Once every four years when the Republican Party seeks to nominate a new Presidential standard bearer, GOP base voters latch onto extreme candidates and put their right-wing clown fetish on full display for the horror of everyday Americans and the amusement of late-night comedians. From Donald Trump's claims of a hardscrabble upbringing featuring a "small" $1 million loan from his father to Ben Carson's bizarre admission that as a teenager he would "go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers," the duo leading the Republican field in 2016 are no different.
They may follow a long line of fringe candidates -- Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and others -- who captivated the hearts and minds of Republican primary voters only to come up short.
The fact that Trump and Carson have led the Republican pack for as long as they have, says more about their inept opponents and the increasingly radical GOP base than it does about their own abilities as candidates.
But, should the Republican Party choose to nominate a more mainstream conservative (you know, someone who does not jump at the chance to metaphorically urinate on people of color, women, and LGBT Americans) it will not be dodging a bullet for long.
That is because the so-called serious alternatives to Trump and Carson have serious problems of their own that Democrats will surely exploit in a general election that will not be dominated by a bunch of Sanka-sipping, Fox News-watching, doomsday-prepping, old white men.
In order to win over an increasingly diverse America, the eventual Republican nominee will have to do more than simply be less crazy than the next guy. He -- I say "he" because Carly Fiorina's chances of securing the nomination are "so yesterday" -- will have to propose policy solutions that demonstrate empathy for the vast number of Americans still struggling to make ends meet.
Consider for a moment the woes of Jeb Bush, the grandson of a former U.S. Senator and the son and brother of former Presidents. In the five short months since announcing his candidacy and raising more than $100 million, it has become clear that the exclamation point used in his "Jeb!" campaign logo was more a cry for help than a design choice.
Should he confound expectations and make it to the finish line, it will be damn near impossible for him to convince hardworking families that he is on their side when they learn, among other things, that this child of privilege thinks single mothers and divorcees should be publicly shamed.
Then there is Marco Rubio, Florida's GenX-Senator who is apparently trying to appeal to still-younger Millennial voters not by proposing policies that address their concerns but instead cheaply imitating the worst of Millennial tropes by no-showing for his current job, which he "hates," and expecting a promotion instead.
Rubio's entire candidacy is built on the notion that he is from a "new generation of leaders" unlike all of the old farts running for President. He may be from a 'new generation' but his position on the issues would make your great-grandfather blush. He supports privatizing Medicare, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, questions the climate science consensus, and thinks pursuing equal pay for women is just "wasting time." His platform is the political equivalent of the present-day hipster couple choosing to live in the Victorian era. Just plain creepy the more you learn about it.
Above all others, Governor John Kasich appears to understand that no Republican road leads to the White House without bridging the empathy gap. He is certainly not the first Republican to recognize the need to at least look like he cares about the less fortunate. A former Texas Governor saw the value in paying such lip service and went on to successfully wreck the economy and become one of the worst presidents in American history.
The country is in a fundamentally different place than it was 15 years ago when the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush the White House. If Kasich is able to win the Republican nomination -- that will be tough since GOP voters have no appetite for emotions other than anger -- his attempts at expressing empathy in the fall will be unconvincing when Americans learn about his record in Ohio. Yes, he allowed for Medicaid expansion in the Buckeye State under Obamacare citing his Christian convictions but he also gave tax cuts to the wealthiest in his state and told an African American state legislator that he did not need "your people" in his cabinet.
Jesus was unavailable for comment at press time when asked if he would render unto the wealthy what is Caesar's and and reject an entire class of people from his inner circle of Apostles.
No, the GOP's empathy problem cannot be solved if Republican voters reject such sentiments from their candidates and instead favor those who sound like they are reading directly from the hate-riddled comment threads of an Ann Coulter YouTube video.
Rather than bridge the empathy gap, these 2016 hopefuls are more likely to jump in head first.