Welcome to the insanity that is a presidential election year in the United States. In the blue corner we have President Obama, Bin-Laden slayer and the man with the temperament so calm it can weld steel. It’s now up to the Republican Party—the Grandpa Simpson of American politics—to pick who goes up against the President. The campaign has been technically going on for at least a year, but the big secret is that the campaign so far was largely bullshit, and littered with Hitchcockian misdirects like Michelle Bachmann, Chris Christie, Herman Cain, and even the Donald.
But with the Iowa Caucuses last week the actual contest has begun. The Caucuses should be entirely irrelevant: not only is the vote non-binding and selects a tiny number of delegates, but less than 4% of the tiny state even bother to show up. Nevertheless, the importance lies in how the media reacts and reports on this first vote of the year. And this year the message was Mitt Romney winning by a ridiculously small eight votes, a surging Santorum coming a close second, and someone called Paul or something coming third. But who are these people? I’m glad you asked…
Ah, Santorum. The guy with the awkward face, whose name means frothy anal fluid, just came second in the Iowa Caucuses by eight votes. The showing is rather impressive, as for the last year or so despite hanging about Iowa like a giddy puppy he didn’t break single digits in the tiny state. That was until a couple of days ago when a lot of the people who don’t want Romney decided to try the last conservative they hadn’t already—Rick the Incompetent.
Well okay, it’s not really that he’s incompetent as much as he is a bigoted, homophobic reactionary who is currently playing three levels above his league. Santorum can’t make a speech, and barely even makes an impression. His career is most notable for supporting all the bad decisions Bush made then getting into a spat with a gay columnist, Dan Savage. A spat that Savage clearly won. What he does have is conservative credentials, or put more accurately Douchebag credentials. He’s about as anti-gay as they come (like, loitering in public toilets anti-gay) and he genuinely wants to ban contraception, a move that may sit poorly with the 90% of Americans who use contraception but is loved by the Republican base, who are apparently the 10% who don’t.
Santorum was lucky to become flavour of the month just before the caucuses, but his close second was a result of a lack of realistic options and a flurry of conservatives deciding he’ll do. From here he’ll probably be Romney’s biggest competition, he’s hoping a strong showing in South Carolina will solidify his candidacy as genuine. But Santorum is too conservative and goofy to appeal to the whole nation, let alone face-off against President Obama. He’s a guy who doesn’t have an economic argument in a year where that matters above all else, and worse: he’s still hard to take seriously. To pick this Dr. Spaceman lookalike as the nominee would be like choosing to sit this election out, and the Republican party is not keen on that. He will never become president.
What’s impressive about Newt is not just the massive girth of his planet-classifiable head, but that he’s still freaking going two decades after he had any claim to relevancy. His original campaign strategy of hoping they’ve all forgotten all the crazy shit I did and how poorly I did it worked real well until the press started actually writing about him. Then shit got real. In the end, electing him turned out to be harder than fitting his blimp-mistakable head into frame.
This is apparently because Newt is an ideas man. Or, a man who says anything that comes into his head. And with a head that big, there have been some goodies. What really failed Newt is the same things that have been failing him his whole disastrous career. Gingrich was once Speaker of the House, a position he got through a spirited campaign to take back Washington, restore fiscal sanity, and cut the size of government. He drew up a Contract with America, got control of Congress and managed to do a few things: he shut down the government twice, lost control of his members, destroyed his own popularity, then went after Bill Clinton as being morally repugnant not that long after he divorced his wife who had cancer. He reportedly said of his wife: “She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the President. And besides, she has cancer.”
So yes, he is genuinely a terrible black-hole of human being. But more relevantly he’s also a bad leader and campaigner, which is why so many of his former Congressional colleagues came out last month to make sure he didn’t win, and why his short time in the spotlight is already over. He’s an erratic hothead who shouldn’t be allowed to drive, let alone run a country. Really, he shouldn’t be on this list because it’s unlikely he’ll make a comeback. But I’ve included him because I think he still has a role to play—in his inimitable ability to be a dick. After Romney ran a billion or so attack ads on Gingrich in Iowa, the man with the head seems determined to destroy Mitt at any cost. And if there’s one thing you don’t want attacking you, it’s an angry, oiled-up Newt.
Mitt Romney was cast from flesh-coloured plastic on Assembly Line C in Detroit, Michigan. Early attempts to animate him failed due to plastic’s inability to feel human emotion. This was successfully overcome after it was discovered he could be powered by social-issue flip-flopping. He hasn’t looked back since, and has used the power of flip-flopping—on everything from gay marriage to abortion to universal healthcare—to become the frontrunner-by-default in a campaign of nobodies.
Mitt has a pretty big problem—despite a squeeky clean smile, all the right words, and a resume that’s minty fresh, he’s not particularly likable. Worse than that he often comes across as fake, aloof and barely human. All of his attempts at seeming like a regular Joe come across as hilariously, awkwardly forced (Yeah, I’m sure you love your football, Mister Normal). This combined with his far-too-perfect family sit uneasily with his Mormonism—a religion that not a few Republican evangelicals think is a non-Christian cult. If all this analysis seems superficial, it’s because when you push past the superficialities you don’t find much except a mess of constantly switching policy positions to win elections, and a scarily callous man.
For example, the job he constantly touts in the private sector was essentially being a douchebag, he went into companies and restructured or downsized them to make them profitable. This Mormon Gordon Gecko laid off thousands and moved companies towards making profits off financial nothings—a brilliant parallel for everything that’s wrong with an American economy that makes nothing real and has no compassion. And, he did it all with the cold efficiency of an excel spreadsheet. This is the man who claims to be able to create jobs in the United States economy.
