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Where Are All the Democrats in Reality TV?

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Once, it seemed as if no politician could test the line between reality TV and modern campaigning as boldly as Donald Trump. But now, there’s Caitlyn Jenner. Shortly before announcing her bid for California governor, the athlete-turned-reality-star strutted across the stage in a gaudy phoenix suit on “The Masked Singer.” On the trail now, Jenner travels with her own film crew. And late this week, Australian tabloids reported that she has absconded from the state altogether—and is currently in Australia, preparing to film “Celebrity Big Brother.”

You could chalk it up to a typical career move for Jenner, a veteran of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and the post-transition spinoff “I Am Cait.” But the former Olympian is hardly the first Republican to cross over from politics to reality TV, and vice versa. In recent years, GOP politicians and operatives—even some who aren’t as openly theatrical as Jenner or Trump—have embraced the cheesiest and most outrageous corners of reality TV, unafraid of ridicule, artistic failure or the scrutiny of a thousand entertainment recappers.

Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer did a controversial turn on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2019, not long after former Texas governor Rick Perry and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay did their own two-left-feet tours on the show. Trump’s former comms director Anthony Scaramucci and aide Omarosa Maginault-Newman—who first met Trump on season one of “The Apprentice”—went almost directly from the Trump White House to “Celebrity Big Brother.” And of course, there was Trump himself, whose springboard to the presidency was a character he played on “The Apprentice”: a successful, no-nonsense businessman with a tangential connection to actual reality and a ridiculous catchphrase, “Ya fired.”

But while over-the-top reality TV has become a familiar launching pad and soft landing spot for Republicans, there is something curiously missing from that ecosystem: Democrats.

You could chalk it up to yet another irreconcilable difference between the parties, driven partly by history, partly by demographics and partly by Trump himself, who applied the rules of reality TV to the Washington news cycle. If Trump was an affront to liberal sensibilities, so might be any reality show that feels bawdy, brash, over-the-top and open to showboating.

“There’s an enormous dignity gap in the culture,” says Steve Schmidt, a onetime Republican political consultant who left the GOP in frustration over Trumpism and co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. He says Biden and Trump voters have different standards for a public servant’s behavior. A Biden fan is inclined to judge politicians by “your bearing, how you comport yourself, how you act,” he says. “‘Am I going to go on ‘Dancing With the Stars in a sequined outfit?’ ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because I was governor of Texas for four years.’”

But Schmidt also acknowledged that reality TV has become, not just a useful political tool for anyone who is sufficiently shameless, but a game-changer in public discourse. “It represents a slice of the communications ecosystem in which a goodly portion of the country receives their information, right?” he says. And the tropes and values of the medium, zapped into households every night, have changed expectations for the way public figures can and should behave—with humiliation-proof Trump as the chief example.

“Has reality show culture, on a 20-year basis, shaped the character of the country?” Schmidt says. “Every bit as much as........

© Politico

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