When did politics become entertainment?

Apparently, the six months leading up to the first presidential primary can now be aptly christened as the Silly Season. Four years ago, it seemed as if the nuttiness could not be topped, with Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain setting a high mark for unintentional comedy, but that mark has now been surpassed, thanks to Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham.

Mr. Trump strode onto this election cycle's crowded stage as a seasoned entertainer. A wealthy celebrity with only vaguely coherent political notions, Mr. Trump's monstrous ego makes him shameless in spouting those notions and claiming he is far superior to his competitors for the Republican presidential nomination whom he characterizes as "weak" and "losers."


Those other 15 candidates are not entirely sure how to deal with Mr. Trump. There was both criticism and praise from them when Mr. Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists, drug abusers and criminals. There were complaints from those languishing in the low single digits in the polls when they saw The Donald quickly make the cut for the first debates, even as they were being left out. Party operatives and big donors were aghast that Mr. Trump was stealing all the media attention away from more serious contenders. But, not until last weekend, when Mr. Trump insulted Arizona Sen. John McCain by discounting his heroism as a prisoner of war, did the criticism finally get pointed and personal.

Mr. Graham, South Carolina's senior senator and a close friend of Mr. McCain, went on CBS's "This Morning" on Tuesday and called Trump a "jack--s." And he repeated the word several times, finally crowning Mr. Trump as "the world's biggest jack--s." Mr. Trump just happened to be on Mr. Graham's home turf in South Carolina that day and, like a schoolyard bully who has been challenged by a pansy teacher's pet, he quickly hit back.


"I see your senator -- what a stiff, Lindsey Graham," Mr. Trump said to a supportive crowd. "By the way, he's registered zero in the polls, and he's on television all the time."

Then Mr. Trump went totally high school and held up a piece of paper on which was written Mr. Graham's personal cellphone number. Mr. Trump encouraged his fans to call -- and, in large numbers, they did.

Mr. Graham probably did not mind. Some speculate he purposely picked a fight with Mr. Trump hoping it would get some media attention to his nearly invisible campaign. The senator certainly did not waste the opportunity presented by Mr. Trump's cellphone prank. Within a day, a humorous video was produced titled, "How to Destroy Your Cell Phone with Sen. Lindsey Graham." In the video, the senator employs a variety of tools for trashing an old flip phone -- meat cleaver, blender, golf club, lighter fluid, wooden sword, cement block, toaster oven and a toss off a roof. "Or, if all else fails, you can always give your number to The Donald," Mr. Graham says at the end of the one-minute video.

When candidates first started turning up to be interviewed by comedians on talk shows a couple of decades ago, there was worry that they risked showing a lack of gravitas that would undercut their chances to become commander in chief. With candidates like Mr. Graham now performing in their own YouTube comedies, that worry now seems quaint.

Just this week, our sitting president appeared on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart and not only kept his gravitas intact, but came across as articulate and fully in charge without having to play the clown. Barack Obama's performance seemed all the more masterful when compared with the antics of the Republicans. Critics were deriding the GOP nomination race as a "clown show" even before Mr. Trump added his bombast to the circus. Now, it has gotten particularly embarrassing.

Is American democracy absorbing too many of the trivial aspects of the entertainment world? It certainly seems that way when a serious, veteran senator, Lindsey Graham -- who is at least as qualified to be president as Jeb Bush or Scott Walker -- has to resort to goofy videos to get anyone to notice he is running because a narcissistic blowhard is hogging all the attention.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to see more of his work.