By Dave Spencer
I love sports with a passion and follow many teams here in the Bay Area and around the country. I’m also a political junkie, and since my uniform reads Practically Republican, I focus less on individual stats than I do on the success of the team — in this case Team U.S.A.
There are so many fascinating parallels between politics and sports. Right now, is the heart of the NBA schedule and while each contest provides competition, entertainment and drama (well, most of them), at times the regular season seems to stretch out far too long. The same can be said of the prolonged run-up to the presidential primaries (which often resembled Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day) and then, the slog through the primaries themselves. We all know what ultimately matters is a championship title, or in this case, the key to the Oval Office.
Now that the Iowa Caucus has concluded, the political playoffs have finally begun. The Republican Party still has an overcrowded roster, which will be trimmed after the New Hampshire primary, with some veteran players likely to be cut. But who would have ever imagined that rookies such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson could even make it to prime time with no in-game experience? This may be the most unconventional campaign ever, as so many of the normal standards have been ejected from the rulebook.
In past campaigns, if someone had been in first place for as long as Trump has, he would have clinched the nomination by now. The same could be said about Hillary Clinton many months ago. But like sports, politics isn’t played on paper. You have to take into account swings in momentum, key errors, fair weather fans and having to constantly perform under intense pressure. And sometimes, what looks like a mismatch turns into a thriller.
In this election, so much of the unexpected has become commonplace, it’s hard to generate a detailed argument on why the Democrats are going to win the election or why the Republicans will prevail. That uncertainty does make the process more convoluted, but it also makes it exceptionally captivating for informed citizens, news commentators and political pundits, as second-guessing strategy and tactics are a national pastime.
Getting back to sports, these initial primaries are simply the first round and while there are ups and downs during each series, things eventually get settled on the court and in the ballot box. And you always have surprises when a top seed is upset or one that struggled to make it to the postseason, suddenly puts it all together and makes a serious run. So far we have Trump underachieving in the opener in Iowa, Marco Rubio putting up surprising box score numbers, Ted Cruz declaring victory and Sanders and Clinton going into overtime. But it was just one game and New Hampshire is right ahead on the schedule.
The Granite State is a whole different arena; we don’t know if the polls will be more accurate or what will happen with the logjam in the moderate lane, with Governors Kasich, Bush and Christie battling for position to survive and move on to South Carolina. Of course, Super Tuesday is a very big game, but still one of many to come. So much can happen before we get to the National Convention/Conference Final and with many GOP supporters feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied with the status quo in Washington, the odds on any one candidate keep shifting so much it would drive a bookmaker nuts.
There’s another participant in these contests that doesn’t suit up for the contests, but has an impact on the outcomes: the media and in particular, cable news shows and talk radio. Fox News and MSNBC offer 24-hour news and analysis, an endless loop of political SportsCenters, where controversy boosts ratings and a host or guest’s opinions sometimes hold greater weight than the facts. And conservative radio programs are like sports call-in shows, with rabid fans bringing new meaning to the concept of trash talk. This has all helped create an environment where respect for both the game and the competition are greatly diminished.
After the craziness of the pre-primary season, I’m thrilled that the road to the Finals has finally begun. Interestingly, the Golden State Warriors were at the White House with the President on Thursday to celebrate last year’s NBA Championship. The ceremony got me thinking about the qualities that make a great Commander-in-Chief and an MVP. Savvy decision-making, respect for your opponents, the ability to rise to the occasion and most of all, the kind of bold leadership that brings together a group of diverse individuals to embrace one fundamental principal. Doing what’s best for the team.
So on to game two in New Hampshire. Vote Steph Curry for President.
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