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Sunday 20 November 2011

Liberal media play judge in ultimate reality show

The 'oops' factor is ever present in the competition for the US Republican nomination, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

IT'S the ultimate reality show, the race for the US Republican nomination. One by one, the hopeful candidates arrive on the scene, all groomed and prepped and optimistic, they win the affection or admiration of the public by a stellar performance on the stump or in a debate, they try not to gloat too obviously as they soar up the polls, see others being nominated for eviction, and then, finally, after a gaffe or an embarrassing revelation, they're up for eviction themselves.

What they have in common is that they're all challenging bland Mitt Romney, the contender most likely to succeed, for he's been around a long time and doesn't frighten the horses. Governor of Massachusetts between 2002 and 2006, Romney lost the 2008 nomination to John McCain. Among his handicaps are his religion, for most Americans thinks Mormonism weird, and being so anxious to please everyone that the Tea Partiers distrust him and think him a 'flip-flopper' in policy terms.

Ex-governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate in 2008 Sarah Palin, Romney's chief rival for so long, went first -- in October she finally declared she was quitting the race. Her core supporters still love her, but ridicule and vicious intrusiveness into her private life had so undermined her that she hesitated to declare her formal candidature and was over-taken by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, another tough, attractive right-winger who became the August pin-up.

Bachmann's speeches could inspire, but in interviews and debates she fared less well, not least because of being prone to factual errors and crass throw-away lines. Her main misfortune was that -- as her support wavered -- along came handsome, dashing Texan Governor Rick Perry, richer and more credible and soon leaving her far behind in the polls.

Still, Perry faltered a little in October, for Georgian Herman Cain, once a mathematician and later a successful businessman, enraptured the right with his charm and commonsense and his refusal to claim victim-status because of childhood poverty or the colour of his skin. As Cain rode high in the polls, Perry finished himself off in 53 excruciating seconds when in a debate he announced his intention to axe three federal agencies, forgot the name of the third and ended up with a simple 'Oops'. Cain, who was shaking off accusations of sexual harassment that his supporters believed were a set-up, then had his own 'oops' moment in a televised interview with an editorial board when he stumbled over a question on Obama's record on Libya and blamed it on "all this stuff twirling around in my head".

So now Newt Gingrich is zooming up the polls, even though few took him seriously earlier in the year, not least because of the notoriety of his private life: he cheated on his first wife with the woman who became his second and on the second with the present Mrs Gingrich, 23 years his junior. There was also the little matter of the ignominious ending to his Congressional career when he took the rap for a disastrous Republican performance in 1998 mid-term elections and resigned both the speakership of the House of Representatives and his seat.

However, his pugnacity and competence in debate after debate and his reputation as an intellectual heavyweight has suddenly paid off, and desperate Republicans see someone who might give President Obama a run for his money. However, the liberal media are hard at work digging the dirt on Gingrich, and the intellectual right are denouncing him as a phony, so he may not detain us long.

Congressman Ron Paul, who is making his third tilt at the presidency, has been largely ignored by the mainstream media: they think him a crank and ignore his frequently high ranking in the polls. Yet his libertarianism is well-thought out and has a sound intellectual base and he is the intellectual Daddy of the Tea Party. He could yet unseat Gingrich, but -- being 76 -- is probably not in the long-term a serious candidate. Besides, while some of the evicted candidates were ignorant on foreign policy, Ron Paul is worryingly isolationist.

Others will rise and fall over the next few weeks and months, the victims of their own deficiencies as well as the determination of an overwhelmingly liberal US media to do whatever it takes to expose, ridicule and revile anyone who stands against Obama -- who is as unpopular with mainstream Americans as were Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford before they lost.

With 24-hour rolling news, sensationalist reporting, ubiquitous cameras to record every gaffe and YouTube to then send them viral, the wonder is that anyone is prepared to put their reputations on the line. It is right that the fourth estate puts politicians under critical scrutiny, but wrong that so many journalists set out to belittle and destroy all those whose crime is to be out of tune with the urban elites.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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