We're in a tough spot in this country. Republican citizens are worried about the economy and America's place in the world, and they're struggling to cope with social change. They're looking to their presidential candidates to take charge. Watching the debate tonight, GOP voters will be trying to figure out which contender shows them the kind of leadership they crave - specifically the kind that's indistinguishable for having an actual full-blown case of rabies.
They want Reaganesque boldness, sure. But also Reaganesque agitation and mental confusion. Plus, across the board, people in the party are all seeking a new, more intense level of unfocused aggression.
Donald Trump comes closest, and that's why he's the front-runner. Trump might actually have rabies, and if so it's likely he's contracted it from one of his supporters, many of whom seem as if they're about to be trapped and decapitated by animal control officers. This quality Trump has - the unapologetic energy and determination of a squirrel trying to scratch his way out of a fireplace flue - is something Jeb Bush has always lacked. But Ben Carson is gaining on Trump, partly because even though he acts in a manner that is deliberate and thoughtful, which turns off movement conservatives, Carson expresses opinions and concepts that make him seem like he's in the last stages of the disease, in which nothing but palliative care is possible. The more of him Republicans see, the more they like.
If the other candidates want a chance, they're going to have to take clear and even risky steps to connect with the TV audience. Look for Ted Cruz to lunge at one of the moderators. Look for Chris Christie to develop flecks of spit at the corners of his mouth - more than usual. Look for Marco Rubio to furtively glance at his water bottle as if he's about to drink it, before knocking it off the podium in disgust. These are the signs that will show you they're serious.
Republicans want an outsider this season. A maverick. They want the kind of candidate who threatens the establishment, the media, and pedestrians in the street, particularly if they can't run very fast. These voters are determined to send someone to the White House who will reject the old, easy ways of getting things done in Washington. They want someone who doesn't compromise on values, mostly because he or she doesn't have a functional nervous system or control of their actions. And tonight that's exactly what you're going to see from a GOP winner.
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