invasion in Independence Day.
The closest thing the GOP seems to have to that right now is House Speaker Paul Ryan. In a recent CNN Town Hall, he proved his mettle. Ryan is known for working hard to connect with the audience. As usual, he presented himself as the real deal—nice, sincere, honest and knowledgeable on the issues. Even when he pivoted from a question to reframe an issue, he still received a round of applause from the hometown crowd.
Of course, all this being said, we need to remember what politicians and performers have in common: they present a front to the public that may, or may not, reflect what’s inside. Unless we invited over for holidays and barbecues, we don’t really know what they’re really like behind closed doors.
Whether any of the above-mentioned Democrats or Republicans are noble leaders like West Wing’s Josiah Barlet or Machiavellian manipulators like House of Cards anti-hero Frank Underwood remains to be seen.