In the almost endless and cyclical struggle of ups and downs, "not-Romneys" and pizza moguls, the 2012 GOP primary season has come to distinguish itself from the standard operating procedure in modern politics. The Republican base has become so fragmented and volatile that it's often impossible for even the mainstream pundits to predict the tide of the race.
One week, Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, seems to be awakening another one of his nine lives. The next week, he's all but forgotten, and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator, is the talk of the town. Come another week, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, enters stage right and seems to garner a respectable portion of the electorate - only to have the cycle restart itself a week later.
With all the fluidity and fickleness that has come to embody the GOP campaign, though, there has remained one constant throughout it all: the media's seeming obsession with the horse race.
Flip to any news channel, and you get a never-ending marathon. And smattered in between the reportage of the current status of the race is analysis by pundits, telling us what everything means: Gingrich's reluctance to leave is good news for Romney because it splits the conservative vote, but bad news for Santorum because he's the conservative candidate, but good news for Obama because a split field is a weak field. And on and on it goes.
But with all the flashbulbs and finish lines, pundits and reporters, negative ads and super PACs, we've all been drawn away from the real substance of the campaign. We've forgotten the one question that this election - and any election, for that matter - really comes down to: what would a Republican or Democratic victory mean for America?
It seems a simple enough question. Yet it's rarely touched upon. Our news media, the self-professed "Fourth Estate," has come to view our presidential elections as a sporting event with a clear winner and loser. For those of us observing, there is a growing disassociation from the implications of victory and defeat.
But, this isn't a sporting event. The winning team doesn't simply head to the locker room and spray champagne. The losing team doesn't sulk back to the sidelines, heads hanging low. We are all players in this game: with victory and defeat come consequences. And with a Republican victory, the consequence is war with Iran or something just short of it.
Romney, the most likely nominee, considers Iran "the greatest threat the world faces." There is "no price," he declares, "that is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon." And as president, he would ensure that Iran would never build one. Santorum would order an immediate and unrelenting air strike on all nuclear facilities within Iran. Gingrich has compared Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler and has stated that "overthrowing the government of Iran" might be necessary to deter its nuclear ambitions.
But in the news media, we never hear about an impending war concomitant with a Republican victory. We never hear of its grave implications. We hear nothing about a war fought without provocation or mandate from the U.N. Security Council. We hear nothing about a war fought in direct violation of international law. We hear nothing about the coming deaths of innocent civilians and global unrest. Nothing of Middle East instability, of the rise of violent extremism against the U.S. We hear nothing about how far a Republican victory would push us from the edge of sanity into the dark abyss of war.
Caught up in the dust of the horse race, the news media has become enamored by glitz and glamour. The hard truths and repercussions of the candidacies they extoll are all but forgotten.
Sure, the race is fun, and everybody loves an old-fashioned boxing match between greasy haired, well-dressed politicians, but war is on the horizon, lives are on the line, peace is in jeopardy. We need to face reality and start asking ourselves if another war in the Middle East is really something to be desired. More lives lost, more money wasted, more animosity bred, more instability produced?
The news media needs to start doing its job again. It needs to start asking tough questions. It needs to lay out for the American people the clear choices this election season because come November, we are going to need a level head in the White House, not the winning horse.