There's that scene in Jaws, out on the ocean, when Roy Scheider's character, local sheriff Martin Brody, is dumping chum and trying to catch a glimpse of the shark that's been terrorizing Amity Island. He keeps dumping the shark bait until the great white surfaces just a few feet from his face — 25 feet and three tons of cold-blooded killer.
"You're gonna need a bigger boat," he tells Robert Shaw's Quint.
For some reason, that scene played in my head after Sen. Ted Cruz announced earlier this week that he'd be running for president. It took about a nanosecond for the trolls to hit Twitter, the pundits to pounce — even his "friends" at the Wall Street Journal snapped at him. His competitors in the GOP field have to be horrified to see what happened to the first guy to jump in. Yes, there are sharks down there. And no, he can't feel his legs. GOP honchos must be thinking about that scene, too: "We're gonna need a better candidate."
This is just the first act in what should be a long, careful dance between candidates, the media, the Internet and the general public. Four years ago, the GOP was stung by a long, drawn-out campaign season that bloodied all their candidates. This time, watch for fewer debates and carefully orchestrated roll-outs; the Cruz announcement is already the case study in doing it wrong. The Dems will be orchestrating, too — of course Hillary Clinton is running, but her handlers want to play it coy until the last possible moment.
But try as they might, candidates just aren't in control anymore. America has become hyperaware — heck, we already know the adoring students at Cruz's announcement were threatened with fines if they did not attend. Perhaps that instant transparency is a benefit of our Internet era. But the downside is that we get mesmerized by the stupid stuff; our attention span can be described as "gnat-like." You can count on a Kardashian moment to erase even the biggest campaign fail.
There's a Spanish Armada's worth of cannon fire waiting for the day Hillary Clinton announces for president. Lucky for her, she may be semi-immune, having spent most of her life stuck in the muck of (mostly bogus) scandals. Her bigger problem — and Jeb Bush's, too — could be that in all her care to not offend, she could become simply too boring. And in an America that demands to be entertained, nobody's buying vanilla.
Somehow we've turned our presidential campaigns into a roiling, shark-infested sea. We're all going to need a bigger brain to get through this one. ♦