GOP primary is like a used car dealership for voters

Editor’s Note: S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.

Story highlights

S.E Cupp: You need a new car and so you head to a dealership; when you get there, it is sensory overload

Cupp: Bad way to pick car and worse way to pick a president, and yet, that's what GOP voters are being asked to do

Trump is flashy red sports car you are told will make you feel virile and powerful again in midst of midlife crisis, says Cupp

CNN  — 

Everyone’s had this experience: You need a new car and so you head to a dealership. When you get there, it is sensory overload. There are seemingly thousands of choices, most of which are completely wrong for you, some of which could be right for you and a couple that really catch your eye.

But you can’t make sense of any of it, because the sheer volume is overwhelming. Plus, the dealership is blasting obnoxious music and every 5 minutes an annoying carnival barker comes on the loud speaker to yell about the “Must Have Car” you definitely don’t want.

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Then, of course, there are the salesmen, stalking you around the lot, chirping about the different features of this car and that car. “This is the one for you,” and “this one is great for families,” and “this one gets great mileage.”

You feel like you’re not getting quite the whole story, and whatever car you buy will likely disappoint in some way. But what’s the alternative? You need a car, and this is how it’s done.

It’s an awful experience, and no way to decide how to spend a significant amount of money on such an important life item.

But it’s an even worse way to decide on a president. And yet, that’s exactly what Republican voters are being asked to do.

The 70% or so of conservatives who have not lined up behind Donald Trump are still shopping for a candidate. But when they enter the car dealership of Republicans for president, the experience is as cacophonous as last Saturday night’s Republican debate.

There’s Trump at one end of the showroom spitting out non-sequiturs about mooning, cursing, Atlantic City and WMDs. On the other end, John Kasich is interrupting every 10 minutes to croon combatively about his endless positivity. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are having – for the thousandth time – an argument about who is least pro-amnesty. Jeb Bush is belting out a Broadway show tune of affection for every Bush family member that ever was, and Ben Carson is performing a Cirque du Soleil contortion act to answer every question by plugging his website.

In addition, the inventory is overwhelming. There have been 17 – SEVENTEEN! – major candidates over the course of this primary, and though the field has winnowed substantially, there are still six people running after two states have decided.

And they all offer something different, to be sure:

Trump is the flashy red sports car you are told will make you feel virile and powerful again in the midst of your midlife crisis. Expensive and impractical, your kids are also totally embarrassed when you pick them up in it.

Jeb Bush is the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy of 2016 (Midsize Sedan Category) car. On paper, it’s got it all: ergonomic design, highly-rated safety features, exceptional warranty, good value. But when was the last time you slowed down to take a closer look at a Kia Optima?

Marco Rubio is the self-driving car of tomorrow – potentially life-changing, potentially life-saving, potentially the future of automobiles – if it can only make it through R&D without exploding.

Ted Cruz is the souped-up, jacked-up modified coal-rolling pickup with a giant super cab and 6-inch lift kit. It’s marketed to the everyman, but actually costs $50,000. It’s got loyal fans and an “f-off” attitude – which has made it very unpopular with everyone else.

John Kasich is the family-friendly minivan you swore you’d never drive – until you had three kids and a dog and now it’s the thing that will save you from intentionally driving into a tree during carpool. No one finds your car exciting, but everyone totally understands why you bought it.

Ben Carson is the vintage classic car. Nostalgic and comforting, it reminds you of a simpler time, but in reality has no place on modern roads. Great to take out once in a while for a weekend joyride or car show, but otherwise best kept in the garage where it can’t, er, say crazy things.

While all these candidates are distinct, with Trump’s profanity-laced carnival barking a constant distraction from actual issues, have voters really gotten to hear enough from the rest of them? Govs. Rick Perry and Scott Walker didn’t even get a real chance.

Then voters have had to wade through the thick cloud of professional opinion that is a constant companion of their candidate search. All the numerous campaign surrogates, like car salesmen, insisting their candidate is the one for this kind of voter and that kind of voter. The media and pundits – yes, including me – well-intentioned and passionate, perhaps, but I’d imagine only adding to a voter’s confusion, not clarifying it.

And, aptly, as Presidents Day arrives, we know voters, like consumers, are inundated with ads meant to get them off the couch and into the voting booth. When you see a dozen different ads for a used car sale in a weekend, can you really keep them straight?

In all this madness, is it any wonder no one or two candidates have emerged as the clear alternative to Donald Trump?

What can be done about this is anyone’s guess. Until the field gets down to two or three candidates, I don’t imagine we’ll see anyone besides Trump consolidating voters in any real way. In the meantime, my apologies and gratitude to voters who have the herculean task of picking a president at a car dealership.

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