Editorials

Let’s send out the clowns for California’s GOP debate

From left, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee were on a crowded stage at the first Republican presidential debate in August. The second debate is set for Wednesday night.
From left, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee were on a crowded stage at the first Republican presidential debate in August. The second debate is set for Wednesday night. The Associated Press

It’s almost un-Californian to get in the way of good show biz. Still, as the Republican presidential hopefuls prepare for their Wednesday debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, we wonder: Is it too soon to plead for some dignity?

The “clown car” analogy for the current state of the GOP race is officially overused, but the road to 2016 so far has defied many other descriptions. In a campaign that’s supposed to be about electing the leader of the free world, we’ve seen more antics than a three-ring circus.

Here’s Donald Trump calling Carly Fiorina unfit to be president because of her face. There are Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz vying for proximity to a lawbreaking Kentucky county clerk and her bib-overalled fourth husband. Sarah Palin, who’s not a candidate, jumped on the Trump bandwagon, urging immigrants to speak “American,” apparently as opposed to Jeb Bush’s second language, Spanish.

And there’s been much, much more, as the game show announcers say.

Some of this is to be expected. Some is even entertaining, if only to the opposing party. But at some point, the public has to get some sense of how the candidates would govern. There hasn’t been much room for that, so far.

Even here, in Hollywood’s home state, voters want serious answers.

Other than the odd word-in-edgewise – John Kasich’s stirring and intelligent defense of Medicaid, Bush’s reasoned defense of Common Core standards, Rubio’s defense of legal immigration – the last debate was a jangly hodgepodge of insults, spiritual name-dropping and references to pimp taxes and tithing.

Even here, in Hollywood’s home state, voters want serious answers.

What are the Republican contenders prepared to do about climate change, for example? Do they believe it’s a human-caused problem? What solutions do they have for the drought that has left the West so devastated, or the wildfires that are raging?

How do we embrace our booming technology without creating a nation of haves and have-nots, and protecting individual privacy? How about interest rates? Cyber-espionage? Immigration?

What about the real elephant in the GOP room, the nation’s 21st-century evolution toward California-style diversity and the nativism that seems to be on the rise?

The news media deserves some of the blame for letting the examination of serious issues be drowned out. Trump’s antics, in particular, have proven too telegenic for news channels to resist.

But the democratic process shouldn’t be forced into the service of one narcissist’s neurosis. The presidency is an office that the American people revere; it demeans it to pretend the job is just some simplistic blend of yelling, pandering, showmanship and religion.

Would President Dwight D. Eisenhower jockey to get into a photo with the scofflaw Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis? Would President Ronald Reagan stand outside the U.S. Capitol, braying that the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiating team was “very, very stupid”?

Of course not. Most Americans wouldn’t either. To employ Trump’s favorite term, the rest of us have too much class.

The Republican field includes candidates who see governance as a job, not a performance. Here’s hoping that on Wednesday, one or more will forget about show business and get down to the people’s business.

Summer on the campaign trail often is a silly season, but summer is ending. It’s time to move the spotlight beyond silliness.

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