When Senator Ted Cruz won the Wisconsin primary last night, his lovely wife Heidi Cruz, a high-powered business woman, joined him on stage for a hug–actually several hugs.

Even if you don't go in for Public Displays of Affection, it was a nice moment. But there was a subtext: "Donald Trump attacked my wife's looks, and here she is and she's a great, strong, attractive woman and I love her," Cruz was saying.

The crowd was in on it and cheered wildly for Heidi Cruz. It was as if they were trying to make up for Donald Trump's vulgar attacks on her. Why is this happening? What does the tone of our current campaign season mean for the quality of candidates we attract?

A biography of an ancient general moved the master essayist Joseph Epstein to ponder the state of the presidential campaign:  

Midway through historian G.P. Baker’s biography of the Roman general and master politician Sulla (139-78 B.C.), I came across the following two sentences: “There are some systems which naturally take control out of the hands of good men. There are even some which necessarily put it in the hands of bad ones.” Baker’s observation took my mind away from Rome and back, where it was not eager to go, to the current presidential campaign. How did it come about that we have five such unimpressive contenders for the presidency of the United States? Is there something in our system of electing candidates that makes inevitable the rise of the mediocre and even the exaltation of the vulgar?

I don't agree with Mr. Epstein on all this year's candidates. I have found several GOP contenders extremely impressive. But it is clear that the presidential campaign is a depressing spectacle this year. Epstein suggests:  

Superior people are no longer attracted to politics. They stay away because so much connected with contemporary political life is degrading. Mitch Daniels, a thoughtful man and a successful Republican governor of Indiana, steered clear of presidential politics because, as he openly acknowledged, he had no wish to put his family through the humiliation that accompanies running for the office.

The media and Internet are the major instruments of contemporary political degradation. The media were once more restrained, operating under a largely self-imposed control. During the Kennedy administration, journalists agreed not to photograph the president smoking or playing golf; as for his high jinks above stairs in the White House, that was never up for public discussion. In earlier years, no reporters brought up the lady friends of Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower, and focusing on FDR’s physical incapacity during wartime was unthinkable.

Things changed under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. His position on the Vietnam War went contrary to that of most members of the media, who decided that opening the president to attack was not only feasible but honorable. The media’s adversarial role intensified under Richard Nixon. After Watergate, “investigative journalism” became one of the heroic professions. What investigative journalists chiefly investigated was malfeasance and above all scandal.

It's too easy to blame the internet. A decent person in the age of twitter is still a decent person. But the news media is now composed mostly of reporters who are biased, have no sense of what a story is, and who tend to cover the easy things, never tackling stories that involve digging. When they dig, they did in the wrong patches–how really relevant was it that Mitt Romney may have engaged in prep school pranks?–rather than reporting on stories that matter.