There was a time when the well-worn "clown car" description of the Republican presidential primary field wasn't so on-the-nose. But as of right now, not even a few months into the process, it's impossible to avoid daily news items in which one GOP candidate or another is self-immolating with ludicrous remarks or unforced errors. Frankly, it'd be really fun to observe if it weren't for a nagging sense of danger. We'll circle back to that.
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Friday contributed a fantastic example of the politically deficient nature of the current batch of hacks and frauds running for president on the GOP side. Speaking about the political hot potato of Iraq, Rubio described how he, as president, would approach continued U.S. involvement there: "It’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation." Yes, assisting in the building of a nation is distinct from nation-building, according to Rubio.
Clearly, inside the Rubio campaign (for president!), this is totally acceptable. To everyone else, however, it sounds like the Sphinx character from the 1999 Ben Stiller superhero movie "Mystery Men." As the wise sage of the superhero team, the Sphinx spoke in seemingly profound chunks of wisdom, but he'd merely reverse the first half of each maxim to construct the second half. For example: "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions"; "When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts"; and, "When you care what is outside, what is inside cares for you." Adding: "It's not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation."
The Iraq issue, which has had 12 years to percolate in the minds of all candidates everywhere and on both sides of the aisle, has completely flummoxed the Republicans. They don't know how the hell to answer questions about the invasion. Actually, I take that back. Remarkably, the generally gaffe-prone Rick Perry, of all people, delivered the most concise and coherent answer of the batch on Friday, saying flatly on MSNBC that knowing what he knows now, he wouldn't have invaded. But whether it's Jeb Bush, Rubio or even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said recently that the Republicans are responsible for ISIS but then reversed himself on the "Hannity" show, the issue is utterly stupefying. Carly Fiorina was asked about Iraq by MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell last week, and instead of answering, Fiorina pivoted to Hillary Clinton, saying that the Democratic front-runner hadn't been asked nor had she commented on Iraq. Well, Clinton had, in fact, been asked, and she responded with aplomb -- many days earlier. It was kind of a big deal.
What else? Regarding Rand Paul, his campaign was a mess right out of the box. He was caught using stock photos instead of actual people who his campaign insisted had provided endorsements. His website store included "Rand Paul Flip Flops" for sale. The education issue page on his campaign site misspelled the word "education" (it touted Paul's "eductation" policies). He bristled and barked at the "Today" show's Savannah Guthrie. And his official campaign announcement video was blocked by YouTube for copyright infringement.
As for Mike Huckabee, it's a safe bet that just about everything he says is either a gaffe or a shockingly horrendous anecdote. While talking about rights for transgender citizens, for example, Huckabee joked that he would've pretended to be transgender in high school just to infiltrate the girls' showers. Who knew Huckabee was such a perv?
Elsewhere, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, thought it'd be classy to joke about Vice President Joe Biden -- while Biden was burying his son Beau Biden. Said Cruz: "Joe Biden... You know what the nice thing is? You don’t even need a punch line. I promise you it works. At the next party you’re at, just walk up to someone and say, 'Vice President Joe Biden,' and just close your mouth. They will crack up laughing."
Earlier in the week, Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., discussed how an anti-choice bill working its way through the state Legislature, and which he supports, would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without any exception for rape victims. Walker said, "I mean, I think for most people concerned about [rapes resulting in pregnancy], it's in the initial months when they're the most concerned about it." Sure, OK. After 20 weeks, Walker expects us to believe rape victims mostly forget about the fact that they were raped and that they're carrying the offspring of their rapist. By the way, Walker said this shortly after remarking that transvaginal ultrasounds are a "cool thing."
Walker is no fringe candidate. According to the latest PPP survey, he and Jeb Bush are basically tied for the coveted front-runner slot.
And this leads us to the most harrowing factor preventing the "clown car" joke from being across-the-board hilarious. There are still 18 months to go before the general election. In political terms, that's a really, really long time. Put a different way: After this summer, there's still another summer before voters head to the polls. That's 18 months in which, say, the Clinton campaign could implode. What then? One of these doofus Republicans could be thrust into the Oval Office by default. Knowing this, is it too much to ask that the Republicans field an actual adult? A real-life grown-up? At the very least, if we're going to be saddled with a Republican president who will surely undo everything the Obama administration and the Democrats have accomplished, beginning with my personal health insurance policy through Obamacare, can we at least have a Republican president who doesn't choke on his own tongue every time he speaks?
The Republicans thought they were getting a heavyweight when they cajoled Jeb Bush into running, but he's arguably been the worst of the litter, leading many Democrats and a few Republicans to wonder out loud whether George W. Bush was "the smart one." With so many candidates flooding the GOP stage, it's inconceivable that not one of them, given the odds, is viable, competent presidential material. Part of the problem is the obvious fact that too many of the GOP candidates aren't running to win or to lead, they're running to burnish their Q-scores and Fox News contract negotiations. ("Presidential candidate" looks fantastic on a term sheet or a book sleeve.)
The scam aside, what does this tell us about the status of the Republican Party? It tells us that Obama Derangement Syndrome and frenetic screeching, as heard all across the AM radio dial and on Fox News, has become the standard for Republican behavior. True leaders who understand the nature of American politics and especially the necessity of moderation and compromise have been all but shouted out of the party. The traits that normally compose traditional gravitas have been superseded by the ability to pander to voters who are self-sequestered inside the bubble. Whoever ends up being the GOP nominee will be well-versed, more than any other time in recent memory, in the language of the raging horde rather than the language of statesmanship.
The good news is this: The Clinton campaign has likely been eating its own weight in popcorn as the Republicans behave like the Three Stooges trying to fix the plumbing. Every time Rubio or Walker or Bush commits another unforced error, it makes Clinton look better and better. Specifically, it amplifies Clinton's standing as a stronger leader; a more savvy politician; and significantly more presidential. At this point, there isn't a president anywhere near the GOP stage. While that's great news for the Democrats, it should been harrowing news when considering how far we have to go before Election Day 2016.