By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Las Vegas is one of my favorite places, but there’s a tinge of sadness on the Strip these days.
It’s not the lack of crowds or dearth of attractions. The streets, shows, restaurants and casinos are packed as always, from sun-up to sun-up. No, what’s made the people of Las Vegas so blue is the knowledge that, no matter how much fun they offer today, they simply can’t compete with the biggest fun show in town: the 2012 Republican presidential primary, playing in every city and town across America. It’s so hilarious they should charge admission.
First, there are so many candidates squeezed onto such a small stage they can’t help but trip all over themselves. The message of so-called “serious” candidates — Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman — keeps getting buried by the rants of “second-tier” candidates Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Who, in turn, have to compete for attention with three “impossible” players: Herman Cain, Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson. Then Tea Party Queen Michele Bachmann jumps out of the cake and outshines them all.
Still can’t decide? Don’t fret. There are at least five more candidates waiting in the wings, dying to take center stage: Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, John Thune, George Pataki, and the 800-pound Mother Grizzly herself, Sarah Palin. Some Republicans are so desperate over the cast of characters to choose from so far that they’ve actually approached John McCain about running again.
Once the show starts, the real fun is not watching them compete against each other. It’s watching them implode, one by one. Tim Pawlenty fizzled fast, showing he didn’t have the guts to take on Mitt Romney while standing right next to him. Romney himself provided one of the funniest moments of the primary so far: searching for a buck in his wallet, but coming up with only a stack of $100 dollar bills. Rick Perry demonstrated that he’s George W. Bush Redux by encouraging supporters to follow him on “Tweeter.” (Does he twit on Tweeter?). And Michele Bachmann blew her tea party cover when it was revealed she sought and pocketed $250,000 in federal funds for her family farm and helped engineer more than $100 million in federal subsidies to Minnesota hog farmers. Who knew the Tea Party Queen was actually a closet socialist?
Jon Huntsman was supposed to save the day, but proved instead that he’s the Fred Thompson of 2012: high expectations, low delivery. On his big announcement day, he couldn’t even remember what city he was in, bragging about being in New York while standing across the Hudson in Jersey City. While his staff proved they weren’t ready for primetime either by misspelling his first name on press credentials, listing his campaign headquarters phone number as “123-456-7890,” and then leading members of the traveling press corps to a plane bound for Saudi Arabia, not New Hampshire.
Even so, Huntsman’s debut was not as embarrassing as that of Newt Gingrich, whose entire campaign, now that all of his top staff have quit, consists of him and his wife Callista — both of whom are having a hard time explaining to average, middle-class Americans why they needed a $500,000 revolving account with Tiffany’s, in addition to a $1 million line of credit. In the end, Gingrich’s biggest mistake may not have been leaving on a two-week cruise of the Greek Islands the week after he announced for president, but coming home to rejoin the rat race.
See what I mean? It’s a lot more fun than Vegas — and it’s only getting started. No doubt there are many more laugh-out-loud moments ahead. But watching the current collection of candidates does make you admire the wisdom of Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee. Any one of them would have been stronger than today’s announced contenders. But they took a good look at their chances against Barack Obama, realized they couldn’t win, and decided they weren’t going to waste their time pretending.
H.L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, who loved covering politics, once wrote: “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.” Poor Mencken. He died too soon. If only he could have seen the Republican primary of 2012.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.