Election 2016

5 Craziest Moments of the GOP's Clown Car Primary Race, So Far

The Republican race is off to a predictably crazy start.

It may feel as though it’s been going on forever, but the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination is only about a month old. Barely a month ago, Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to announce, officially inaugurating politics most sustained crazy season.

And it’s already crazy. The clown car-esqe collection of candidates, set to be slightly more serious but also more crowded than the nadir that was the 2012 field, wasted no time tripping over their own tongues, hyperbolizing themselves into outer space, and generally pretzeling themselves trying to appeal to their conservative base while still sounding moderately sane to the mainstream voter. If that sounds like an impossible task, wait till you see how it works out in real life.

1. Ben Carson

Ben Carson has immediately established himself as the Herman Cain/Michele Bachmann of the 2016 field. Profoundly inexperienced, Carson has been forced to draw attention to himself by saying the most outlandish things possible — a great way to secure endless Fox News gigs, but a lousy campaign tactic.

Carson really broke through the general insanity of the GOP field last month when he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that being gay was a choice. How did he know? “A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they're gay,” he said. “So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."

People did ask themselves that question, and decided Carson was out of his mind. Even Glenn Beck called him out for a particularly dumb answer. Carson quickly apologized, but also took the opportunity to blame the media for asking “gotcha” questions. "I simply have decided I'm not really going to talk about that issue anymore because every time I'm gaining momentum the liberal press says, 'Let's talk about gay rights,’” he said. “And I'm just not going to fall for that anymore.”

But he did, just a few weeks later, again with Cuomo, who reminded him that presidents couldn’t just decide not to talk about issues. Carson told Cuomo that gays and lesbians got more legal protection than Christians, a demonstrably untrue statement that left Cuomo aghast. “I would like to see as much emphasis on the rights of Christians…as there is to some of the other groups,” Carson said. “I would like to see a much greater conservation about Christians and their rights. Why are we not talking about that?”

Shortly after that escapade, a New York Times Magazineprofile detailed the difficulties of getting a figure like Carson, who traded on his comments, to stop making dumb comments. As if to demonstrate this problem, a rival profile in GQ showed Carson unaware of, and basically uninterested in, the Israeli government. This from a man hoping to lead an almost pathologically pro-Israel party.

"And what is the role of the Knesset?" he asked, about Israel’s basic legislative body, during a tour of Israel. When it was explained, he seemed, in GQ’s word, “fatigued.” "It sounds complex," he said. "Why don't they just adopt the system we have?"

That’s merely the tip of the iceberg. Carson has also impugned hip hop for “dismissing Jesus Christ” and destroying the black community, blamed measles on illegal immigrants during the vaccine debate, and asked whether people rioting against police violence in Baltimore would also riot against a bad plumber. Perhaps a bad candidate?

2. Scott Walker

So much for amateurs. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has emerged as the outsider candidate to beat, having won three elections in four years and roundly defeated a major push from public sector unions.

In fact, this all seems to have gone to his head. When asked how he would grapple with ISIS, the Sunni militants who threaten wide swaths of Iraq and Syria, Walker responded, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.” The answer was so bad even the National Review took him to the woodshed over it.

Shortly afterward, Walker was asked to name the most significant foreign policy decision of his lifetime. He responded, bizarrely, when then-President Ronald Reagan shut down the Air Traffic Controllers union in 1982. Reagan’s fight with the union was the definition of a domestic policy dispute, though Walker tried to explain that it demonstrated to the globe American resolve.

The comment caused a party-wide cringe amongst the GOP, as leaders began doubting the seriousness of the candidate who had seemed so ascendant a week or two before. Obama told him to bone up on his foreign policy, and Walker appeared to take that advice seriously, scurrying to foreign policy heavies in the party for a cram session.

Perhaps Walker’s better off not talking at all. That, at least, was the tactic he took when asked about evolution.

3. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz is an unlikely candidate for the gaffe. A polished Harvard debater and experienced solicitor of the Supreme Court, Cruz has a command of rhetoric unique among his GOP rivals.

Alas, none of that gives him discrimination, a sense of proportion, or any semblance of humility. The combination means Cruz less makes misstatements than overstatements.

A prime example came at a town hall in New Hampshire, when he was scaring the living bejeesus out of some local conservatives about how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy had left the world on fire. Perhaps the adults in the audience knew better than to take him at his word (or perhaps not), but the three-year-old brought to the confab by her mother did not. “The world is on fire?” she asked, genuinely.

Cruz smoothed it over, but by the time he was done it was unmistakable that he hadn’t meant what he said, something to be kept in mind the next time you hear a Republican swearing that we have to strike a country or else.

An excess of confidence in his own rhetorical skills led Cruz to make an even more ridiculous statement just this week when he said those who recognized climate change were “the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.”

“It used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier,” Cruz said, inexplicably conflating Galileo, whose science flat-Earthers refused to recognize, with those who refuse to recognize it today. The statement was so outlandish that some publications wondered if they should even give it oxygen. (Don’t worry, they did.) The whole thing had the ring of a debater taking on the most ludicrous premise possible to test his skills.

Compared to this above-average nonsense, comments like the one he made Tuesday, that “there is a liberal fascism that is going after Christian believers,” which would be noteworthy coming out of Ben Carson’s mouth, barely even register.

4. Mike Huckabee

The Huckster actually got the GOP’s silly season started way back in January, when he claimed in his book, hypertrophically titled God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, that Beyoncé’s lyrics were “obnoxious and toxic mental poison.” He made it worse by attacking the First Couple for allowing their daughters to listen to her music. “I don’t see anything that might not be suitable for either a preteen or a teen in some of the lyrical content and choreography of Beyoncé, who has sort of a regular key to the door,” he said.

The comments engendered immediate pushback, especially given that Huckabee is a friend of and occasional bassist for Ted Nugent, whose lyrics and imagery verge on personal threats toward Obama.

Though Huckabee is an experienced politician with plenty of executive experience and campaign time under his belt, he’s spent the past six years as a Fox News host, giving him the same problem as Ben Carson: he confuses controversy with attention. So Huckabee again stepped in it last week when he advised potential military recruits to “wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under God’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.”

Obama laughed that off at the White House Correspondents Dinner, saying it was so ludicrous 47 Ayatollahs sent him a letter explaining how the American system works, a play on Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran.

5. Rand Paul

Against all odds, Rand Paul has managed to be more goofy than crazy thus far. (Perhaps by observing the Paul Five-Minute Rule?) But in the first of two interviews in which he got testy with a female anchor who challenged him, Paul made quite possibly the most disastrous statement of any of the nominees so far. It didn’t even contain any words. It just went “Shhhhhh.” That’s the sound of his female vote count deflating.

Evan McMurry is a political editor at Mediaite, interviews editor at Newfound: An Inquiry of Place, a regular reviewer at Bookslut, and the founding editor of A Flea In The Fur of the Beast. Find him on Twitter or contact him at [email protected].