Circus 2012: the coming Republican freak show

The 2012 GOP presidential B-list. Left to right: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Michele Bachmann and Buddy Roemer.

If you’re lucky enough to be near Tampa, Florida in the early fall of 2012 — and I will be — book yourself a ticket to the greatest show on earth: the Republican National Convention, at which the tea party will nominate its candidate for president, and then inform the Republicans who that person is. Bring popcorn, because the Republican presidential sweepstakes is shaping up to be quite a freak show.

Thankfully, none of these people will ever be president. But as political “B teams” go, they’re quite a hoot!

Here they are:

Newt Gingrich

Every four years, the folks at the National Review dust off the old  ”Newt Gingrich is the thinking man’s conservative” script in case he runs for president. It seems that Newt has always been running for president, and he will always be running for president. Perhaps that is the fate of a man on a constant life’s quest for relevancy - and cash money - without the shield provided by a capacity for embarrassment. Ed Kilgore writes of Gingrich’s transformation from liberal Republican to right wing firebrand in The New Republic this way:

… he has positioned himself well to take advantage of a number of issues that obsess the modern right. In addition to courting the Christian Right and describing the Obama administration as a “secular socialist machine,” he has gone further than any putative presidential candidate in railing against the alleged threat of Islam at home and abroad, even hyping the phantom menace of creeping Sharia law in the United States. And, in a Republican electorate that is hungry for a fiery, uninhibited radical like Palin or Michele Bachmann—but is also attracted to wonky “ideas men” like Paul Ryan or Mitch Daniels—Gingrich can plausibly claim to be both. As the last speaker to shut down the federal government and the leader of the “Republican Revolution,” he has serious bomb-thrower credentials; and, ironically, his fall from grace in 1998 saved him from complicity in George W. Bush’s big-government conservatism, which Tea Partiers deplore. Yet he is also constantly spitting out sunny, whiz-bang ideas, from a pet scheme to fix Social Security to a plan that would force every American child to take gym class. He’s still very much the college professor intent on impressing his students with interesting, if half-baked thoughts, all delivered with the deceptive certainty of a born salesman.

And then he added this:

The downside of a Gingrich candidacy is quite clear. He did, after all, become something of a national pariah the last time he got his hands on power in Washington. His marital history alone—which includes two divorces from chronically ill wives, quickly replaced by younger women—could provide fatal ammunition for an oppo researcher who wants to tar him in the eyes of Christian conservatives and ordinary women voters alike. But the Republican Party electorate is clearly desperate, deluded, and filled with ennui right now. Everything we know about the adaptable Gingrich tells us that he will bend over backwards to give Republican audiences what they want, whether or not it comports with what he was saying the day before yesterday. In this strange environment, that might be all that’s necessary.

The fact that Newt – who was chased out of the House speakership in disgrace, after trying to impeach Bill Clinton for having an identical sexual affair to his own – is such the talk of Washington right now is in and of itself, a testament to the weakness of the Republican field. And indeed, Newt has proven that he is flexible enough to say just about anything – no matter how crazy - to earn the adoration of tea party people, including charging the president of the United States with being a Kenyan anti-colonialist con man running a giant welfare state … for terrorists.

Newt’s strange, seemingly endless campaign roll-out has begun to raise the old specter of indiscipline and incompetence, even among friendly media. But at the very least, he’ll make the campaign interesting.

Mike Huckabee

The genial former Arkansas governor shocked many with his off the reservation remarks to a radio host alleging Barack Obama grew up in Kenya, and was somehow shaped by the 1952 Mau Mau rebellion (Obama was born in 1961) against the British in his father’s homeland, where he never set foot until he was an adult - by which time his father was long dead. Huck’s initial reaction to the backlash over his sudden descent into birtherism was to lash out at the media. Indeed, his pique seemed to be more about getting caught cozying up to the fringy base he’d need behind him if he runs for president, than about being somehow misunderstood. But then he doubled-down, saying he meant to say “Indonesia,” but Obama is still anti-American. The money quote:

“And I have said many times,” he later added, “publicly, that I do think he has a different worldview and I think it’s, in part, molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.”

And that was supposed to be the fix. Huck tried going before the throne of O’Reilly to get out of his gaffe straight jacket, but so far, it hasn’t worked.

And yet, Huckabee - whose new cause is making Natalie Portman his Murphy Brown (which of course makes him Dan Quayle) - is now basically the front runner for the GOP nomination, if the polls are to be believed. He has built in advantages among southern conservatives, and the Christian rightists, who dominate Iowa’s ultra-right wing caucuses.

