They could have picked...

Eliot Weinberger

Last January, the unpronounceable Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, surveying his party’s throng of presidential aspirants, tweeted: ‘It’s clear we’ve got the most well-qualified and diverse field of candidates from any party in history.’ Why, the world wonders, did they end up with Donald Trump as their nominee?

The primary voters could have picked Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, once the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, and, with four million votes, the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primaries. Santorum is not only opposed to abortion, but all forms of contraception, even among married couples. (‘It’s a licence to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.’) He has said that a child conceived by rape is a ‘gift from God’, and compared homosexuality to ‘man-on-dog’ sex. He signed a pledge written by the religious group Family Leader that life for African Americans was better under slavery. He has claimed that the ‘American left hates Christendom’, that separation of church and state is a communist idea, that ‘radical feminism’ has given women the idea that it is ‘socially affirming’ to ‘work outside the home’, and that schools in Massachusetts have banned children’s books featuring heterosexual parents. His wife home-schools their seven children, and he believes that education is the responsibility of parents, not ‘government workers’, otherwise known as teachers. When Obama proposed a plan to make universities more affordable, he commented: ‘President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!’

Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.
Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

The voters could have picked Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, whose personal summer hunting camp was called ‘Niggerhead’. He is the author of On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting for and Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. He has said that ‘there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.’ The American Cowboy Culture Association has given Perry its ‘Top Cowboy of Texas’ award. He wears boots with the word ‘Liberty’ embossed on them, and bragged that he shot a coyote that was bothering his dog when he was out jogging. (In Texas, one presumably jogs with weapons.) As he said, ‘I happily cling to my guns and my God, even if President Obama thinks that that is a simpleminded thing in his elitist heart.’ At one point in 2012 he was the frontrunner, but his campaign crashed when, in a debate, he pledged to eliminate three cabinet-level government agencies, but couldn’t remember the third. Unfortunately this time, his frequent factual confusions (the legal voting age, the century when the US became independent, the location of Juarez, Mexico) did not dispel the rumours that, as a Republican governor anonymously remarked, ‘he’s like George W. Bush, but without the brains.’ When asked how old the earth is – a Creationist litmus test – Perry said he doesn’t have ‘any idea’: ‘I know it’s pretty old. So it goes back a long, long way.’

They could have picked Bobby Jindal, the former governor of Louisiana, who bankrupted his state by drastically cutting taxes on the rich – after unsuccessfully attempting to eliminate all personal and corporate taxes. Born Piyush Jindal, a Hindu, he converted to Catholicism and renamed himself after a character on the 1970s television comedy The Brady Bunch. A graduate of Brown and a Rhodes scholar, he cut state funding for higher education by 80 per cent and instituted a law allowing the teaching of Creationism in science classes. Although Louisiana is one of the poorest states, Jindal remained firm in his opposition to Washington and refused hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants for health, welfare and education. He believes that America is mired in a ‘silent war’ between Christians and the left, but his advocacy of ‘religious liberty’ – for example, the right of a business to refuse to serve a gay couple – does not extend to Muslims, whom he would monitor and regulate. He has claimed that parts of Europe are ‘no-go zones’ under Sharia law, where police authorities are terrified to go and where women must wear veils, but, in a television interview, could not name any specific examples.

They could have picked Carly Fiorina, the only Republican woman in the race, who, like Donald Trump, argued that we need a businessperson, not a politician, to run the government. Under her leadership as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, 30,000 American employees lost their jobs, the company vastly increased its debt and had no net income gains, and its stock price fell by 50 per cent. She was fired. She then ran unsuccessfully for senator in California, most notably producing the ‘demon sheep’ television advertisement, still popular on YouTube as one of the most bizarre political ads of all time. She believes that concern about climate change is like worrying about the weather. At one point, she was leading Hillary Clinton in the polls, but she may have been damaged by her repeated insistence that she had seen a film where members of Planned Parenthood discuss selling foetal organs: ‘I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed foetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ Regrettably, not even the most virulent anti-abortion groups could produce a copy of this tape. Trump, in a characteristic moment, said of her: ‘Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?’ Ted Cruz, having already lost the nomination, inexplicably named her as his vice-presidential running mate.