But potential economic catastrophes aside, he will almost certainly be the nominee. His victory in Iowa is probably how the rest of this long will play out: a reluctant Republican party who doesn’t like him battling the inevitable. Romney’s ultimate problem may be his worst-of-both-worls approach: he’s disliked by the right but has adopted their radical policies. He will struggle to defend his ridiculous plans to an Obama in campaign-mode, while searching around to find people to back him up, and finding only his cold, soulless money and a dog that hates him.
Now, Jon Huntsman shouldn’t be on this list either, but if I was being honest the Contenders list would only include the generic-person nobody sketch of Romney above and a caption that reads Seriously, It’s Gunna Be Captain Beige. But still, anything can happen and Huntsman could pull out a surprise good-showing in New Hampshire (the next state to vote, this week), which would suddenly transform his candidacy. Skipping Iowa and focusing on New Hampshire is a strategy that worked for John McCain in 2008 and could work again. Huntsman isn’t that much more alien to the Republican base than McCain.
Though, he is still pretty alien.
Also a Mormon, he’s the exact wrong fit for the Republican party: someone who gives honest, nuanced answered to questions on subjects he seems to have actually studied quite closely. It’ll never work. He also is in favour of drawing down troop numbers in Afghanistan, is open to climate science, and favours same-sex unions. Perhaps worse is that his last job was on Obama’s paycheck—as the US Ambassador to China. He was also a Governor, and unlike Romney you get the feeling there are human organs beneath his skin. The Obama Campaign keeps casually mentioned how good he was as ambassador, a smart move as Huntsman is exactly the sort of moderate, likeable (if slightly awkward) Republican that could give Obama a real challenge in November. Luckily the Republican voters won’t fall for that old socialist trap.
Rick Perry is the current Governor of Texas and sometimes plays a George W. Bush lookalike at parties. He was considered the Great White Hope by some people, but it never really worked out. Not only did he embarrass himself pretty hilariously in the debates, but his campaign was a disorganised mess both behind the scenes and in it’s message. He never really adjusted to the national stage because he simply wasn’t up to the task. And unlike Bush, the luckiest idiot ever to stumble into politics, he didn’t have a team of political geniuses like Karl Rove behind him. After a really poor showing in Iowa he said he was going back home to “reconsider” his campaign. After that reconsidering, he inexplicably decided to keep going, and chose to announce this with a exclamation mark-laden tweet complete with photo of thumbs-up Perry in tight running pants. Yeah, weird dude. His triumphant return has thus far seen him declare that he would immediately reinvade Iraq. Oh, you.
Perhaps the ultimate lesson of Perry is beware the silver horse—Perry looked perfect on paper, but paper has a habit of hiding the stupid.
Ron Paul is always cranky. And fair enough, because the US Government, the Democrats, and even his own beloved Republican party never adhere to his strict and meticulous worldview. He’s a libertarian and isolationist. What makes him a novelty is how closely he actually sticks to these views. Some people are quick to love him because he’s pro-legalising marijuana and anti-US Empire, two things hilariously at odds with almost every registered Republican imaginable. But what really dwells inside this septuagenarian’s head is a steamy torrent of anti-government, pro-market rubbish. If he got into power he would abolish and/or privatise pretty much everything the government does from healthcare to education to the military, and turn the country over to the unregulated markets that have repeatedly failed the country since Reagan.
Of course, he would do none of that because he’d never get anything done. If you think a big-government democrat has trouble getting things done, imagine a free-market radical trying to get Congress to do the one thing it never does—cut popular programs. It’s nonsense. A Ron Paul presidency is as impractical as it is dangerous, and I’m a little bit tired of seeing smart young people on the left and right think he’s a man of common-sense and change. He is neither, and is probably a racist. Luckily, he will never be the nominee and never be the president.
Michele Bachmann never really stood a chance. Despite spending an lifetime in Iowa and across the country, shaking hands and shouting at crowds, she could never quite be taken seriously. This may be because of her doctorate in crazy eyes, or perhaps because of her ridiculously gay husband. Oh, I mean anti-gay. No yeah, he’s not a flamer. He just wants to “discipline barbarians” in a straight way.
But for Bachmann, who was welcomed at one point as an even more shrill Sarah Palin, she came in dead last in Iowa, the state she was born in. This week she promptly ended her campaign. But her campaign to rid America of gays, abortions, socialists, and intelligent debate continues. And with the lack of Bachmann the Republican party can give up it’s awkward act of totally not being an old white guy slumber party. I’ll almost miss her. May she continue to stoke the flames of white, bitter American intolerance for years to come.
Buddy Roemer was a four-term Republican Congressman and Governor of Luisiana. As governor, he reduced unemployment and passed a series of environmental and campaign-finance reform. He’s also running for President.
If you haven’t heard of Buddy Roemer, there’s a reason for that. He is the only candidate who has been excluded from every single Republican debate for not having enough support. But what’s really different about Roemer? He believes in something: that money has corrupted the political process and it needs to be reformed. That’s a message that doesn’t sit well with a Republican party spending tens of millions attacking each other and a media that profits directly from the money spent on political advertising. Nor do the questions that Roemer raises about the nature of primary debates themselves. Because, Roemer argues, the debates are the main exposure for candidates, and because the media determines who makes it into the debates, Americans have handed over a lot of the decision-making over who becomes their nominees to big media companies.
There may not be much room for someone who wants to debate ideas in the modern American campaign process, but still Roemer campaigns away, and hopes to hell someone pays attention.
Illustrations by Max Denton.