I'd really like to see a competitive election next year in which the Republican nominee gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money. After all, the sooner the GOP shakes off its self-inflicted torpor and becomes competitive again at the national level the better it will be for all of us, not to mention that creaky old contraption known as democracy. But with a record 17 candidates scrambling to get into the Republican primary clown car and a goodly number of them saying things ranging from the deeply offensive to downright goofy, it is difficult to see any of that happening.
Yes, yes. Yes! Election Day is 17 months off and a lot of stuff can happen. While Clinton
shakes off Bernie Sanders and the small handful of even dimmer Democratic luminaries standing in the path to her presumptive coronation as the Democratic standard bearer, the Republican field will narrow as one candidate after another jumps or is pushed from the clown car. We'll come back in a bit to what the result of all this roadkill is likely to be, but first let's address how a GOP desperate to avoid a repetition of the 2012 primary debacle by streamlining the road-to-the-nomination process and limiting the number of debates has ended up with such an historic mess on its hands.
The reasons for this mess that you will read about over and over again in the mainstream media are a lack of party discipline, tons of money and a changing of the party guard.
As in candidates marching to their own drummers and not doing the bidding of party bosses, more than enough deep-pocketed sugar daddies with super PACs to go around, and the demise of a hoary old seniority system in which a fortunate few wannabes waited in line for their turn at the big dance a la Bob Dole that has been supplanted, to a great extent, by social media in which candidates can bypass national newspapers and teevee networks and connect directly with voters to try to get a leg up on more establishmentarian candidates. (Fruitcake Ben Carson shook down faith-based groups for nearly $2 million for "inspirational speeches" last year and now expects their votes in return.)
But the big reason, which the pundits dare not address head on, is that the Republican Party has lost its collective mind.
The candidate stampede is reminiscent of a mob scene from One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest. You know, Martini, Turkle, Cheswick, Taber, Billy Bibbit and, of course, McMurphy, charging through the day room with Nurse Ratchet and a posse of brawny orderlies in pursuit. But beyond all the yuks, Cuckoo's Nest had a dark side and so does the clown car.
Enter Donald John Trump Sr., the foul-mouthed racist birther, gadzillionaire business magnate, television personality, liver of extravagant lifestyle and all-around celeb. It is impossible to imagine Trump or anyone as obscene as him running for the Democratic nomination, but today he is ranked second among all Republican candidates nationally and near the top of the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first stops on the long and winding road to the big dance.
What the pundits will only hint at in noting that the primary field is . . . well, diverse . . . is that Trump is wildly popular not because Republican voters hope to be invited onto his next reality television show, but because he speaks for many of them in bashing immigrants, questioning our black president's origins, spiritual beliefs and patriotism, as well as his smash-mouth responses to the lefty libtards who criticize him. And while there have been murmurs of concern about his mud-slinging campaign as performance art from a (very) few fellow candidates, not one wannabe -- not Rand Paul, not Bobby Jindal, not Carly Fiorina, not even Jeb Bush -- responded when George Pataki urged them to sign a joint statement denouncing Trump. This is because the dears were concerned about alienating the party's angry white nativist base.
(Bush has been especially gutless considering that he is married to a Mexican-America, and addressed Trump's vile comments about Mexican immigrants only after being prodded by a reporter.)
Is there anything else you really need to know about today's Republican Party? No, which brings us back to the consequence of all that roadkill: A bloody primary season highlighted by Trump's epic rants followed by a contentious nominating convention that will leave the party even more fractured, as well as further than it was from taking back the White House four and even eight years ago. Seventeen candidates with seventeen months to go.
FINNY FOR PRESIDENT
Let's see, 17 candidates with 17 months to go. How's that for symmetry?
And who, you might ask, is the 17th candidate since 16 is the number being most bandied about? It's that blast from the past, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, who briefly ran in 2008 and is expected to announce a campaign in August that would draw on his experience as an Army counterintelligence agent and focus on military preparedness.
There are 14 other announced candidates (Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump ) and two all-but-announced candidates (John Kasich and Scott Walker).
My goldfish Finny, who is stumping amongst the watercress in the pond outside our mountain retreat, will soon slither onto the clown car, as well. His campaign will be based on advocating rotating bowls for tired goldfish.
TELLING IT LIKE IT ISN'T . . .
Chris Christie's campaign for president is off and running. Longtime readers know that I believe the New Jersey governor to be a bully and chronically dishonest, but I must admit that he is clever. And so because there's nothing in his policy positions to distinguish himself from the rest of the clown carpool, he has branded his improbable run as a "Telling It Like It Is" campaign.
"I mean what I say, and I say what I mean, and that's what America needs right now," he declares at every turn in complaining that Barack Obama has set America adrift because he's leadership averse. Translation: I'm really not going to say much of anything, but I promise you that I'll be candid even when I don't say anything.
. . . WHILE TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
Time to say something good about a Republican candidate. That would be Rick Perry, who in a little noticed speech on the eve of Independence Day called out fellow Republicans for taking the black vote for granted -- as in not giving a damn about it.
"Too often, we Republicans -- myself included -- have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th -– an amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery," the former Texas governor said with admirable candor.
"For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found we didn’t need it to win," he added. "But when we gave up trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all. It's time for us once again to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans."
Perry framed his rhetoric in terms of the Democratic Party having failed blacks by not improving conditions for them, while saying that as president he would "create jobs, incentivize work, keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison, reform our schools and reduce the cost of living" for non-whites. But it was a first step in what would be a very long march back to national relevancy for the GOP, and a pretty good one at that.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker thinks he's smarter than everyone else. That would be enough reason to not like the guy, but his scorched earth approach to his state's public employee unions and fine university system, as well as his efforts to gut the state's open records law and reduce police accountability, puts him over the top.WATCH THAT HARD RIGHT TURN, BUDDY
Walker, who is expected to officially hop on the clown car later this month, thinks he's so smart that he can defy the law of political gravity that says it's not possible to shamelessly pander to conservative voters in the primaries, grab the nomination and then suddenly morph into a moderate more palatable to mainstream voters in the general election.
That didn't work for John McCain in 2008 and doomed Mittens in 2012. Walker is no different, only worse.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGES FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.