I'm not much of a fan of "reality" television, partially because it is anything but, and mostly because it features the kind of people that I normally try to avoid in real life. However, there is one reality show I cherish and love, and as of today, it is officially back on the air: the Republican presidential primaries. Our political system has become so corrupt, idiotic, and ridiculous that I have made the decision to turn it into entertainment. As Elvis Costello once trenchantly said, "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused." Or more depressingly, it's better to laugh than cry at the sorry state of our political process.
The ever hubristic Ted Cruz has predictably been the first to throw his hat in the ring, and time will tell if he will be like Rick Santorum in 2008 (one early victory followed by a pummeling ) Pat Buchanan in 1992 (losing with enough votes to shake things up at the convention) or Mike Huckabee in 2008 (not much, but good enough to get a show on Fox News). I doubt he'll seriously challenge for the nomination, as hilarious as that might be.
I am already plenty entertained. Cruz wants to be the leader of a diverse nation, but he started his campaign at Liberty University, an institution devoted to a radical interpretation of evangelical Christianity. It's yet another sign that the Republican Party is less a center-right party with a broad membership (as you would expect in a functioning two party system), and more a vehicle for an extremist right-wing ideology funded by craven corporate interests. The fun comes in when the true believers that form the party's base get so whackadoodle that they self-destruct a la Todd Aiken. The moneymen in the party establishment know deep in their hearts that they need the Tea Party lumpen in order to win, but also that satisfying them will lead to a candidate wholly unpalatable to the rest of the nation. The resulting jiu-jitsu leads to the likes of Mitt Romney disowning his own health care reform, or John McCain dumping his old critiques of American interventionism. Both men trashed their true selves to get the nomination, then suddenly found themselves much too conservative for the general electorate.
This time it seems like the establishment is trying really, really hard to shut things down early and get the inevitable establishment victor (likely Jeb Bush) through the gauntlet with the fewest embarrassing moments possible. I just read that Florida's primary got moved up to the earliest possible position, and that decision is transparently a play to get Jeb the nomination. Of course, the Tea Party hordes are not pleased, they already staged a walkout of his speech at CPAC, chanting "USA! USA!" Whether this was meant to be a comment about the fact that Jeb's spouse is a Mexican immigrant is up for speculation. (Or the fact that Bush is a Catholic. I always thought it would be a cold day in hell before the Republican party would nominate a Catholic, but I guess their voting demographics have changed since my youth.)
Here are my earliest predictions for the prospective candidates, which I will be updating as the crazy events unfold.
Ted Cruz: He'll be trying really, really hard to be this election's conservative choice. So far in his political career he has shown a lot more interest in being noticed and talked about than in actually governing, and this run for presidency pretty much seems par for the course. I predict third place in Iowa, with diminishing returns.
Jeb Bush: The establishment candidate getting all the money with an operation already in place, Jeb is the most likely to win the nomination. His stances on immigration and Bush fatigue will hurt, but it looks like the party bosses are getting behind him, and he populist challengers will be splitting their votes too much to stop him.
Chris Christie: Now that the smart establishment money is behind Jeb, Christie is dead in the water. There's still a chance he'll be indicted, his state's economic numbers are crap, and he is despised by the conservative base for his overtures to Barack Obama after Sandy. The establishment hardly sees him as reliable after the way he treated his convention speech in 2012 as an opportunity to polish his own knob. Christie hates losing, and won't enter the race if he thinks he won't win, which is why he denied the VP nomination last time around. For that reason I doubt Christie will even run.
Scott Walker: He's the one guy capable of winning the establishment away from Jeb, mostly because of his attacks on organized labor, which make corporate plutocrats cream their Brooks Brothers slacks in delight. However, he is much too obvious a Manchurian Candidate for the Koch Brothers, and seems about as a smart as a bag of hammers. The establishment, desperate for a win, will want to avoid candidates without gravitas or brains. Walker will do well in the Midwest, and maybe even finish second overall.
Mike Huckabee: The obligatory Christian conservative candidate. Cruz might steal his thunder, but Huck will make some decent showings in Iowa and the South.
Rand Paul: Paul is an interesting case, in that he does not really fit into either the establishment or ultraconservative camps. Considering that the national party is pushing aggressive foreign policy against Obama, his more isolationist stance will probably rub the base the wrong way. Most ultraconservatives will view him as weak tea compared to the stronger stuff like Cruz. If world events increase anxiety about American power, he will be lucky to finish in the top three anywhere.
Rick Santorum: Will lock down the gay-hating bigot end of the Christian conservatives, and that's about it. Expect no repeat of his showings in 2012.
Marco Rubio: Comes across too callow and untested to get the establishment vote, and not nearly fiery enough for the true believers. Not sure he will bother.
Ben Carson: He's the real wild card. As a political outsider he might appeal to many hardcore conservatives, and he helps provide cover against accusations of Republican racism. Might just win South Carolina, but not come close to the nomination.
John Kasich: Yet another conservative governor, but not conservative enough. Unless he privatizes Ohio State University or mandates vaginal inspections of all unmarried women to make up for it, he will be on the fringes.
Rick Perry: He probably has an even bigger embarrassment up his sleeve than his "oops" moment. I cannot believe this man would seriously think he could get away with running again. At times I wonder if Rick Perry is a real person, or a performance artist playing a helluva joke on the country.
Bobby Jindal: Yesterday's news. His state is a basket case, the voters have turned against him, and he has been personally slammed by the conservative PM of Britain for his erroneous comments about Muslims in Birmingham. If he runs it will be yet another example of his misplaced faith in himself.