The Truman Show candidacy: a radically transparent suggestion

Photo: The Truman Show

What really goes on behind the scenes with candidates for president or other public offices? You know shady things are going on — things that may never come out unless there’s an investigation. It’s time for radical transparency. It’s time for the first full-time livestreaming Truman Show candidate.

Recent elections have proven the power of radically transparent candidates. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed revealed just who he was for all that were paying attention in 2015 and 2016. But obviously, that social media feed — like all candidates’ social media posts — shows only what the candidate decides to share.

A truly honest candidate would show us all sides of themselves, not just the one they or their communications staffs would like us to see. You know, like “The Truman Show.”

The Truman Show candidacy

Let’s meet Tara Truman. For the purposes of this exercise, she’s running for the Republican nomination for president in 2020, but things would be just the same if she were running for governor, senator, or mayor. Truman commits to putting as much as possible of her candidacy on a live video feed as possible.

Truman’s feed begins as she meets with friends and advisors over a period of months to consider her candidacy. We see her listening and thoughtfully weighing the possibility of running for office. We also get to know the key people in her inner circle, such as her chief of staff and communications director. And we see her discussing with them the possibility of livestreaming her entire experience. Because Truman is fundamentally honest, hardworking, thoughtful, and empathetic, we begin to warm up to her.

Before her announcement, Truman’s live feeds aren’t constant. But once she announces, we get to see almost everything she does.

She livestreams from backstage before her announcement rally. Then we see the rally, both from her perspective and from the crowd’s. And we see her and her advisors sharing their emotions afterwards.

We see her working on position papers, then trying them out in speeches, then making adjustments based on the reaction.

We see her meeting with reporters, then view the resulting coverage afterwards. We can judge whether the media is treating her fairly or not. We see what happens when she goes on cable spots, including what happens beforehand and afterwards, not just what’s broadcast.

We see her meeting with potential financial backers. Since it’s all on the record, we can decide for ourselves whether these are the kinds of people we’d like our representatives to be working with — and whether things have crossed the line into a suspect quid pro quo. That’s a lot less likely, since all the donors are on camera. And while she doesn’t get some of those donations from camera-shy backers, she gets more from people who’ve come to love her through her livestream.

We see her meet with potential staffers and cabinet members, those whom she is evaluating for positions in the campaign and later, in her administration.

We see before, during, and after each debate, from the candidate’s point of view.

She gets angry and upset with inevitable setbacks. We’re there with her. She meets with pollsters. We’re there with her. She strategizes, sets priorities, meets with volunteers. We’re there with her.

There are a few things that can’t happen on camera. If she gets a national security briefing, that has to stay secret. If she’s doing debate prep, the stream from that won’t appear until after the debate. And if she shares quiet and intimate moments with her family, the cameras may have to go elsewhere. But every time the cameras are off, Truman justifies why she’s going off the record for a moment.

Benefits and drawbacks of the Truman Show strategy

A livestreamed candidacy has lots of benefits.

The most obvious is that no one can claim the candidate is dishonest or deceptive, since everything is on the record.

While most people won’t watch the livestream continuously — we all have lives to lead — we’ll certain see moments from it. The candidate’s staff will repurpose video clips for Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. The media will embed and share their own clips. We’ll get to know the candidate better than any other candidate we’ve ever seen.

We’ll know exactly what we’re getting, insofar as that is possible. Because we’ll see the candidate making decisions in many stressful situations, we’ll understand not just who she is, but how she thinks. Don’t you wish you had this knowledge of all our elected officials before you voted for them?

The Truman Show candidate will be guaranteed of media coverage. Trump had his rallies and Bill Clinton his town halls. Truman will stand out from the rest of the pack, because she will be able to claim more transparency than any other candidate in the race.

Clearly, there are problems with this strategy, too. A Truman Show candidate can’t hide a mistake — her mistakes will be endlessly repeated. She can’t appear presidential if she breaks down in tears or goes off on a tirade in an unguarded moment.

This candidate will probably have a great deal of difficulty fundraising, because of her inability to make quiet handshake deals that voters would disapprove of. Would the media coverage make up for this? There’s no way to know.

Most importantly, the Truman Show strategy demands a unique sort of candidate. She must be likable in the extreme. She must be smart enough to know a lot about a lot of things, but smart enough also to appear intelligent when she’s being briefed on things she doesn’t know. And the Truman Show candidate must have an unparalleled degree of skill at navigating contentious issues. She’s going to be speaking with people on both sides about abortion, tax cuts, or racial justice. She’s going to have to address these issues in a way that doesn’t cut her constituency down to zero.

There will inevitably be a Truman Show candidate in an upcoming presidential election, or in an election for some other office. She may not win, but she’ll change the way we think about elections forever.

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