The GOP Clown Car Rolls On
Not one of them can win, but one must. That’s the paradox of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, fast becoming the signature event in the history of black comedy.
Conventional wisdom says that with the primaries and caucuses rapidly approaching, front-running nuts Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson must soon give way to the “real” candidates. But behind Trump and Carson is just more abyss. As I found out on a recent trip to New Hampshire, the rest of the field is either just as crazy or as dangerous as the current poll leaders, or too bumbling to win.
Disaster could be averted if Americans on both the left and the right suddenly decide to be more mature about this, neither backing obvious mental incompetents, nor snickering about those who do. But that doesn’t seem probable.
Instead, HashtagClownCar will almost certainly continue to be the most darkly ridiculous political story since Henry II of Champagne, the 12th-century king of Jerusalem, plunged to his death after falling out of a window with a dwarf.
Just after noon, Wednesday, November 4th. I’m in Hollis, New Hampshire, a little town not far from the Massachusetts border.
The Hollis pharmacy is owned by Vahrij Manoukian, a Lebanese immigrant who is the former chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee. If you come into his establishment looking for aspirin, you have to first survive dozens of pictures of the cannonball-shape businessman glad-handing past and present GOP hopefuls like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rudy Giuliani.
Primary season is about who most successfully kisses the asses of such local burghers, and the big test in Hollis today is going to be taken by onetime presumptive front-runner Jeb Bush.
Despite its ideological decorative scheme, the Manoukian pharmacy has some charming small-town quirks you wouldn’t find in a CVS. There’s a section of beautiful handmade wooden toys, for instance. There’s also a pair of talkative parrots named Buddy and Willy perched near the cash registers.
While waiting for the candidate to arrive, I try to make conversation.
“Who are you voting for this year?”
“Hello,” says Willy.
“Is Jeb Bush going to win?”
“Rooowk!” the bird screeches, recoiling a little.
It seems like a “no.” Bush comes in a moment later and immediately hears the birds squawking. A tall man, he smiles and cranes his head over the crowd in their direction.
“Whose dog is that?” he cracks.
Technically, that is the correct comic response, but the room barely hears him. For Bush, Campaign 2016 has been a very tough crowd.
It’s hard to recall now, but a year ago, it appeared likely that Bush would be the Republican nominee. He had a lead in polls, and some Beltway geniuses believed Republican voters would favor “more moderate choices” in 2016, pushing names like Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and this reportedly “smarter” Bush brother to the top of the list.