They could have picked Dr Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, freshman senator from Kentucky, and son of über-libertarian Ron Paul. (Contrary to rumour, he is not named after Ayn.) Paul is opposed to government ‘interference’ in all matters (gun control, health, aid to the poor, civil rights, environment etc) with the exception of abortion. In his first year in the Senate, he introduced a bill to cut $500 billion from the budget and eliminate or drastically diminish most regulatory or welfare agencies. An isolationist opposed to foreign aid and military intervention abroad, he was the only Republican in the debates, besides Trump, to criticise the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, as a libertarian, the only one to denounce mass government surveillance under the guise of ‘anti-terrorism’. He has called for a transformation of the Republican Party: ‘Remember when Domino’s finally admitted that it had bad crust? They got rid of the old crust and made better pizza. I’m all for getting rid of the old crust in the Republican Party.’ Dr Paul is opposed to the mandatory vaccination of children.

They could have picked George Pataki, the long-forgotten former governor of New York, who appeared out of nowhere for a moment and then vanished again. They could have picked someone named Jim Gilmore, but nobody knew who he was. They could have picked Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, who kept repeating that he was the son of a preacher man, had never gone to college, and that he would be tough with Isis because he had stood up to the local teachers’ union when he slashed the education budget in his state. (The Twittersphere enjoyed juxtaposing photos of hooded executioners wielding scimitars with sneakered greyhairs holding protest signs.) They could have picked Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and widely characterised as the Tony Soprano of American politics – unfairly: Tony was more effective – known for his impressive girth (despite stomach-stapling), his vindictiveness towards his enemies, his legislative largesse towards his campaign contributors, and his bullying insults on the campaign trail. Like the other candidates, Christie is opposed to the admittance of any refugees from Syria, but, in perhaps his most symptomatic moment, he said he would also forbid orphaned toddlers to enter. (After dropping out, Christie weirdly turned himself into Trump’s poodle, or St Bernard, staring blankly in a corner of the television screen as Trump pontificated.)

They could have picked poor Jeb Bush: the brother, the son and the presumptive nominee as heir apparent. Poor Jeb, who initially raised more money and spent more money than the other candidates combined. Poor Jeb, whose demeanour at the debates was described by someone as that of an exasperated substitute teacher in front of a class of unruly high-schoolers. Poor Jeb, who, stung by Trump’s nickname for him, ‘Low Energy’, rebranded himself on campaign signs and brochures as ‘Jeb!’ Jeb!, who suggested that national health insurance programmes would somehow become obsolete because of gadgets such as Apple watches. Jeb!, whose solution to the economic crisis was ‘People need to work longer hours.’ Jeb!, who kept changing his mind about whether his brother was right or wrong to invade Iraq. Jeb!, who said that his brother ‘kept us safe’, apparently forgetting when 9/11 occurred. Jeb!, who delivered what he considered an ‘uplifting message’ to African Americans from a South Carolina hall full of white people: We won’t ‘take care of you with free stuff … You can achieve earned success.’ Poor Jeb!, who, as governor of Florida, stated that evolution should not ‘be part of the curriculum’ in public school science classes, intervened to prevent the family of a brain-dead young woman from ending her life support, and opened the nation’s first Christian prison.

They could have picked Mike Huckabee, the guitar-playing Arkansas radio preacher – ‘I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them, too’ – and former governor who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. Huckabee believes ‘that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,’ because ‘Christian convictions are under attack as never before … We are moving rapidly towards the criminalisation of Christianity.’ He has noted that ‘in the world I come from and choose to live in, “gun control” means that you hit the target,’ and ‘when Christians are asked to accept gay marriage it’s like asking someone who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.’ Opposed to provisions for contraception in Obamacare, he said: ‘If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.’ On climate change, he stated: ‘I believe most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat than a sunburn.’

