The proverbial light bulb flashed on in my skull the other evening as I was listening to a young Sirius XM reporter offer her view on how Donald J. Trump got elected president of the United States.
She noted that voters elected an “entertainer,” someone they knew via his reality-TV exposure. He brought that personality with him to the presidential campaign and . . . presto! He won!
Then it occurred to me. Voters are susceptible to this kind of nonsense. Indeed, I witnessed a case of unfold up close in Potter County, Texas, in 2000. That was the year voters in the Texas Panhandle county elected a profoundly unqualified — and as it turned out, profoundly corrupt — individual as their sheriff.
Mike Shumate won that year’s Republican Party primary for sheriff, defeating a man who had served with distinction as the chief deputy under Sheriff Jimmy Don Boydston. Art Tupin, though, did not have Shumate’s cult following developed over the years he ran the Amarillo Police Department’s Crime Stoppers program.
Shumate was a media star in the Texas Panhandle. That stardom translated to votes in that year’s GOP primary. He would sound off on radio stations talking about how APD would arrest criminal suspects, how the courts would convict them and how a fictional prison character named “Bubba” would receive the criminal once he got sentenced.
Man, the guy was a laugh a minute.
Except that he had no business running a sheriff’s department in a county comprising a population of around 125,000 residents. Shumate’s tenure as sheriff didn’t end well. He lost his job after being convicted of embezzling funds and serving time in a Texas Panhandle jail.
The point here is that voters too often become suckers for a personality. They glom onto an individual’s “star status,” ignoring his or her actual qualifications. Donald Trump benefited from the form of “cult of personality” that surrounded him as he campaigned for the presidency; meanwhile, more qualified GOP opponents never got the traction they deserved while this carnival barker kept piling up victories in state after state.
Let us hope voters won’t be fooled in 2020.