Oh politics, I wish I could quit you, but I can't. The sideshow quality of the Republican nomination race just makes it too hard for me to look away. After lots of dithering and speculation about who would run, the field has finally solidified. More importantly, the candidates have started to go after each other with hammer and tongs, rather than just lambasting the president.
On the first point, it was hardly surprising that Chris Christie and Sarah Palin opted out. As Palin's decision to leave the governorship of Alaska mid-term manifestly showed us already, she is not interested in holding political office. She doesn't want to be president, she wants to be queen. I must admit that it is heartening to see the most grotesquely brazen fame whore of our times fade into utter irrelevance, including among her formerly fervent supporters. Christie wised up once he saw what happened to Rick Perry. Very quickly after he entered the race, the rest of the nation soon realized what most Texans already know: Rick Perry has more hair follicles than brain cells. The news media, entranced as usual by the Next Big Thing, touted Perry as a far-sighted, pragmatic leader, skipping over the fact that he is a goddamned moron. Christie probably figured out that when the nation outside of New Jersey got exposed to him, they'd soon realize that when the media calls him "brutally honest" they really mean "overbearing, insensitive, bullying asshole."
With the field set, and Perry falling out of the clear front-runner spot after making his complete inaptitude to be a world leader manifest in recent debates, the candidates have taken off the gloves and bared their teeth. The attacks by other candidates on Romney have gone beyond the political (his record as a moderate governor in Massachusetts) to now making his Mormon religion a campaign issue. At the so-called "Values Voters" summit this weekend, the preacher who introduced Rick Perry used it as an opportunity to spew bigotry against Mormons and effectively claim that Mitt Romney is a cult member. Other candidates, like Cain and Bachmann, have refused, when given the opportunity, to say that Romney is a Christian. It's hardly surprising that this low blow has come so soon in the campaign, considering the GOP has invested a great deal of time in making Barack Obama into an "other" embodying anti-Americanism.
Romney is not the only candidate whose personal life has become an issue. For a very short period of time this week, Herman Cain went after Rick Perry on the issue of his family's connection to the "Niggerhead" hunting ground, before backing down amidst heavy flak from the hard Right. Republicans have pretty much written off the black vote, but they also know that if a guy considered "one of the good ones" accuses Perry of racism, the charge might actually stick and turn off white moderates in the general election.
Ironically enough, Perry has also been getting more rigorously raked over the coals over immigration policy, the favorite issue of those "real Americans" who want to keep America white, er, I mean, "take their country back." The attacks on a states' rights secessionist like Perry from the Right, rather than the center, tell us just how insane the activist wing of the Republican party has become. Their members' continual dissatisfaction with the candidates on offer reflects a fundamental problem for the GOP: they are bound to their ideology so completely that no one candidate will be able to conform to it. This is a huge boost to Hermann Cain, because he does not have a legislative record to compare to his ideological pronouncements.
In the end, the result looks just as predictable as ever: Mitt Romney getting the nomination. He has the vote of moderate Republicans (as small as that is), and now that the knives are out, the candidates trying to claim the conservative mantle will cut each other to pieces. In fact, this will make it all that much easier in the general election, since he can point to how he is less doctrinaire than other Republicans. Then again, this election had already exceeded the weirdness quotient, so who knows what will happen next.