They could have picked John Kasich, a former Congressman and Fox News host, currently governor of Ohio. Known throughout his career as a phlegmatic and abusive man, widely disliked in Congress, he underwent an image makeover for the presidential campaign. He became, in his own words, a ‘prince of light and hope’ and the ‘only adult in the room’, who tried to keep things ‘on the sunny side of the street’. The New York Times even endorsed him as the Republican candidate, despite a long anti-union, anti-tax, pro-gun, pro-capital punishment, anti-mass transit, pro-impeachment of Bill Clinton, anti-voters’ rights, anti-abortion, anti-environmental regulations, pro-privatisation of prisons, pro-Creationism in science classes record. In a state where 20 per cent of the population belongs to minorities, the members of his cabinet were all white.

They could have picked Dr Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, who, with his unfocused gaze and mumbled rambles about the ‘fruit salad of life’, often seemed as though he’d spent too much time in the hospital pharmacy. An African American, he called Obamacare ‘the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery’, declaring it to be, in fact, ‘slavery in a way’, because its passage was part of a larger Leninist push to impose communism on America. He said that if people want to know the truth about President Obama, they should simply ‘read Mein Kampf’ and the works of Lenin, and that ‘if there were no Fox News and if there was no conservative radio, we would already be Cuba. I know [Obama] realises that they’re impeding his agenda of fundamentally transforming this nation into something else.’

In one of the debates, Carson suddenly announced that he had inside information about Chinese troops in Syria, but he became better known for his Egyptology: ‘My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.’ He has also explained that the ‘Adversary’, Satan himself, entered the heart and mind of Charles Darwin and persuaded him to come up with the theory of evolution to undermine God’s word. He plans to write a book called The Organ of Species, ‘to talk about the organs of the body and how they completely refute evolution’. Donald Trump, for some reason, compared the somnambulist Carson to a child molester: ‘You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.’ In Carson’s home there is a large painting of Jesus with his hand on Dr Ben Carson’s shoulder.

From left to right, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Jesus.
From left to right, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Jesus.

They could have picked Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American freshman senator from Florida, who openly declared the Senate a waste of his time and had its highest absentee record. A protégé of Jeb Bush, he stabbed Jeb! in the back and divided Florida Republicans by declaring his candidacy now, instead of waiting his turn. Widely hailed as the ‘Republican Obama’ – a bright young man of minority origin – he seemed more like the popular mayor of a small Sunbelt city than a potential president. He was mysteriously considered to be a ‘moderate’, despite hardline positions on Creationism, gay rights, military intervention, immigration, environmental regulation etc. On climate change, although he comes from the state most threatened by rising seas, he notably declared that ‘you can’t change the weather’ by passing a law in Washington. Asked how old the earth is, he replied: ‘I’m not a scientist, man.’ He has proposed completely eliminating the taxes paid by the rich: capital gains, dividends, interest, estate and property. He believes that abortion has become an ‘industry’: ‘You’ve created an incentive for people to be pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit.’

Rubio has revealed that Obama is part of a treasonous conspiracy: ‘One of the things I’m criticised for is saying the truth, and I’ll continue to say this: Barack Obama is undermining this country. He is hurting this country. He is doing serious damage to this country in a way that I believe is part of a plan to weaken America on the global stage. This is the truth.’ A press release was more explicit: ‘We are the only campaign who is exposing President Obama for his deliberate actions to destroy our country.’ Ridiculed by Trump as ‘Little Marco’, Rubio made the fatal error of trying to out-Trump Trump by making jokes about Trump’s hair and penis size and speculating that, backstage at the debates, Trump was wetting his pants. He sounded like a kid repeating his older brother’s bad language. In a television ad, he had declared: ‘Our goal is eternity – the ability to live alongside our Creator for all time.’ But apparently at a loss for what to do before eternity, if he can’t be president, he recently announced that he would run for re-election to the Senate that he hates.

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They could have picked Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas. Cruz may be unique among politicians anywhere in that every mention of his name is always accompanied by remarks on his loathsomeness. John McCain has called him a ‘wacko bird’, the former speaker of the House, John Boehner, ‘a jackass’ and ‘Lucifer in the flesh’. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator who was very briefly a candidate himself, joked: ‘If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you.’ George W. Bush, with his usual rhetorical panache, said: ‘I just don’t like the guy.’ (Among other things, Republican Congressmen were not amused when Cruz called Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor of the Senate.) There has even been an article by a neurologist explaining how the structure of Cruz’s face inspires revulsion. Nevertheless, he finished in second place behind Trump, with almost eight million votes.

