News & Politics

The Great GOP Primary Crash and Burn: 5 Republican Would-Be Saviors Flame Out in Hilarious Ways

The GOP's "anyone but Romney" strategy has backfired.

In a normal democracy, a competent opposition party would have no difficulty in defeating Barack Obama next year.

After all, unemployment is still around 9 percent, economic growth is sluggish at best and the Democratic base feels disenchanted with the hope and change they voted into office a mere three years ago. A competent opposition party shouldn’t have to nominate a superlative candidate in this environment; instead it can win by simply nominating someone with decent hair, who can string together words in a language vaguely resembling English and who has no obvious debilitating mental illnesses.

For Republicans, this generic good-hair, able-to-talk, not-overtly-insane candidate is Mitt Romney. But there’s just one problem with this scenario: The Republican base hates Mitt Romney. The reasons for this are pretty obvious since Romney’s work establishing a universal health care system in Massachusetts provided the main blueprint for Obamacare, the healthcare law passed in 2010 that the GOP base feels is the ultimate symbol of an overreaching and tyrannical government. And that’s in addition to Romney’s assorted flip-flops on issues such as abortion and gay rights that have given social conservatives fits over the years. In fact, Multiple Choice Mitt is such a notorious opportunist that his entire political career can be summed up by paraphrasing a classic Snoop Dogg song: “Take a stance when it’s popular, but drop it when it’s not, drop it when it’s not.”

So the Republican base has spent the past year looking for someone, anyone, who can be the anti-Mitt Romney in the GOP primary. The problem is that the GOP has been unable to find even one half-normal human to stand in against him. The result has been a hysterical roller-coaster of a primary season where new candidates rise rapidly as GOP “front runners” for a month before flaming out in spectacular and hilarious ways. In this article we’ll chronicle the assorted saviors that Republican voters have fallen in love with for brief periods of time before quickly recoiling in horror upon realizing they’ve become smitten with a unelectable lunatic.

Failed Savior #1: Donald Trump.

How he rose:Ugh. Remember this? Trump’s major appeal to the GOP base was akin to G.G. Alin’s appeal to teenage boys: They loved him because he would say whatever the hell he wanted no matter how many media squares would get offended. Want to publicly question the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate? Trump went there. Want to speculate that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it listed him as a Muslim? Yeah, that was Trump territory, too. Want to imply that Obama only got accepted into Columbia and Harvard Law due to the dread specter of affirmative action? Trump was your guy.

The result was that Trump depressingly surged to the head of the GOP pack in April, according to a CNN poll. But the Donald’s rapid rise in the polls was only matched by his epic crash less than two weeks later.

How he fell: It became more difficult for Trump to publicly crow about his birther credentials after Obama actually released his long-form birth certificate. Making matters worse, the release of Obama’s birth certificate came just days before Trump attended the White House correspondents’ dinner where he was roasted relentlessly both by the president and by comedian Seth Meyers.

This sort of public humiliation took away a lot of Trump’s mojo since he was no longer viewed as an all-American bad boy with the guts to speak truth to power. Instead he was seen, correctly, as a clown. He announced that he was not going to run for the presidency shortly afterward.

Failed Savior #2: Newt Gingrich

How he rose: The very idea of Newt Gingrich being a legit presidential candidate should be enough to violate at least 23 different laws of quantum mechanics and collapse our universe into a tiny puddle of cosmic gloop. But the GOP field in 2011 is a warped incarnation of Andy Warhol’s vision of the future where every has-been right-wing crank is allowed to nationally humiliate himself for 15 minutes.

At any rate, Newt’s entire appeal, if it can be called that, was that he’s supposed to be a “man of ideas.” It doesn’t matter that most of his ideas involved going to war with Iran or privatizing Medicare -- in the current GOP field anyone who put on shoes without causing themselves critical bodily harm is considered a visionary. So Newt was to be the primary race’s leading intellectual, which is about as useful an honor as being named the world’s most well-hung eunuch.

