Professor discusses ‘celebrified’ presidential elections


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Photo by Edwin Gano |

"Deez Nuts" is only one of the candidates running in the 2016 presidential election without a political background.

The upcoming election has seen more celebrity names running than in years past, such as NBC star Donald Trump and rapper Waka Flocka Flame.

And it seems celebrities will continue to run in future races. During his acceptance speech at last week’s Video Music Awards, singer Kanye West announced his intentions to run for president in 2020.

Michael Rossi, a professor in the Department of Political Science, believes the election has become "celebrified."

“... The electoral process has the air of a reality show,” Rossi said. “The only people that get any kind of attention these days are those that say something far-fetched and outrageous.”

This need for politicians to bring a shock factor to the table was noted in the days leading up to the Republican primary debate on Fox News in August. A “GOP drinking game” was circulated on the Internet that encouraged viewers to take a shot each time a candidate made an extreme remark.

For the following week, Trump received media attention for remarks he made toward Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly. A month earlier, he equated Mexican immigrants to criminals, and said, “(Mexicans) are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime and their rapists.”

“A good number of people tuned into the GOP debate with the drinking game in mind,” Rossi said. “Half of them were half in the bag about five minutes into the debate.”

Rossi believes mainstream politicians, such as Jeb Bush, are finding it increasingly difficult to get attention in a social media environment where every tweet is scrutinized. Republican candidates, in particular, are taking to Twitter to get their attention-grabbing messages to the public.

Just last week, Bobby Jindal engaged in a social media quarrel with Donald Trump. Newspapers speculated that Jindal, who is currently 10th in the GOP presidential field, was attempting to boost his visibility.

Rossi contrasted this behavior with how politicians conducted themselves in past elections. During the 1980 election, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill would often bash each other's platforms publicly. But at the end of the day, the two were cordial.

"Reagan and O'Neill, from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.), were at each others throats. Yet, when the proverbial 5 o'clock whistle blew and everybody went home for the afternoon, Reagan and O'Neill would go to the bar and drink together," Rossi said. "This is something I really can't see any of the Republican candidates doing with their potential opponents."

Trump, who is currently leading the race with 32 percent support in a recent CNN/ORC International poll, made it fashionable for unconventional candidates to run for office.

“There is a popularity for non-established candidates that resonates quite well with at least 30 percent of the American public,” Rossi said. “This harkens back to a simpler understanding of the Constitution, which stipulates that any native-born American can run for office. You don’t have to be part of a political oligarchy or an insider Washington establishment.”

The allure among these non-political individuals sheds light on how the American public is increasingly turned off by more formally established political candidates or “bureaucrats,” Rossi said. Trump echoed this sentiment in a five-part interview with CNN in which he proudly stated that he is “not a politician” and that politicians are “all talk and no action.”

Some say candidates like Trump and West are to blame for turning an important democratic process into a joke, while others argue these runners are able to get people interested in politics.

But Rossi believes “celebrified” elections prove that democracy is here to stay.

“We could get celebrities and whack jobs running for office, and we know they’re not going to upset the Constitutional order,” Rossi said. “You know a country is democratically consolidated when the nutballs, crazies and comedians run for office, but you know ... the system is not going to be upset.”


Avalon Zoppo

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