Huck of late has seemed reticent about running (he has waxed on about how hard it will be to beat President Obama, and it’s telling that he was not among the potentially “running pundits” temporarily suspended by Fox,) but if he does, he’ll be a contender … and apparently, a quasi-birther, too.

Haley Barbour

If you love the Old South, Big Oil and riverboat gambling, and governors of very poor states, Haley Barbour might be your kind of candidate. The former head of the Republican Governor’s Association drips with good old boy charm (which he may have honed during his time as a lobbyist.)

But Haley’s becoming a bit of a racial gaffe machine, praising white citizens councils in the Mississippi town where he grew up, then having to walk it back and put out the old “I’m not a racist” statement; saying there was no segregation in his deep south hometown, and that he attended a Martin Luther King speech that couldn’t have happened, because King wasn’t there, forcing two Black women to agree to a morally dubious “kidneys for clemency” scheme; and trying to clean it all up with a civil rights museum and by saying he’d consider Black Republican Allen West, the far right Congressman from Florida, as a presidential running-mate. It’s made for very strange days for Haley, whose antebellum, “Boss Hogg” affect would make him a problematic candidate for a party already having trouble attracting younger voters and minorities.

Rick Santorum

What to say about a guy for whom the best known items in the pubic lexicon are his bizarre “hold the dead baby” ceremony when his premature infant son died two hours after his birth, the phrase “man on dog,” and the unfortunate association a liberal commentator pinned to his last name…

But Santorum, who got booted out of the Senate by Pennsylvania voters in 2006, would have you know him for much more than that. He is a forceful advocate of “opposite marriage,” to the point where his is now the official position at CPAC (sorry, GOPROUD) … he was foursquare for the Iraq war (the whole “thou shalt not kill” thing notwithstanding…) got “intelligent design” inserted into George W. Bush’s “no child left behind” law, and wanted the federal government to keep Terri Schiavo a living vegetable against her family’s wishes. Oh, and back in 2005, he tried to get a bill passed that would prevent the taxpayer funded National Weather Center from reporting weather information to the public in competition with private companies like Accuweather, which happens to be in his home state. Other than that, nothing to see here.

Michele Bachmann

With apologies to Sarah Palin, nobody does “right wing crazy” like Bachmann. The former nanny to “Fox and Friends” hostess Gretchen Carlson burst onto the scene in October 2008 as the lady on “Hardball” calling for McCarthy-like investigations into the anti-American tendencies of fellow members of Congress. The Minnesota congresswoman later tried to walk back her wack-job image in a syrupy re-election apology ad, but once sent back to Washington, she went full-bore mad, and now has supplanted Sarah Palin as the Queen of the Tea Party Movement, which she enjoins to be “armed and dangerous” and ready to cut themselves.

Bachmann is never without insults for President Obama (and the first lady) along with her Democratic colleagues, and even did her own, bizarre response to this year’s State of the Union address, in which she talked to the tea party movement that exists somewhere off to the side of the rest of us. Like any tea party hot mess, Bachmann’s Waterloo was covered live on CNN. It was one of several “me” moments that have caused her Republican colleagues heartburn – so much that they kept her out of the leadership, much to the tea party’s chagrin. And while Saturday Night Live has failed to come up with a sufficiently funny Bachmann impression that rivals Tina Fey’s Emmy winning send-up of Sarah Palin (and Bachmann has yet to score a reality show or get one of her progeny on “Dancing With the Stars,”) her star continues to rise in tea party land, such that she’s now making trips to caucus states.

Let’s hope the baggies don’t find out about that earmarked bridge to nowhere

Herman Cain

How to put it delicately … Republicans have a “black and brown” problem. They rarely get out of the single-digits with black voters, and are lucky to get into the 30s with Hispanics in any given election. So it was interesting that in 2010, Republicans ran a slew of black tea party candidates — two of whom managed to win (in almost totally white districts.) Of those, the more normal one — Tim Scott of South Carolina — beat Strom Thurmond’s progeny and went on to nab a spot in the House leadership. So of course, the ones who get all the actual airtime are the nuts, like Florida’s phantom Sharia law-hunting, Muslim-hating, musket-mustering, lefty-knee-bringing friend of white supremacist biker clubs, Allen West, whose star turn came when he tried to put a right wing radio jock who wants to hang illegal immigrant from public garrets on the government payroll. He has since become a star on Fox News and is being talked up as a possible running-mate for Newt. But there is yet another black Republican out there who’s not Clarence Thomas, and his name is Herman Cain.

