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Monday, December 5, 2016

Less than 24 hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie embarked on a long-shot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination under the banner of “Telling It Like It Is,” Vermont senator and aspiring Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders tweeted, “What this campaign is about is a very radical idea: We’re going to tell the truth.”

Not so radical, actually, in the 2016 race. Practically everybody’s “telling it like it is.” It’s a theme with endless subtextual variations, starting with “Telling It Like I Want It To Be.” “Telling It Like Primary Voters Think It Is.” “Telling It Like A Future Fox News Host.”

Christie’s main claims to this slogan are his blustery persona and call to curb entitlement programs. But that is hardly enough to stand out in a year like this. There are about 20 candidates and many have unfiltered personalities, nothing to lose, or both.

You want blustery? How about Donald Trump? His blithe characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists, criminals, and drug runners — at his presidential announcement, no less — is the nadir of the telling-it-like-it-is syndrome to date. And it’s costing him what it should financially, as Univision, NBC, and now Macy’s have cut ties with him.

It’s not yet costing him politically; new polls show Trump in second place for the Republican nomination nationally, in Iowa and in New Hampshire. That’s bound to change, but not due to mass condemnation from the GOP. The party’s 2016 candidates for the most part have punted on Trump, perhaps anticipating, hopefully, that he will be ruined without their help. National Review did its part with a report that Trump has skipped the last six presidential primary elections, including 2012, when he urged Florida Republicans via Twitter to get out and vote in theirs.

Few can compete with Trump, but others are going for shock value in their own ways. Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, for instance, played the daring, unconventional card by proposing a switch to the metric system — part of the internationalist direction in which he said he’d lead the country. Another Democrat, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, went in a unique direction after the Charleston church massacre. He said on Facebook that the Civil War had a “complicated” history and the Confederate battle flag had “wrongly been used” for racist purposes.

On the GOP side, John Kasich’s history suggests a strong showing in the tell-it-like-it-is sweepstakes when he announces July 21. Politico reported the Ohio governor would “aim to appear less scripted and guarded than the leading candidates.” In fact, he actually IS less scripted and guarded than most of them. To cite one example: Kasich didn’t just circumvent conservatives to jam through a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, he suggested that they “better have a good answer” when St. Peter asks them what they did for the poor.

So far, Christie’s strongest rival for the tell-it-like-it-is crown is Mr. Establishment himself, Jeb Bush. He made a week-long mess of a question about Iraq, but the Florida governor has been straightforward — almost defiantly so — in other areas.

Not surprisingly, given Bush’s Mexican-American wife, he has been relatively tough on Trump. Asked in Spanish about Trump’s comments about Mexicans at an event in Las Vegas, Bush replied in Spanish that Trump spends his life fighting with people and doesn’t represent the values of the Republican Party, according to Bloomberg News. In English he said that “I don’t agree with him. I think he’s wrong.”

Bush also gets a straight-talk citation for calling the Confederate flag a “racist” symbol — while in South Carolina, no less. In a Winthrop University poll last year, 61 percent — including nearly three-quarters of whites — said the flag should continue to fly on the statehouse grounds. Views are changing, but there’s still risk given the state’s early and influential presidential primary. In 2012, exit polls showed that 98 percent of voters in the GOP primary were white.

On domestic policy, Bush has stuck with his support for Common Core education standards as many other GOP hopefuls have run from them, and he continues to back legal status for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country as part of a comprehensive immigration solution.

In a private phone call with Alabama Republicans that was reported by The Washington Post, Bush berated fellow Republicans for abandoning their views and said they should not “bend in the wind.” He says similar things in public. “I’m not backing down from something that is a core belief,” he told the Club for Growth in February. “Are we supposed to just cower because at the moment people are all upset about something? No way, no how.”

The old adage of show, don’t tell applies to the 2016 race in spades. Don’t tell us you’re going to tell it like it is. Just live it. And don’t be surprised to find stiff competition for the title.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr