It is the last day of January as I write this, and in just over nine months, Americans will be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. I am referring, of course, to the fact that the three-ring electoral circus of 2016 will finally be over.
The race kicked off almost a year ago with just one candidate for each party: Ted Cruz for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. The early bird gets the worm, as the saying goes, and both Cruz and Clinton have remained at or near the top of the polls ever since announcing their respective candidacies. Soon afterwards, however, the doors to the clown car opened up and ever more campaign rivals emerged. Some had more political experience than others, a few even managed to not come across as batshit crazy (at least not for a little while), but in general, the who’s who of candidates is a veritable potpourri of cray.
The 2016 Iowa Caucus is tomorrow, so let’s review, tongue firmly in cheek:
The race has turned into a evenly-split contest between outsiders with little political experience pitted against a goofy array of career politicians. As to which one is the craziest, that – like the election itself – is still up in the air.
Ted Cruz, that Tea Party darling and gun nut who is currently tied for #1 in most national polls, is nuttier than my poop. For starters, Cruz was actually born in Canada. To many of his detractors, he shouldn’t even be eligible to run, but note that he is eligible because he was born to U.S. citizens – albeit naturalized ones. For another thing, Cruz is obsessed with hunting. As a humanist, I have never understood the fascination with shooting innocent animals. Sure, venison *tastes* good, but so does beef, and no politician who claimed to hunt cows for sport would ever be taken seriously as a candidate.
One final thought about Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz: the Texas junior senator acts as if he is the most patriotic of all candidates since George Dubya Bush, complete with saber rattling towards Iran. Cruz insists that he knows more about the importance of border security than anyone else running. It could be that something in the Texas water gets its residents acting all “’Murica, fuck yeah,” but frankly, as a Latino immigrant, Cruz (who, by the way, closely resembles Grandpa Munster) is not one to talk. Go back to Canada, Mr. Cruz…and take Justin Bieber with you!
Speaking of Texas pride, Rick Perry was the next Republican to enter the race. The newly-bespectacled Texas governor grew some notoriety for his botched 2012 campaign, during which he famously announced that he would cut three items from the federal budget – but forgot what the third one was. Perry looked and sounded better this time around. During the single debate in which he participated, Perry was polished and on point. Unfortunately for him, no one noticed, and he dropped out of the race not long after entering. No loss there.
Next at bat was controversial Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. The “Cheesehead” (that’s a Wisconsin crack from this former Illinois “Flatlander”) gained an equal number of friends and enemies after he ruled to break up a Wisconsin teacher’s union, paving the way for for-profit private education (never a good idea). I am not a public school teacher, but I will say this: China and India graduate more doctors and scientists than the U.S. does; why would any politician want to anger his state’s already-overworked teachers? These are the wrong people to have voting against you. Since 2000, Wisconsin has ranked #35 in job creation, but has continued to rank among top states in terms of AP student enrollment and graduation rates. I shudder to think what effect (surely negative) Walker’s ruling will have on those scores. Walker dropped out of the race quickly and suddenly last September. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Ben Carson, the self-obsessed former neurosurgeon of whom no one had ever heard prior to 2015, entered the race as the non-establishment candidate. His credentials: an M.D., the Presidential Medal of Freedom for successfully separating conjoined twins in 1987, and a penchant for speaking softly and slowly, as if on sleeping pills – or pot. Amazingly, he is still doing well in the presidential race, despite knowing nothing about politics whatsoever. I get it that many American voters yearn for a non-Beltway outsider, but we as a nation can do much better than selecting as said outsider a climate change-denying, evolution-questioning, gay marriage-refuting anti-progressive. It doesn’t cause me too much worry, though; your 15 minutes are just about up, Doc.
Up next? Marco Rubio. Like Ted Cruz, Rubio is the son of Cuban refugees, so naturally he claims to be the expert on border relations and his party’s best (read: slim) chance at earning the Hispanic vote. That being said, the Florida senator is his own party’s John Kerry – a “flip-flopper,” especially on matters of immigration. Rubio is young and handsome, like current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto…and is only moderately more intelligent. That isn’t saying much. Rubio had a chance at being the Republican party’s establishment choice – that is, until the much creepier Ted Cruz stole his thunder.
Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, gained traction early in the race as the party’s female candidate. What she really is, however, is the anti-Hillary Clinton. Seemingly every word out of her mouth at each debate is how bad of a candidate Hillary is. This is shrill, off-putting, and wholly unnecessary. Okay, from time to time Fiorina will mention that she is the only candidate with business experience (a half-truth at best), but you don’t have to dig very deep to learn that her quick rise at HP was followed by an even quicker fall. During her time at the helm, HP lost huge amounts of money with its ill-advised buyout of Compaq. Hewlett-Packard stock nose-dived, and the company ultimately laid off thousands of employees…including Fiorina herself.
