Now that NBC has fired Donald Trump, do you find the 2016 presidential campaign more divisive than usual? It is. A few campaigns ago, two American political reporters coined a term for the new Internet-fueled political culture: The Freak Show. It explains much about what we’ve seen already.
“The Way to Win,” by Mark Halperin and John F. Harris, was published by Random House in 2006. It identifies the strategies and traits that create winners (and losers) in modern presidential campaigns. The book’s main focus is how the Bushes and Clintons held the White House for nearly a generation. “The Freak Show” is a major theme in the book. It refers to politics in the Internet age, including the rise of ideological extremism, personal attacks and smear campaigns. When they become mainstream news headlines after first surfacing online, they can derail candidates.
These excerpts from The Way to Win explain why The Freak Show now plays a major role in determining who wins Presidential elections:
The Freak Show is about the fundamental changes in media and politics that have converged to tear down old restraints in campaigns and public debates.
The Freak Show…elevates the personal and the negative over an impartial appraisal of an allegation’s relevance in determining a person’s qualifications for the office. The Freak Show’s incentives favor attack over restraint and sensation over substance. The pervasiveness of these incentives is something that a president or serious presidential candidate faces every single day.
In the past, Old Media tended to sift and suppress the angriest and most sensational elements of politics… In the current generation…the extreme and eccentric voices who have always populated the margins of politics now reside, with money and fame as rewards, at the center.
The political opposition and the media (both Old and New) are filled with men and women who prosper by doing damage to personal reputations. No candidate can be considered serious without an understanding of Freak Show incentives and a strategy for dealing with them.
According to Halperin and Harris, Freak Show politics present a huge threat to any politician hoping to keep control of the narrative of his – or her – life story. When you lose that, they say, you lose the election. As longtime political insiders, they should know. Mark Halperin is the managing editor of Bloomberg Politics. John F. Harris, the editor in chief of Politico, wrote the best-selling biography of Bill Clinton, The Survivor.