Republican Braintrust: Update

Which political titan shall be the one to take on Obama? America starts to decide!

By Steve Burgess 6 Jan 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and culture every other Friday on The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Some of you may remember Brigadoon, the Lerner/Loewe musical about a magical Scottish village seen only once every 100 years. Replace the Broadway show tunes with Toby Keith or Kid Rock and life imitates art in Iowa and New Hampshire, early battle grounds of U.S. presidential politics. At least these minor states get their shot every four years before slipping back beneath the clouds that cover fly-over country. This year it's the Republicans turn to care, briefly, about otherwise irrelevant precincts.

After what seemed like an eternity of handshaking, baby-kissing, and promising to return America to some mythical golden age of theocratic serfdom, the Iowa caucuses were held on Tuesday. Republican voters gathered to voice their preferences in a uniquely American mix of democracy and peer pressure. Meanwhile, presumably, Homeland Security agents sat outside writing down license plate numbers. Considering the candidates they were supporting, you'd hope somebody is keeping track of these people.

Thinned herd, rising cream

Iowa did thin the flock some. After her dismal finish Michele Bachmann removed her tinfoil hat from the ring, quitting the race and releasing her supporters (police warn they are still at large -- if you see one, do not approach). Former wunderkind Rick Perry picked up only seven per cent of the Iowa vote, a figure low enough for even Perry to keep track of. And Newt Gingrich, that fascinating mess of mood-disordered, argy-bargy intellectual arrogance and Industrial Revolution politics, limped in at 13 per cent. He immediately signaled his intent to strap on the suicide belt and take out his ideological enemies, thereby earning a place in Paradise at the right hand of Reagan.

Chief among his foes: frontrunner Mitt Romney, who managed to meet expectations while garnering exactly eight votes more than surprise challenger Rick Santorum, and six votes fewer than he received in Iowa four years ago. Romney is certainly consistent. So consistent that his heartfelt victory speech was a near-word-for-word recitation of his stump routine. Surrounded by his family -- R2, R3, R4, and the adorable little R5 unit -- Romney once again demonstrated the reliability of his record-and-playback circuitry. Critics point out that Apple's Siri now does a superior job of mimicking human interaction, but the Romney software still offers the flexibility to completely rewrite political positions on abortion, gay marriage, etc.

By finishing in a dead heat with Romney, Santorum claimed the coveted title of Republican bull goose loony. After a year in which virtually every non-Mormon GOP hopeful took turns imploding, Santorum surfed the wave of bodies to the top, just in time for Iowa. Santorum is a homophobic, contraception-banning wackjob, so it was really only a matter of time before the Republicans warmed up to him.

Ron Paul finished a strong third despite controversy over his newsletter, long a farrago of conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Paul remains a darling to many over his principled stands against military intervention and the war on drugs. The problem with Paul is, he's a menu item. You have to take him or leave him. He'd be more palatable as a buffet, where you could grab a plateful of savoury peace and freedom and skip the wingnut salad and anti-gay-pasto.

America keeps deciding!

Next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is where the nomination campaign really gets serious -- the winner there has often been seen as the inevitable nominee. It may still be true, since this year that winner will almost certainly be local favourite Romney. But the big battles are looming further down the road in South Carolina (Jan. 28) and Florida (Jan. 31). This weekend's New Hampshire debates should be explosive (no doubt Gingrich is taping his posthumous-release martyrdom video right now) as opponents attempt to wound Romney now and finish him later. Right now the odds strongly favour Mr. Roboto. But his challengers retain a chance, simply because so few hard-core Republicans are sold on Romney. Santorum, for all his extreme views, comes off like a warm-blooded, carbon-based life form -- a skill Romney has yet to master. Considering the long list of right-wing saviours who've come and gone in this political season -- everybody short of the banjo-picking inbred from Deliverance -- you'd have to think the GOP faithful might still be shopping.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole GOP race is this: last summer, Sarah Palin surveyed the field of candidates and concluded, "Nope -- I'd better back out. They're just too strong."

Let us pray she does not reconsider. Bad as things get, they can always get worse.  [Tyee]

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