How he fell:He was Newt. That’s pretty much all there was to it and it was entirely predictable to anyone who knows his history.

Let’s go over the grisly recap: Newt got in trouble during the very first week of his campaign when he sought to flash his “Man of Ideas” credentials by critiquing Paul Ryan’s Satanic Randroid plan to boot seniors off Medicare and force them into the private insurance market. For many conservatives this was like standing up in the middle of a church and shouting out, “Man, this Jesus dude ain’t all that, people.”

Newt had to backtrack pretty quickly after this heresy and he did indeed back away from his statements in the only way he knows how: Through shameless bullshitting. You see Newt can never just say he's sorry and be done with it. No, that’s something that shows weakness and if people start thinking Newt is weak then dark-skinned foreigners all over the world will start pointing and laughing at him and implying that he is lacking in the manhood department. So instead of apologizing, Newt went on the attack against the media by saying it was now out of bounds to accurately quote his criticism of Ryan’s plan.

No, seriously, he actually said this: “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”

And just as the nation had stopped laughing about this, Gingrich flack Rick Tyler added insult to injury by putting out a statement portraying Newt as a noble paragon in the style of Ulysses and William Wallace who would lead America to its former standard of greatness through the sheer force of his magical ideas.

“A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught,” wrote Tyler of the torrent of mockery directed at his boss. “But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won't be intimidated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”

Whoooa, slow down there, Homer. I don’t recall the part in the Odyssey where Ulysses decides to divorce Penelope when she’s struck with an illness so he can go shack up with a hot young Siren.

Failed Savior #3:Michele Bachmann

How she rose: Ah, why not? With Trump and Gingrich out of the picture, Bachmann was there to fill the “anyone-but-Romney” void for a brief time. Bachmann had all the credentials the base was looking for: A born-again Christian who supported outlandish conspiracy theories and who called Obama anti-American before it was cool. So over the summer Bachmann got her brief period in the spotlight and regularly came in second place in many national polls.

As I said, why not?

How she fell: There was no real defining moment that marked Bachmann’s slide in the polls, which leads me to believe that the GOP faithful slowly started getting spooked about Bachmann’s electability. To be fair, this is a very legitimate concern since she comes off as a cross between Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character and Charles Manson. You see, many people generally like politicians who talk about their religious faith because it makes them feel as though their leaders identify with them culturally. But if a candidate seems convinced that she’s actually receiving messages from God about whom to appoint to her campaign staff, voters start to get concerned.

While Bachmann has been known to say a lot of loopy things over the years, she first really started to freak out the normals when she attacked Rick Perry because he mandated girls in Texas schools get HPV vaccinations to prevent them from contracting cervical cancer. Although Bachmann could have reasonably attacked this policy as a prime example of Perry’s crony capitalism, she decided to go Full Metal Wingnut and suggest that the vaccine could be responsible for causing mental retardation in children. The medical community was quick to condemn Bachmann’s remarks since they had precisely zero basis in reality.

"There are people out there who, because of this kind of misinformation, aren't going to get their daughter immunized," said Dr. Kenneth Alexander, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago Medical Center, during an interview with Rueters. "As a result, there will be more people who die from cervical cancer.”

To sum up: If you watch enough Michele Bachmann, you can legitimately see her starting a war with the entire Middle East in an attempt to kickstart the Rapture.

Failed Savior #4: Rick Perry

How he rose: For a wee bit it looked as though Rick Perry was the perfect Republican candidate: He was a three-term governor of deep-red Texas, he’d executed lots and lots and lots of people, he wrote a book describing Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, and to top it off, he had good hair. Perry’s entrance into the race in August immediately shook up the field and he surged to the head of national polls, topping Mitt Romney by more than 10 points in late August.

But then something bad happened to Perry: He began to talk.

