Ed’s post, and indeed the whole Republican primary so far, reminds me of a great documentary I saw recently, Deep Water. Its subject is one of the first solo around-the-world yacht races. Sponsored in 1968 by the Sunday Times in the days before reliable open ocean communications or GPS, the racers were highly experienced sailors, except for Donald Crowhurst. Donald was a struggling British businessman who entered the race with no intention of winning, but rather for publicity, adventure and to prove himself worthy.
Not long into the race, Donald’s boat and his sailing skills were overmatched. The Cape of Good Hope loomed ahead, some of the world’s roughest sea and a graveyard for ships. But Donald had a problem; he couldn’t give up. He had become a darling of the British tabloids and celebrated throughout Great Britain as an underdog. People avidly followed his progress and waited for his sporadic radio messages.
Since Donald couldn’t continue but couldn’t quit, he came up with another plan. He decided to sail over to the coast of South America, where he could simply hang around and wait for the others to complete the official course. When they came up the coast and were heading for home, he would secretly tuck in behind them and finish respectably. He started to enter false position reports in his logs, filed a couple of fake radio reports and then went silent.
But Donald’s plan went awry. One by one, the legitimate racers started to drop out for various reasons. Suddenly, Donald knew from monitoring radio reports that he was one of the only boats left and on the verge of winning. The public was ecstatic, but Donald was despondent. He knew that if he won, or placed, his log book would be scrutinized and he would be exposed a fraud.
Donald’s journey reminds me of Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain. They both entered this race with no expectation of winning. Like Donald, they entered the race for vanity, for fun, and perhaps to sell some books. They built no campaign infrastructure or organization, because they figured they wouldn’t need it.
But then, something happened. The field turned out to be weak. The front-runners stumbled. Suddenly, some of the second-tier candidates became fascinating to the press and the public.
How will they respond to their rising status? Hopefully better than Donald, who cracked under pressure, turned his boat around, and sailed into oblivion, never to be seen again.