That’s the headline for my piece in the Fin on Thursday, looking at the clown show that is the Republican primary campaign. It’s amusing in retrospect to look at Alan Moran’s letter (republished at Catallaxy) in response to my last piece on this topic, touting the merits of Herman Cain and Rick Perry
The show just goes on, and on
For most of the eight months or so it has been running, the primary campaign for the US Republican Campaign has resembled nothing so much as a bad reality game show. But, as it turned out, the show had saved some surprise twists for us, and may have more to come.
The tone was set at the start when Donald Trump surged to an early lead. Trump came to fame as a property developer of a kind familiar to Australians, seemingly getting richer all the time, even as the companies he ran (and branded with his own name) repeatedly went into bankruptcy. But these days he is more of a professional celebrity and, inevitably, a reality game show host.
Trump’s candidacy was intended mainly as a publicity stunt for his latest show, a position that left him free to embrace the ‘birther’ conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the US and is therefore ineligible for the Presidency. Such nonsense would be fatal in a general election, but the Republican primary voters loved it. Trump scored a win of sorts by finally inducing President Obama to release his fabled ‘long form birth certificate’. Having secured the publicity he wanted, Trump graciously withdrew.
Over the next few months, a succession of contestants had their time in the sun, before pulling out or being voted off the island. At least three – Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin – were in the race for the same reason as Trump, to promote their books or TV shows and celebrity profiles.
Palin led her supporters on a merry dance, taking a bus tour around the nation, and coyly flirting with the idea of a full-scale run, before deciding against it and taking a lucrative gig with Fox News. Gingrich similarly interrupted his supposed campaign for a holiday, leading most of his campaign staff to quit in disgust. Cain carried on, plugging both his book and his 9-9-9 tax plan. Cain’s plan did not come anywhere near balancing revenues and expenditures. Still it was no worse in this respect than those of most of the other contenders, or the ‘official’ Republican plan produced by Representative Paul Ryan.
Meanwhile, candidates rose and fell, as their brief period in the limelight cruelly revealed their incapacity for the task. Michelle Bachmann flamed out when she claimed that vaccines cause brain damage. Rick Perry froze on camera for an excruciating 53 seconds, unable to remember which three government departments he wanted to abolish. Shortly after, Herman Cain, already in trouble over alleged sexual harassment, similarly proved himself ignorant of recent events in Libya.
A few weeks ago, it seemed the the show was reaching its pre-scripted end. With the last of the cartoon candidates, Herman Cain, on the way out, the way was clear for the unappealing, but competent Mitt Romney to win by default. At the cost of being branded a consummate flipflopper, Romney had been willing to say what the party faithful wanted to hear on climate change, immigration policy and abortion, contradicting his own previous statements in the past. The conservative base weren’t happy with him, but they had, it seemed, no choice.
Then came the return to the stage of Newt Gingrich as the final obstacle to Romney’s inevitable anointment. The much-married former Speaker, who left Congress under a cloud of corruption allegations in the late 1990s, can at least string a few sentences together in a coherent fashion, even if his arguments rarely stand up to close scrutiny.
Unsurprisingly, it soon came out that, throughout the 2000s, Gingrich had run a lucrative consulting business, pushing ideas favorable to some of the organizations most demonized by Republicans. In particular, he had made nearly $2 million working for mortgage insurer Freddie Mac, which he himself had later attacked in savage terms.
With Gingrich following the same pattern as the other non-Romney contestants, it seemed that the game was over. But a surprise twist was yet to come. The Republican base, by now inured to scandal, shrugged off the evidence that their latest favorite was the worst kind of Washington insider.
With only a few weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich now has what looks like an unassailable lead in the polls. Perhaps he will flame out like all the others, but the show looks likely to run for some time to come.
In the meantime, there has been one last twist. It’s been announced that one last debate will be held before Iowa votes. The moderator? Donald Trump.