Attention candidates have been part of American electoral history since its beginning. Consider Estes Kefauver, the Tennessee senator whose surprise upset in an early Democratic primary in the 1952 presidential election caused incumbent Harry Truman to drop out of the race. He’d made himself a household name by televising his investigations of organized crime; with televisions entering American homes en masse for the first time, but not a whole lot to watch, this allowed him to build his reputation on a national level. But that reputation also came with notoriety, and Kefauver was left vulnerable: His folksy and grandstanding populism had made him plenty of enemies among urban Democratic party machines, and their bosses duly denied him the nomination at the national party’s convention.
Now, politicians’ access to media and their ability to manipulate it has exploded, but politicians who live by their star power can still die by it, too. I can imagine that there are current members of Congress who have misappropriated considerably more in taxpayer dollars than Aaron Schock did. But they didn’t have jet-setter Instagram accounts or Downton Abbey-themed offices to make it look quite so conspicuous.
It’s pretty easy to grasp that when the capacity for a politician to command attention is more powerful than ever, it will come with some unwanted attention. What’s less clear are the implications in a political and media landscape where the attention candidate has gone from novelty to norm.