Chris Christie is almost as bracing as Carly Fiorina. I will say this much about the New Jersey governor: he excels at giving credit where credit is due. He praised President Obama for his fast response in sending aid to NJ during Hurricane Sandy. Indeed, some deniers claim that this is why Obama won a second term. (Have they actually heard Obama’s opponent, over-bronzed mannequin Mitt Romney, speak? But I digress.) However, while Christie excels at giving credit, he fails at taking the blame. The “Bridgegate” scandal is ludicrous, and not worth the time given to it – except that it is, at its core, yet another example of hypocrisy. Obama has lasted seven years without a single scandal; Christie already has dirt on him and he hasn’t even gotten the nomination! (And nor will he.)
Another early entrant to the race was Rand Paul. I don’t believe that the Kentucky senator and former ophthalmologist has ever branded himself a “Libertarian,” but most of his campaign rivals have called him that. Paul follows in his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s, footsteps, except that he lacks his father’s shine. He has already been bumped from the top tier of Republican debaters to the second tier of also-rans. On the upside, Rand Paul is staunchly opposed to the PATRIOT act…and he has the best – I mean worst – hair of anyone currently running.
The party had high hopes from Jeb Bush. Like Rubio, “Jebra,” as the “Donald Trump” character from SNL calls him, was an early establishment favorite. Jeb is supposedly the smart brother, more his father’s son than Junior, who governed the country off of a cliff that we are still struggling to climb back up. Jeb is saner, less trigger-happy than his brother, and married to a Mexican-American, making him able – in his mind, at least – to connect with Latinos. But Jeb is struggling in the polls. His frequent public appearances don’t help. George W. Bush was a buffoon, but projected an unbeatable aura of self-confidence. Jeb, on the other hand, looks ill at ease each time he is on stage, as if he is holding back a shit. Poor Jeb will probably stay in the race until the bitter end – or at least until the Florida primary. But his days are already numbered.
The fact that John Kasich continues to be invited to the top tier of debates suggests that the Republican Party has not completely lost its mind. The current Ohio governor seems moderate and reasonable on issues of national defense, foreign trade, and spending – at least in comparison to his party rivals. The Iowa Caucus may well do him in, though…and if that doesn’t, his constant complaining about not getting enough airtime at the Trump-centric debates will.
And then there’s Donald Trump himself. “The Donald,” as he calls himself, entered the race last spring with seemingly more fanfare than was given to Armstrong’s moon walk. Trump has as many admirers as he does detractors. His fans like him for how he has grown his financial empire, and for how he is unafraid to talk about such hot-potato issues as tax reform and immigration, subjects that make most candidates want to go poopy. But his fans are also – as much as I hate to say it – delusional.
Has The Donald really grown his empire? That depends on whether one considers multiple corporate bankruptcies a growth industry. How wealthy is Trump, anyway? He says $10 billion but financial analysts say it is more like $4 billion. Impressive numbers either way – I don’t even have a 401k! Still, the difference between $10 billion and $4 billion is $6 billion – a huge discrepancy. And we trust this guy to oversee the IRS and our national budget?!
As for Trump’s gift for gab, this is eye-opening in itself. Yes, Trump is not afraid to talk about immigration. To trump, all immigrants are bad immigrants. Does that include his Slovenian-born wife, or is he really just talking about brown-skinned immigrants? Yes, it is true that groups like ISIS are a scourge, to say the least. But should all of Syria’s refugees be left to die in the cold because some of them don’t agree with our politics – politics that, let’s be honest, played a factor in Syria’s civil war to begin with? Should all Mexican immigrants – the vast majority of whom pay taxes, obey the law, and pump money into our economy – be sent back to Mexico because a small handful of youths join gangs? If your answer to these last two questions is anything other than “no,” please line up to be bitch-slapped by our Founding Fathers.
Final thoughts on The Donald: I do wonder sometimes if Trump really is as xenophobic as he claims. Methinks at least some of his racism is a ratings game. Still, Trump’s popularity isn’t so much a reflection of our country’s close-mindedness as it is an indictment of it. What a bunch of assholes!
After reading the paragraphs above, it should be clear that, politically speaking, I lean considerably left of center. Still, the Democratic candidates are not immune from mockery themselves.
Take Hillary Clinton, for instance. It seems – at least to Hillary herself – as if the Illinois-born former First Lady, New York senator, and secretary of state was born to be president. She has more political experience than almost anyone else running, and she has a veritable army of supporters…
…but these supporters include Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 CEOs, so who are we kidding when we listen to Hillary insist that she can relate to the working class? Mrs. Clinton, for all of her experience, has never known “working class” a day in her life. What she has known – and to some extent unfairly – is three decades’ worth of scandal. If it isn’t Whitewater, it’s her refusal to publicly condemn husband Bill for his philandering. If it isn’t Benghazi, it’s her poor choice in email servers.
America is ready for a woman president. Many on the left hoped it would be Elizabeth Warren, the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, although it would seem that they’ll have to keep on waiting, as Ms. Warren has expressed no interest in running (and, unlike Hillary, actually means it). Will Hillary Clinton be that female president? Perhaps, perhaps not. If I am not ecstatic about the prospect of Hillary as Commander in Chief, it is because the status quo won’t change a whit with her in office. Still, a Hillary Clinton presidency sounds one thousand times better than a Carly Fiorina presidency, or a Sarah Palin presidency, or – may Heaven really forbid – a Michele Bachmann presidency.
