The U.S. presidential campaign can be puzzling for a foreigner. But it’s a window on popular culture as Republican candidates jockey for position.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (IJReview)

U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz (IJReview)

What does the race to the U.S. presidency have to do with bacon and rifles?

To get a sense of how bizarre the campaign for the White House has become, check out this video of Republican Party hopeful Ted Cruz cooking bacon at the end of a red-hot rifle.

It’s no use wondering how cooking at the end of a gun relates to America’s future — that doesn’t matter. The issue that really interests Americans is whether Cruz was toting a machine gun or an automatic rifle. Or how Republican contenders are skillfully leveraging social media.

U.S. presidential campaigns can be truly puzzling for a foreigner like me. Why, for example, do dynasties like the Clintons or Bushes thrive in the United States, which threw off the yoke of monarchy more than two centuries ago?

In many ways, U.S. campaigns are a crash course on the country’s popular culture.

Cruz graduated from prestigious Princeton and has a law degree from Harvard, so we can assume he does not usually cook bacon at the tip of a rifle. No, the stunt aims to woo voters in Republican primaries — a more activist, right-wing subset of the party that is gearing up for next year’s state primaries.

Cruz has no monopoly on such campaigning stunts. In a video made by the same group that filmed Cruz and which has copped more than two million views, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina resorts to a meat cleaver and other theatrical devices to destroy his mobile phone.

Why? Because one of his opponents, billionaire Donald Trump, had read out Graham’s phone number on national television.

Don’t ask why Trump gave away Graham’s number.

Michele who? Exactly.

Trump stands at the top of the Republican polls — without any serious political experience but with a shock of fluffy, yellow hair. And seemingly impervious to any backlash following a string of derogatory comments about his rivals.

Yes, Trump is leading polls both nationally and in the key state of Iowa, but his numbers are around 20-25 percent. With more than a dozen Republican hopefuls that is enough to be on top.

As the field gets thinner, that score will not be enough to win the party’s nomination. We saw something similar four years ago when Michele Bachmann topped party polls.

Michele who? Exactly.

The lesson could be this: U.S. presidential campaigns are interesting in the early stages if you want to learn about American popular culture. But the really relevant politics does not come until later.

There is a disconnect between the blanket coverage provided at this stage by the media, especially cable news television, and voters’ attention spans.

Most of what happens between now and Christmas will interest a relatively small number of Americans — those most involved in the political process. The rest will start paying attention only next year, with the approach of the first primaries.

It is then that the real games will start.

(For more News Decoder articles from the Americas, click here!)


A correspondent and editor in Europe and the United States for more than two decades, Tiziana Barghini is an Italian national who has reported on Popes, mobsters and political crises. She led Reuters coverage of the euro crisis in southern Europe before moving to New York where she tackled the U.S. political economy including Detroit’s bankruptcy and the U.S. public pension system.

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World Americas Bacon and a rifle: a crash course in U.S. culture