He is a graduate of Princeton – his freshman roommate has apologised for not smothering him with a pillow – and Harvard Law School, where, he claims, there are 12 professors ‘who would say they were Marxists who believed in the communists overthrowing the United States government’. He has accused Obama of being ‘openly desirous to destroy the constitution and this Republic’, and has noted that ‘the simple and undeniable fact is the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats,’ and that ‘the reason Democrats are soft on crime is that convicted felons tend to vote Democratic.’ (Actually, in the 2012 national elections, nearly six million felons were forbidden, under disenfranchisement laws, to vote.) Apparently forgetting that the government has a legislative branch, he has pledged that, on Day One of his presidency, he will eliminate Obamacare and revoke the nuclear agreement with Iran, which, he says, has made ‘the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism’. He has also vowed to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He brags that ‘If I am elected president, we will utterly destroy Isis … We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!’ (It has been speculated that he does not know what ‘carpet bomb’ means.) He supports Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented migrants immediately – 3 per cent of the US population – but, unlike Trump, he would not allow what Trump calls the ‘good ones’ to reapply. He believes that the 1992 United Nations resolution Agenda 21 – a non-binding call for environmental sustainability signed by 178 heads of state, including George Bush Sr – is an attempt to ‘abolish … golf courses, grazing passages, and paved roads’. According to Cruz, ‘the originator of this grand scheme is George Soros, who candidly supports socialism and believes that global development must progress through eliminating national sovereignty and private property.’ He has said that ‘the scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming,’ and that there ‘has been no significant warming whatsoever for the last 18 years’. He maintains that ‘Sharia law is an enormous problem’ in the United States.

Cruz speaks with dramatic pauses in the rising and falling tones of a television evangelist, and his favourite adverb is ‘prayerfully’, especially preceding ‘consider’, so that ‘carefully consider’ becomes ‘prayerfully consider’. He believes that ‘any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.’ He has cast himself as the scourge against the ‘Washington cartel’, neatly conflating American politicians with drug dealers and oil sheikhs. When the Republican governor of Iowa failed to endorse him, he said: ‘It is no surprise that the establishment is in full panic mode. We said from the beginning that the Washington cartel was going to panic more and more. As conservatives unite behind our campaign you’re going to see the Washington cartel firing every shot they can, every cannon they can. Because the Washington cartel lives on cronyism, it lives on making deals, it lives on picking winners and losers and supporting corporate welfare and cronyism.’ When he came in third in the South Carolina primary, he said: ‘Indeed, the screaming you hear now from across the Potomac is the Washington cartel in full terror that the conservative grassroots are rising up.’ He was evasive when asked how, as the sworn enemy of this cartel, which seems to include nearly the entire United States Congress, he plans to get anything done as president.

Even more than most politicians, he suffers from messianic delusions. He has said repeatedly that ‘we have to awaken and energise the body of Christ,’ and that ‘if we awaken and energise the body of Christ – if Christians and people of faith come out and vote our values – we will win and we will turn the country around.’ In a pep talk to his volunteers, he said: ‘I want to tell everyone to get ready, strap on the full armour of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming.’ The reference is to Ephesians 6:11-13: ‘Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.’

With the Republican convention only days away, many Republicans, worried about their own re-election, have decided to stay away. Even Ohio governor John Kasich is avoiding the most important Republican event in his state since 1936. They are appalled that, given the ‘well-qualified and diverse field of candidates’, the voters have chosen a man of so little knowledge and such extremist views. Speakers, outside of Trump’s family, Dr Ben Carson and – perhaps hoping for a miracle from his Lord – Ted Cruz have been hard to find. Ohio, under kindly Uncle Kasich, has ‘open carry’ laws. After the shootings in Dallas, jumpy policemen are awaiting streets full of demonstrators packing AR-15s.