GOP Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

This blog was originally published on Forbes as GOP Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 16, 2015.

Fifteen minutes before the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination took the stage of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas last night, comedian Andy Borowitz sent out one of his satirical online blogs, this one titled, “Chilling Video Terrifies Nation.” He wrote, “The video, which was broadcast nationally on CNN, appeared to show nine extremists glaring into the camera and making a series of escalating threats.”

Given the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, and the warnings of terrorist attacks on Los Angeles and New York schools yesterday morning, Mr. Borowitz did not need a crystal ball to predict that the main focus of the debate would be national security. And the nine GOP candidates did not disappoint, spending most of their two prime time hours painting a fearful and apocalyptic view of the world and attacking Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But even Mr. Borowitz had to be surprised at the extent of time and energy the candidates spent attacking their fellow Republicans. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz went after each other, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump tangled, Chris Christie disparaged the senators flanking him on the stage, and so did Carly Fiorina who went on to add lawyers and men to her disdain, and Rand Paul went after the skeleton in Mr. Christie’s closet, saying, “I think when we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III, we might think about someone who might shut down a bridge because they don’t like their friends.”

The debate could be summed up as a modern version of Hunter S. Thompson’s bestselling 1971 novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course, negative political campaigning is as old as political campaigning itself. In 1828, John Quincy Adams attacked Andrew Jackson’s ethics and moral character. And given Donald Trump’s continuing dominance in the public opinion polls, it is understandable that the candidates, now in desperate survival mode, would claw at each other ferociously.

Negative campaigning is akin to the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) approach in sales: “The price is going up tomorrow!” “This is the last one available!” Sometimes it works in sales, sometimes in works in politics. Will it work in the 2016 election?

I say “no” for two reasons:

  • Traditionally, positive messages are more effective than are negative warnings and critiques. As a coach, I never say “don’t,” I always say “do.”
  • Today, the mood of the country is indeed, as Mr. Borowitz put it, “terrified.” But I doubt that the electorate wants to spend another eleven months listening to such dire messages. I am confident that the innately affirmative spirit of America will prevail. Remember the success that Ronald Reagan had with his optimistic vision of America as “the shining city on a hill.”

This blog was originally published on Forbes as GOP Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 16, 2015.