Current candidates short on star quality

Memo to: Roger Ailes

From: Peter Bart

Watching yet another presidential debate last week, I was left with the following question: Why haven’t the Republicans found themselves a casting director?

OK, I realize this is a “Hollywood” response to a political issue, but clearly the present lineup of misfits and miscreants cannot represent the optimal leadership of a major political party.

I put this question to you, Roger, for two reasons: As president of Fox News, your control over the on-air real estate gives you extraordinary power over the politics of the right. Further, you have exhibited great talent in the casting of your allegedly “fair and balanced” shows: The O’Reilly-Hannity axis continues to flatten competition.

So isn’t it time to be a little more “Hollywood” in your next important production: defeating Obama?

Having worked in the movie business over the years, I am keenly cognizant of the tortuous nature of the casting process. I have watched filmmakers endlessly rerun clips of their prospective actors, desperately trying to anticipate performance and chemistry.

I’ve even done some detective work, finding the first movie auditions of stars like Brando and Paul Newman. I was curious whether I could detect their “star quality” in their first nervous and tentative readings. (The answer was yes; they were superstars even as callow newcomers.)

I don’t like second-guessing, Roger, but from their initial performances it became clear that Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul weren’t ready for primetime. Further, the Romney campaign keeps playing like one of those soggy sitcoms that the networks canceled one or two seasons ago and that accidentally got plugged into the schedule once again.

Now, Roger, we all know you have not only the power but also the experience to do better. You nurtured the career of a smart but smarmy Richard Nixon, brilliantly showcasing his debating talents (and formidable intellect) while papering over his rampant sociopathy. That was cool showmanship, man. (By the way, in terms of policy, Nixon would probably be leaning toward Obama on the present ideological landscape.)

At Fox News, I admire the way you manage both your headliners and even your bench. You’ve provided temporary shelter for folks like Mike Huckabee and even Sarah Palin who might be ready for political recycling at some future date.

While your news management has been solid, Roger, your performance on the political front has been wobbly. You provided a vital platform for the Tea Party but in doing so you polarized not only the Republican Party but also America’s entire political system. But, having done so, you have failed to provide a candidate who could at least symbolically stand above that chasm and offer an illusion of unity.

That failure has underscored a deeper question: Should our political candidates emerge from crevices like the Iowa caucus or the Fox newsroom, or should they reflect a broader electorate? Even an online electorate?

The privately funded group called Americans Elect plans to stage its primary on the internet, with the hope of finding a truly centrist candidate (remember those?). The group represents both Republicans and Democrats and its leaders covet folks like Evan Bayh or Michael Bloomberg, who put policy ahead of ideology. Third-party candidates have always been controversial, but, arguably, outsiders like H. Ross Perot and John Anderson helped shake up the political process.

At the very least, Americans Elect might improve the presidential gene pool. And, Roger, you especially should appreciate this contribution.

Column Calendar: Monday: Peter Bart Tuesday: Peter Caranicas/Cynthia Littleton wednesday: Brian Lowry Thursday: Andrew Barker/David S. Cohen Friday: Tim Gray/Ted Johnson

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