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National Politics Wed Sep 16 2015

Don't Bother, They're Here

Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

It's unclear at what point the clown car metaphor became too undersized, and a clown stretch minivan, with attached elephant trailer, more apt for the traveling circus that has become the Republican presidential nomination contest. What's clearer is that there are more GOP candidates than living Americans who can name them all.

The paper today said that someone named Gilmore, or Fillmore, or Milhous, was not invited to any of tonight's debates. Looking up from my coffee, I announced this with all the seriousness and sorrow I could muster. My wife, looking as if I had asked her to name the last three finance ministers of Kyrgyzstan, said "Who?!"

"Exactly," I replied.

GOP candidacies now make less splash than a Lindsey Lohan DUI arrest and have a shorter news cycle than a Justin Bieber Twitter gaffe. Rick Perry's candidacy is over, although his semi-hip Clark Kent spectacles, in a separate announcement, declared that they would continue to campaign around the country. That leaves one less candidate than answers in a standard Magic 8-Ball, which come to think of it would be a faster, funner sorting device. During tonight's debate, will one new contender moonwalk onstage, announcing his or her candidacy, but withdraw before the closing statements? Signs point to yes.

Never were there so many White House aspirants that enlarging auditorium stages to accommodate them (and, for those featuring Chris "Watch me go nuclear" Christie, structurally reinforcing them) has, itself, expanded the construction sector in counties that host the debates. As of today, three separate Official GOP Candidate Podium vendors pitch their products on Amazon, all made in China, but two with free shipping. Whether delivered by drone or not is unsaid, altho the prospect of dropping heavy particleboard lecterns from the sky is another fairer, more entertaining way of winnowing the field.

As of press time, the lineups for one or more of the debates tonight include 8 congressmen, three senators, two sitting governors, one standing governor, one kneeling former governor, the former Miss South Carolina Teen USA, a former Watergate burglar, a convicted infomercial huckster who will Skype in from prison, a Tandy TRS-80 computer, the cats from the "pattycake" viral video, and a clown. Don't ask why a clown.

Scientists from the best forensic labs in Lake County, Illinois have also determined that two of the candidates currently polling more than 2% are actually fictitious avatars, one funded by the Koch Brothers to make sure "clean coal" gets product placement in every debate, the other a hoax joint venture between The Onion and Nate Silver just to see if anyone is paying attention. The avatars face a problem if the debates hew to the announced schedule of the Pledge of Allegiance, Nicene Creed, and loyalty oath recitations being followed by each candidate displaying their birth certificate, but that's why Al Gore invented Photoshop.

The GOP has been rending its Brooks Brothers garments trying to figure out how, with any intellectual honesty, to separate legitimate front-runners from the equivalent of vanity book authors without excluding their only female candidate (unless Megyn Kelly counts). The RNC considered a live competition where candidates would try to contact the spirit of Ronald Reagan via Ouija board, but dropped the idea as too occult for evangelicals. So, at last count, there were 5 separately-tiered debates scheduled for this evening, four featuring failed CEO Carly Fiorina tap-dancing in breathlessly from one of the others, and the last consisting only of Bobby Jindal talking to himself in the "business center" of a Hampton Inn, viewable by live chat in an AOL forum, with still photos on Instagram.

Obviously an entire new niche cable channel needs to be invented and dedicated solely to tracking this crowd. Like the fishing channel, only instead of guys in baseball caps saying "Now thassa nahss fish!" a couple of conservative pundits on a couch. Think Beavis and Butthead in dark suits and flag lapel pins. Trump should have to fund it, since mainstream media has seen fit to give 90% of their free media to him, with the other 10% consisting of analysts professing to be mystified why no other candidate can gain any traction.

No one should be surprised at the size of the field. It's a logical result of an era where every kid who plays gets a trophy, and so many teams in the NHL make the playoffs that the post-season now overlaps the start of the next season. Plus, in a fragmented, magazined America, people can now spend all waking hours receiving only information that reinforces their previously-held worldview. With Congress and state governments demonstrating weekly that simple majority agreement is obsolete, consensus becomes a punch line. If anything garnering 2% of the Internet's attention is a worldwide hit, any goofball who can scrape up 2% in a poll correctly thinks that he or she is a star, and has a shot.

Trump, not shy to say that those running the country are "very, very stupid," and assuredly holding the same opinion of his competition, gets credit for applying Internet ADD principles to this clusterfest. His campaign is the equivalent of riding a shopping cart down a hill on camera. If outlandish gets hits and views, why is anyone shocked if a race becomes a hybrid of "Jackass" and "American Ninja Warrior"? Those discounting Trump may be too young to remember when the prospect of former soft soap pitchman Ronald Reagan ever becoming the nominee, over bonafides such as Howard Baker or Bob Dole, was dismissed with ridicule. But Reagan aw-shucksed and jived, and occasionally bullied, his way into the White House. "The Great Communicator's" largest, saddest lesson is that dumbing it down can get you a leg up. To that extent, TV character Trump, not any policy wonk, may be most entitled to claim Reagan's legacy.

Conventional wisdom would say that, in desperation, the Powers That Be will buy or force others from the race. If that's so, by April the field will have winnowed to Trump, two or three "mainstream" candidates, Rand Paul, and possibly Fiorina so that they can burnish her credentials for VP. An old-fashioned brokered convention would decide. But, in the meantime, the elephant in the room may be the most Reaganesque pachyderm. And the circus you see coming to town tonight -- assuming you are not watching something more meaningful, like the Cubs-Pirates game -- features the elephant trailer pulling the clown car, not the other way around.

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