The GOP's epic flops: A look at the yahoos who might as well call it quits

With another debate cutoff coming today, Salon examines the state of the GOP's sorriest campaigns

Published September 10, 2015 5:59PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jae C. Hong)
(AP/Jae C. Hong)

Today, CNN will announce the lineup for the GOP presidential debate scheduled for primetime on September 16 at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. Also to be announced: the lineup of the bottom tier of candidates for the kiddie table debate to take place immediately beforehand. These are the presidential aspirants making so little impact in the race that we can write off their poll numbers to the margin of error. What better time to take a look at the state of the campaigns of these also-rans-before-they-began? For our purposes, we’ll assume none of them will have shuttered their campaigns by next Wednesday.

Rick Perry

It is time now to pour one out for the presidential ambitions of Rick Perry. Simon Maloy covered this topic last week, when Perry’s campaign was already in a deep coma. Since then, the former Texas governor lost his headquarters in South Carolina, the first-in-the-South primary state still, for some reason, considered vital to a candidate’s shot at the nomination. For perspective, keep in mind that it was the only primary won by Newt Gingrich in 2012, aside from the one in his native Georgia.

At least some of Perry’s staff in South Carolina is not being paid, joining their counterparts in every other state where Perry had tried to build a campaign infrastructure. Most every Perry employee is basically a volunteer right now, which raises the question of what kind of a person believes so deeply in Rick Perry as President of the United States that he or she is willing to work for free to make it happen.

It’s a steep fall for the Texan, who was once considered a top GOP hope for 2016. Maybe he couldn’t shake memories of his disastrous debate performance in 2012, peaking with that infamous “Oops” moment. Maybe he reminds Republicans too much of another Southern-accented former Texas governor who was recently president. Or maybe he’s just too subtly human to stand out in the field of terrible sociopaths the GOP has put up this year. Oh well, at least he’ll have more time to focus on his upcoming defense of those felony abuse-of-power charges.

Lindsey Graham

The Senator from South Carolina is trying so very hard to make a splash. This week he called the leaders of Iran “religious Nazis” whom President Obama emboldened by staying on the sidelines while they crushed the Green Revolution in 2009. Unfortunately for Graham, those words are almost mild in a week when Mike Huckabee can rant with a straight face that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is a victim of the “criminalization of Christianity.”

Graham has been famous – or infamous – in the past for his Chicken Little approach to life under President Obama. He recently called the Iran deal a “death sentence” for Israel, labeled the president “the Neville Chamberlain of our time,” and was photographed target-shooting with an AR-15. Perhaps he should have fired it at vaguely ethnic-shaped targets wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. That might have been good for enough outrage from liberals to earn him a softball interview in primetime with Megyn Kelly, at least.

Rick Santorum

Where has Rick Santorum gone? He was nowhere to be seen around the Kim Davis brouhaha in Kentucky despite the issue of gay marriage being one of his major issues. Sure, he promised to be the first candidate to visit all 99 counties in Iowa, but doing so doesn’t give him the national exposure he needs to move up in the polls and make it into the main debate. But he is venturing into the lion’s den, aka liberal media, more than most any other candidate besides Donald Trump.

A few weeks ago Santorum became the first and so far only GOP candidate to take on Rachel Maddow on her show. Last week he popped up on Bill Maher’s show, where he gamely pushed back on the host for agreeing with 97 percent of the world’s scientists that man-made climate change is actually happening. He went on a conservative radio show to sneer at liberals who think diversity and multiculturalism are positives for America. And yet he has barely cracked 1 percent in the national polls. What more must Rick Santorum do to get your attention, Republicans?

Bobby Jindal

Another governor in a field full of them. Unfortunately for his campaign, Jindal lacks the sneering religious nihilism of Mike Huckabee or the ability to sound as if he lives in a parallel dimension like Scott Walker.

A couple of years ago Jindal made the effort to look almost reasonable, warning the GOP not to be the stupid party and adopting the Common Core educational standards for Louisiana. That burst of sanity lasted until he realized it would get him nowhere with the Republican base. He promptly renounced Common Core, signed a “religious freedom” executive order that promptly got him sued by the ACLU, and generally tried to stoke the GOP base’s outrage button with ridiculous statements that have landed with all the impact of a ladybug on a leaf.

Put it this way: When you can declare your state’s fealty to the doctrine of nullification and barely anyone notices, you are not outré enough for this year’s GOP.

George Pataki

Who? Oh right, that guy. Is he still running? Who cares?

Jim Gilmore

The only Republican candidate not invited by Nancy Reagan to the debate at her deceased husband’s presidential library because he was polling too low. At this point he’s putting about as much effort into running for president as I am. Gilmore recently challenged Donald Trump to a one-on-one debate, presumably to raise his own profile. Trump does not appear to have even bothered responding. Why would he?

At this rate, it’s entirely possible Jim Gilmore will not bother with an announcement when he drops out of the race, and no one will even notice.

Based on polling, it seems reasonable to name this event “The Debate of the One-Percenters.” If CNN starts calling it that, I might even watch.

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