Reality TV vs. presidency

Has “The Donald” confused his role on “The Apprentice” with reality? The trek to meet with Trump with the hope of hearing him say, “You’re hired!” has become a mandatory stop for the GOP contenders. Even before Trump announced he’d be hosting a GOP presidential debate in Iowa just two days after Christmas, the Republican presidential primary felt more like “Jersey Shore”-meets-“The Apprentice” than a nominee selection for president of the United States. Rudy Giuliani answering his cellphone during a speech pales in comparison to the hubris of this crowd. This GOP field has perverted the process into personal vanity projects aimed at getting attention and selling books, the way some reality-TV participants jockey for their own TV show.

How else to explain the lack of preparedness, seriousness and respect for all of our time?

A “reality TV” mentality explains why Sarah Palin used the tease of a presidential bid to raise funds from supporters to pay for a family vacation. Or Newt Gingrich calling for a federal ban on Shariah law and changing child labor laws. Or Mitt Romney’s fear of doing interviews, and Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBachmann won't run for Franken's Senate seat because she did not hear a 'call from God' Billboard from ‘God’ tells Michele Bachmann not to run for Senate Pawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota MORE falsely suggesting that normalizing relations with Cuba is connected to the danger posed by Hezbollah.

Rick Perry clearly had no idea that running for president of the United States isn’t a popularity contest. Candidates actually have to debate opponents, and content matters. Rhetoric will only go so far; you will be asked to explain how you’d use presidential powers to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Smiling and swagger can’t overcome not knowing the facts or repeatedly forgetting your own talking points when going for an applause line.

Gov. Perry isn’t the only candidate to suffer chronic brain freezes. With a similar lack of discipline and organization, Herman Cain couldn’t be bothered to learn which countries have nuclear weapons, nor the differences between Libya and Iraq. Chronically unprepared for the campaign trail, but always ready to sign books, with a hearty “9-9-9,” Cain stammered through contradicting statements laced with statements that constantly had to be corrected.

Even contestants on “The Apprentice” know they can’t wing it, with platitudes about “the generals” or “advisers,” and expect to survive the boardroom; doing your homework is part of the deal.

Like Perry’s “N----rhead,” Cain miscalculated in thinking his skeletons — sexual harassment settlements and a 13-year affair — would either not come out, or not matter if they did. While scandals are rewarded on reality TV, both men failed to recognize that incomplete, shifting answers aren’t credible, or that family and supporters also get caught up in the candidate’s messes.

Trump acted more foolish than “The Situation” parading his pecs. He literally could never afford to run because, like his character, his “empire” is smoke and mirrors. Determined to play the charade, Trump shamefully resurrected false charges about President Obama’s birthplace. Resorting to more blunt racism, Trump also called on the president to release his college transcripts, suggesting that his accomplishments had more to do with skin color than the content of his character or ability.

To their credit, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have mostly shown up prepared with ideas, not platitudes. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush ignored major donors’ ego stroking.

Running for president is supposed to be hard work. Mastering the rigors of a demanding schedule filled with town-hall meetings, events and debates; demonstrating agility discussing everything from mortgage rates to Pakistan to tax policy is the American exceptionalism voters deserve.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.