During the past two election cycles, Paul supporters have literally been forced to party-crash other candidates' events in order to get their message out. In this case, Christian and his friend Michael Toppeta decided to blitz the "Ham House showdown" by showing off a pair of spiffy "Ron Paul 2012" campaign vans – one featuring a professional paint-and-stencil job, the other a pleasingly Mystery Machine-esque vehicle done up with $3 worth of finger paint from Michaels.
"It's a fiscally responsible design job," Christian proudly declared.
"I just wanted to show that we can do a professional job like that," Toppeta added, regarding the more high-end van. "That we're not just a bunch of hippies or whatever."
Both actually and metaphorically, the Paul campaign is forever being consigned to the parking lot outside the main event, despite the fact that Paul is the only Republican candidate with consistent, insoluble support across the country. Polls also show that Paul tends to fare much better against Obama than any candidate besides Romney: A recent CNN poll showed him in a dead heat with Obama in a one-on-one contest. Yet everywhere he goes, Paul is hounded by reporters asking him which of the other mannequins he's eventually going to throw his support to. The grown-ups in the party establishment and their lackeys in the press simply refuse to take Paul seriously, which is part of the reason Paul is so extraordinarily attractive to young people (in both Iowa and New Hampshire, he scored almost half of the under-30 vote).
But the Republican Party is not dominated by 22-year-old college students reading The Fountainhead for the first time and finally understanding what it is they've always hated about their ex-hippie parents. No, the party is dominated by middle-aged white suburbanites who hate Mexico, John King and the Golden Rule and are willing to flock to anyone who'll serve up the Fox News culture war in big portions and without shame or hesitation. Romney might have memorized a few I-hate-Obama sound bites, but voters simply don't believe him. Gingrich alone offers GOP voters the emotional payoff they want out of an election – an impassioned fight against the conspiracy, played out in thrillingly contrary three-hour debates on health care with the liberal Satan. Gingrich lives for confrontation: He was born for this sort of insurgent primary politics.
The only problem is, he's a bloviating, egomaniacal hog clinging to a third marriage who suffers from incurable diarrhea of the mouth and, according to polls, is one of the most intensely disliked politicians in America, making him an utterly absurd choice for the general election. If Gingrich ends up winning the nomination, Obama will essentially be running against the political version of Gilbert Gottfried or raw garlic – strong tastes that some like quite a lot, but many more can't stand to even be near. If that happens, every Democratic flack from Leon Panetta to Obama himself will have to wear restraints to keep from publicly crying out in joy.
All of which makes the goofball theater surrounding the GOP primaries seem even crazier. With a weak economy and a vulnerable president in the White House, the Republican Party had a real chance to reseize power, if it could only have grasped the gravity of the situation and put forward a plausible candidate. And a plausible candidate would have been better for everyone, not just Republicans, because the nation will suffer when Obama cruises to victory next fall on a sea of open-marriage jokes, instead of having to face a cogent argument against useless bailouts, endless wars and economic mismanagement.
But the GOP chose to snub any semblance of substance, floating one candidate after another – from Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain and Rick Perry – who could not hold on to the lead for more than a few hours before tripping and falling into the machinery. It now appears that whoever winds up winning the Republican nomination will be a reform-hating friend of the one percent who will happily gobble whatever hundreds of millions of dollars Wall Street has left over to donate to the GOP, after it's finished lavishing its election-year tribute on Barack Obama. The best we can hope for, it appears, is some truly high-quality reality-show drama. The campaign is a circus like we've never seen before. We may get worse candidates, but at least we're getting a better show.
This story is from the February 16, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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