A performer spits fire. (Creative Commons)

Modern political campaigns have given rise to a new breed of politician: the performance artist. This type of candidate is known less for their ideas or qualifications and more for their attention-grabbing antics. Whether it be through bombastic statements or through policy proposals with no basis in reality, this type of candidate is far more concerned with performance than policy.


Unfortunately, the performance artist has become a common occurrence in our political world. Bolstered by social media and 24-hour news cycles, they are inescapable. Performance artist politicians take away from the substantive and capable candidates who should be getting fair consideration, leaving us all worse off.

Merely being compelling does not make a candidate a performance artist.  On the contrary, the best candidates have both substantive proposals and an engaging style that allows them to bring their ideas to a wide audience. Instead, the performance artist lacks the first part. Rather than well-thought-out ideas, they have only a “look-at-me” attitude. Their ideas are shallow and ill-considered, and their tactics are attention-seeking. Unfortunately, with today’s tendency to see politics as entertainment, they are also elected far more often than they should be.

A few particularly notable examples have come to the forefront recently. The most obvious example is presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Although at times entertaining, he comes to the table with nothing that should make him a serious candidate. He has no political credentials, poorly considered ideas and his campaign appears to be based solely on saying or doing something controversial to generate headlines.  

Unfortunately for him — but fortunately for society as a whole — people often tire of performance artists once their gimmick is revealed. After Ramaswamy’s time in the spotlight at the first Republican debate, his name identification went up, but his polling numbers did not, and his favorability ratings actually declined. Further scrutiny following the debate has not been particularly favorable either. It appears that the public may have figured out that Ramaswamy is not a substantial candidate.

For us Republicans in particular, we must be quick to root out the performance artists before they distract from meaningful debate. We need serious public officials to deal with serious issues. The 2022 elections show what happens when our candidates lack substance. Many Republican nominees in 2022 were more concerned with performing for an audience — whether that be their “base” or former President Trump — than putting forward ideas that address real problems. The voters punished this behavior and what should have been a very favorable year for Republicans turned into a massive disappointment. Instead, we need officials who are willing and able to lead with substantive ideas, not just put on a show of what they believe the crowd wants.

How do we spot a performance artist politician? There are several warning signs that usually indicate candidates are not serious. First, be on the lookout for those who use buzzwords in lieu of explaining their ideas. Buzzwords tend not to convey much meaning, instead only showing which “camp” their user is a part of. Candidates can say they are fighting “woke” ideas, because the word “woke” is so undefined that it means different things to different people. Buzzwords are intended to trigger an emotional response without tying the candidate to anything concrete. Relying on them is a hallmark of an unserious candidate.

Performance artist politicians also tend to exploit their bad reputations to their own benefit. Part of their game is to try to garner attention, and this sometimes causes them to cross the line. When called out for clearly problematic behavior, the performance artist will often outright lie. They will use distrust in large institutions to claim that “the media” is misquoting them or taking their statements out of context. In their world, perception equals reality, so if they say they are being treated unfairly, they can escape the consequences of prior bad actions. If a politician is constantly saying that everyone is lying about them, it is far more likely that they are instead trying to avoid having to answer for their record.

Lastly, beware of candidates who spend their time focusing on issues that do not apply to the office they seek. When a candidate or official is issuing statements about things that they clearly have no say in or impact on, that is a warning that the official is more concerned about their public image than doing their job well.

We are not immune to performance artist politicians in Wyoming. Many are in office already, and many more will seek office in the future. As voters, we need to be sure that the people we are electing are serious candidates.  The attention-seekers can get their fix elsewhere.

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at khale.lenhart@gmail.com

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  1. The republicans have nothing but clownish performance artists. They have absolutely no platform to stand on, so they keep trying to fear – monger their way into continued power by telling their cult to be terrified of gender, sexuality, education, science, global economics, non-evangelical religion, democracy, etc…

  2. Perhaps the performance artist is the one claiming to not be the performance artist. The message here is confusing to say the least.

    “The voters punished this behavior and what should have been a very favorable year for Republicans turned into a massive disappointment.”

    A quick look at the 2022 elections shows a massive win for Republicans. It is difficult to find a “w” next to a “D” in the election results. And if the voters had punished the performance artists, why is there massive disappointment?

    Perhaps the writer is really engaged on the debate between republicans in the primaries? Often, it can be confusing for a former chair of the Laramie County GOP to identify the performance artist. Was the performance artist the former congresswoman, representative Cheney who talked about her constitutional commitment? Meanwhile the DNC planted her signs in yards next to Democrat signs and Cheney recruited Democrats to crossover in massive numbers to the republican party. The winner of that race did/does speak to “woke” issues. Does that make her position less serious? I believe she was endorsed by former president Trump. Did that make her a “performance artist”?

    I can understand the confusion, from mixed messages. The writer would like to “root out” candidates before they distract from meaningful debate. And those candidates might have positions that would appeal to former president Trump. Hmm, perhaps the writer does not know how many in Wyoming voted for Trump.

    Beware of anyone who wishes to “root” out a candidate before they can mess up a debate with their free speech, and then slap a label on a candidate like “Performance Artist”. All candidates by definition are seeking the spotlight and a stage, even the ones Lenhart wants to succeed.

    I think Wyoming likes more debate and more sunlight, whatever the message and whatever the medium. And we are all disappointed when “our” guy/gal loses. And oftentimes we are disappointed when “our” guy/gal wins.

    And “rooting” out candidates is a Democrat party procedure. You can ask Bernie and RFK Jr. about those tactics.

    I keep forgetting to send the gift basket to Ms. Cheney for getting the crossover voting bill passed in the Wyoming Legislature… I should get on that right away.

  3. Republicans don’t have any actual platform or agenda anymore besides owning the Libs and making sure those 2 transgendered kids in Wyoming don’t play girls sports, so naturally all they will have is a clown-show, with each clown trying to out-clown the other one.

    1. Paul, I am pleased you recognized that Trump is a candidate with no substantive ideas and a “look-at-me” attitude. Khale did NOT name him, but you did. Thanks.

  4. Great choice of photoillustration for this prescient piece. Is that Coloroado’s fiery congresswoman Lauren Boebert, perchance ?

  5. Once again, Khale, your are right on target. What has drawn this flood of pretenders into the political sphere is the success of the prototypical performance politician – Donald Trump. He has proven to them that too many voters prefer someone ill-qualified, who lies and sports a “look-at-me” attitude, over someone with ideas and maturity who might challenge their intellect.

    1. As I have mentioned elsewhere, America is suffering from an epidemic of petulant adolescence/adolescent petulance. This is mostly manifested on the “right-wing/conservative” side of our body politic (although there are a few on the left side). Khale notes that this is expressed in performative buffoonery (witness President Trump, Jan. 6, Jim Jordan, etc.), but there seems to be zero likelihood that your father’s Republican party is coming back.