How he fell: As evidenced by George W. Bush, Republican voters don’t put too much stock in being articulate. At the same time, a candidate should be able to put words together in such a manner that people can at least guess the type of language he’s trying to speak. Sadly, this task has proven to be far too difficult for Perry to handle.

For example: At this point in the campaign season, anyone over the age of five can come up with a stinging critique of Mitt Romney’s serial flip-flops over the years. Hell, just point out that he’s running against Obamacare despite signing a law in Massachusetts that was essentially the same piece of legislation. It's not at all difficult.

But when Perry tried to execute this extremely simple maneuver he... well, I’ll just let the man himself say it:

“I think Americans just sometimes don’t know which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe versus Wade before he was against verse, uh, Roe versus Wade? He was for Race to the Top, he’s, uh, for Obamacare and now he’s against it.”

And there are other problems for Perry as well: When asked what he’d do if terrorists within Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons he said he’d call India to “make sure they know they’re an ally of the United States.” Yeah, I’m sure the first things the Indian government would want in that situation is a friendly pick-me-up phone call. Perry also said that “sharing a border with Mexico” was the primary reason his state has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. And unlike Perry, we’ll never forget the time he couldn’t remember which three federal agencies he’d abolish upon becoming president.

Even in our currently debased political culture that sort of thing just won’t cut it. Americans may not like voting for high-fallutin’ intellectuals much, but we thankfully still have enough sense to support candidates that are marginally smarter than ficus plants.

Savior #5:Herman Cain

How he rose:As a Tea Party favorite who has never held political office, Herman Cain can credibly claim to be a Washington outsider who has never taken part in the dirty profession of governing. And it must be said, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and the National Restaurant Association has a certain goofy charm to him at first. He comes across as a lighthearted guy with a good sense of humor and he has a knack for catchy slogans. Let’s face it, his “9-9-9” tax plan, as absurdly regressive and unworkable as it is, rolls off the tongue much easier than, say, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

How he fell: Well, four women have accused Cain of sexually harassing them. That’s never a good thing. Nor was it good when Cain said he was unaware if the National Restaurant Association had paid out any settlements to two of his accusers despite the fact that they both received settlements of roughly a year’s pay. It was also not good when Cain quickly backtracked and said that he knew there was an agreement between the association and his accusers, but that the agreement was not the same thing as a settlement.

“When I first heard the word ‘settlement,’ I thought legal settlement,” Cain said. “My recollection later is that there was an agreement. So, I made an assumption about the word ‘settlement’ that was legal. I didn’t think there was a legal settlement, but an agreement. Remember, this happened 12 years ago.”

And, uh, OK.

But alleged sexual improprieties aren’t Cain’s only problem. He also apparently never dreamed that he’d be considered a GOP frontrunner and thus has never bothered to read very much about current events. When asked about Obama’s war in Libya recently, Cain replied thusly: “Okay, Libya. President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gaddafi? Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say yes, I agree, or no, I didn't agree. I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason. Nope, that's a different one. I've got to go back, and see. Got all this stuff twirling around in my head.”

Watching the video of this answer almost made me feel sorry for Cain until I remembered that he’s not a hungover frat boy getting picked on by a professor at an 8am history class but is, in fact, a grown man running for president of the United States. Holy Mother of God.

Failed Savior #6: Newt Gingrich

How he rose: The very idea of Newt Gingrich being a legit presidential candidate should be enough to violate at least 23 different laws of quantum mech... Wait a minute, didn’t I already write this part? Yes, I did. But I had to write it again because after his initial implosion this past summer Newt is apparently getting a second look and has surged in the polls.

There’s no point in writing anymore about this because you know he’ll screw it up and GOP voters will soon be reduced to begging Alan Keyes to hop in the race. So at this point, I’d like to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. As president I will repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for job creators and reassert America's military might. And sure, these positions might not gel with positions I once held as recently as this morning, but c’mon Republicans: At least I’m not Mitt Romney.

Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!.
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