Pizza man … talk radio host … future fjirt black Republican president?

 Well, OK, he’s not going to be president – exploratory committee notwithstanding. But especially after that whole “Michael Steele debacle,” he sure makes the wingers feel “not racist…” This year, Cain’s big moment came at CPAC, where he distinguished himself this way:

First, Cain enters the stage to Motown music. Then Cain feigns swimming after rolling up his sleeves to show them his black skin and how he is a hardworking negro (not like those other ones). Cain bellows in a preacher affected voice and channels the folksy negro down home accent of his late grandpappy. In the money shot, Cain gives the obligatory “black folks who are not Republicans are on the plantation” speech to the joyous applause of his White benefactors. And he doubles down by legitimating any opposition to President Barack Obama as virtuous and patriotic regardless of the bigoted well-springs from which it may flow.

In total, CPAC is a carnival and a roadshow for reactionary Conservatives. It is only fitting that in the great tradition of the freak show, the human zoo, the boardwalk, and the great midway world’s fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries, that there is a Borneo man, a Venus Hottentot or a tribe of cannibals from deepest darkest Africa or Papua New Guinea on display. For CPAC and the White Conservative imagination, Herman Cain and his black and brown kin are that featured attraction.

Throw in the potentially racist ad that ran when he was running Godfather’s Pizza, and you have a psychiatrist’s dream candidate in the making.

Buddy Roemer

One of the more entertaining moments from “Morning Joe” on Thursday was when former Louisiana governor, and onetime Democrat, Buddy Roemer went on the air to make his announcement that he’s running for president. Roemer channeled Ross Perot, talking quicky and promising to revolutionize campaigns by raising $100 million in $100 increments from the common man. He starts his Odyssey with about $50 large of his own money and a single volunteer.

There are other, even fringier potential candidates, from John “The Mustache” Bolton to Donald Trump (really??? No, not really. He’s probably just trying to generate interest in the next “Apprentice…”) to the evergreen Ron Paul. Oh, and you know you can always count on Mr. “a noun, a verb and 9/11” to run in a pinch (and possibly in a dress!) But when we get right down to it, there are really only two serious candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012:

Though both “Multiple Choice Mitt” and “Tough Guy TPaw” will have to significantly “crazy up” to woo the base and prevent  a serious, John McCain-style enthusiasm deficit that will force them to choose a truly insane running mate — maybe even from the group profiled on this page. (Both men have already gotten the ball rolling by climbing into the bunker with Scott Walker.)

And of course, the media (and the Democrats) can only dream of getting the ultimate Obama foe to throw her hat into the center ring:

But we all know Sarah’s not running if it will mess with her money.

So where does that leave us?

Barack Obama has the historic power of incumbency, a 7-state electoral cushion, his approval numbers are in the high 40s, the economy is improving, and so the anger that drove older and blue collar white voters to the polls for Republicans has dissipated, and tea party governors are activating labor, turning off teachers, cops, firefighters and two-thirds of all Americans, while Washington Republicans are proposing cuts that will turn off any swing voters still left in their camp.

That’s why the candidates who are considered the most viable (think Jeb and the Bully from New Jersey) are sitting it out until 2016, because they know what GOP strategists know intuitively: that unless something dramatic happens to change the zeitgeist between now and next November, President Obama is still going to be president come January, 2013. There’s even an off chance that even the more “colorful” potential candidates know that too, and are just using a presidential run as a way to raise their profiles and rake in some cash.

Either way, it’s going to be a laugh riot in Tampa.

Related news: Guess who’s coming to Florida this weekend?

This entry was posted in 2012, Elections, Opinion, People, Politics, Republicans and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Circus 2012: the coming Republican freak show

  1. Pingback: Barack and Jeb and Arne by the schoolyard : The Reid Report

  2. Flo says:

    Great piece with humor and links.

  3. Tien Le says:

    Plus they love them some Secret Service details.

  4. Rick Supplee says:

    I would agree that none of the candidates you suggest could be elected. Indeed, were this the true choice the gathering would be a freak show. But what is some compelling candidate like Mitch Daniels popped on the scene or Rudy Giuliani. Both of those have the firepower to inspire the Republican party to actually move toward winning the election.

  5. Rupert says:

    Bring back Fred Thompson for some excitement.

  6. Pingback: Attack of the Republican governors : The Reid Report

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