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.