Considerably farther to the political left is Bernie Sanders. It is hard to believe that the 74-year-old Sanders is his state’s junior Senator. He has represented Vermont since 2007, and served in the House of Representatives prior to working in the Senate, as mayor of Burlington before then, and as a member of the Young People’s Socialist League before then. Holy crap, Bernie is old.
But Bernie, despite his age and Doc Brown hair, may be the real deal. He refuses to take corporate donations, and he is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history. Larry David – I mean Bernie Sanders – has the audacity to campaign on a platform of raising taxes for the rich, closing corporate tax loopholes, making public higher education free and giving us truly universal healthcare. I definitely “feel the Bern,” but I don’t, for a second, delude myself into thinking that half of Bernie’s revolutionary platforms will ever see the light of day unless nearly every current Congressperson – on both sides of the aisle – is defeated in November’s election.
The Honorable Mention Award for the Dems goes to Martin O’Malley. The slightly-left-of-center O’Malley has been in the race as long as Hillary and Bernie have, and if he doesn’t have one iota of their fame or their followers, he at least has a steady-as-she-goes momentum. The former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor would, if elected, be only the second Catholic Commander in Chief, which seems threatening to many Bible Belt voters for reasons that I don’t entirely understand. Far more interesting are the facts that a) O’Malley would actually admit to being mayor of the troubled city of Baltimore, b) that he is front man for the Celtic rock band “O’Malley’s March,” and c) that – at least in my opinion – he is really running for vice president, steering clear of the Hillary-vs-Bernie fighting in the hope of earning either’s endorsement as their veep nominee.
This is the “In Memoriam” section of the blog post. I thought it worth giving at least cursory mention to the other candidates who entered and left the race with nary an ounce of fanfare, and to those 0-to-1 percenters who are still hanging in there but who will almost certainly call it quits after tomorrow’s caucus. Good luck, gentlemen!
For better and (definitely) for worse and from both sides of the aisle we have:
Lincoln Chafee: If Hollywood were to make a movie about Lincoln Chafee – and you can be sure that they won’t – I imagine that William Hurt would be a fine choice to portray the squinty-eyed, former Rhode Island governor. As political party affiliations go, Chafee has covered nearly all of his bases: Republican until 2007, independent until 2013, Democratic ever since. Confused yet? Or merely uninterested?
Jim Webb: A former Marine and a one-term senator from Virginia, Jim Webb’s brief run for the Democratic Party’s nomination last fall can best be remembered for Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Webb on SNL as a cranky defense spending hawk. Webb may or may not mount an independent run for the Oval Office later this year. Meanwhile, crickets chirp.
Bobby Jindal: The two-term, post-Katrina, former governor of Louisiana, Jindal is the son of Indian emigrants to the U.S. After Mitt Romney lost the presidential election in 2012, many in the Republican Party looked to Jindal’s gubernatorial reelection as good P.R. that they were not out of touch with minority voters. There’s just one problem: Jindal sounds whiter than everyone else running.
Mike Huckabee: Former Faux News Channel host and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee grew up in the same small town as former president Bill Clinton. The town’s name: Hope, AR. But alas, Huckabee is no Clinton, and he had better “hope” that Iowa voters show him some love tomorrow. Some election humor: I once read that during his days as lieutenant governor in that not-so-great state, Huckabee is said to have saved up all of his farts for whenever he had to spend the day in court.
Rick Santorum: Poor Rick Santorum. The ultra-conservative, former Pennsylvania senator won the Iowa Caucus in 2012 but has failed to make any similar impression this time around. I cite last Friday’s MSNBC.com article “Contemplating Oblivion with 2016’s Saddest Candidate, Rick Santorum.” Ouch. You should’ve stuck with the sweater vests, Ricky!
Jim Gilmore: Another former Virginia governor, Gilmore entered the race late. He isn’t faring any better than fellow Party member Rick Santorum; an Atlantic.com article from last Thursday, entitled, “Why Is Jim Gilmore Even Running for President?’ pretty much sums it up.
Lindsay Graham: Mr. Graham is a long-serving U.S. Senator from South Carolina, who is perhaps most famous for succeeding the even-longer-serving Strom Thurmond. I have read that Graham was one of the more bi-partisan Republicans, resulting in low approval ratings and failure to register with pollsters.
George Pataki: A former, 11-year governor of New York, Pataki looks alarmingly like the villain played by Ronny Cox in 1987’s Robocop.
Dennis Michael Lynch: Truth bomb: I have no idea who this person is.
Mark Everson: A New York-born, Mississippi-residing former IRS commissioner, Everson is perhaps most famous for running as a candidate with a pictorial logo that includes the Confederate flag. Lord Jesus help us.
Jimmy McMillan: Get this: McMillan registered to run as a Republican even though he was chairman, from 2005-2015, of the Rent is Too Damn High Party. I couldn’t make this stuff up no matter how hard I were to try – I’m simply not that good of a writer.
Who do you think will win the Iowa Caucus in each party, Loyal Reader?
GringoPotpourri note: all pictures are borrowed from the Interwebs.