Of clowns, cars, and twits
As the number of people officially announcing their candidacy for the Republican nominee for president keeps going up and up, I’ve noticed a lot of people making the same lame meta-joke: “Looks like instead of a clown car, we need a clown van.” This joke, besides being lame because each political observer has been repeating the van comment several times, is bad because it completely misunderstands the whole point of calling the field of potential candidates a clown car to begin with…
In a classic routine from the old Ringling Brothers circus days, a teeny, tiny car which appears to be stuffed with more clowns than could physically fit inside, drives around tooting a horn, with some of the occupants hanging out of the windows and possibly the trunk, et cetera, waving and making goofy faces at the crowd. Then the car comes to a stop at a spot where conveniently most of the audience can clearly see one side, and the clowns start coming out. And keep coming out. More, and more, and more clowns climb out of the car.
The secret is that most of the clowns exiting the car weren’t in there when the car was driving around, they’re entering the car from concealment and climbing out on the obvious side to create the illusion that an impossible number of clowns were inside the car.
That was the first level of the joke that was made in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential race: there were simply more candidates than voters could reasonably be expected to learn enough about each to make an informed choice between them. The fact that most of them were also considered jokes by most observers (because of lack of applicable experience, or tendency to propose extremely bad ideas, or an extremely narrow focus that appealed to only the most lunatic fringes of the electorate) was just icing on the cake. So the main point of calling the field of candidates a clown car is that it doesn’t matter how many more people join in, they’ll just impossibly squeeze in and add to the chaos.
This time we do have a few more official candidates than we had at the same point in the 2012 election cycle. And since there are a number of people who seem to be preparing for a run who still haven’t announced, yet, the field seems even more crowded. We also seem to have even fewer of what anyone would call serious candidates. Or rather candidates who act as if they seriously believe they can win in the general election.
More serious-minded Republicans had been hoping, for instance, that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of marriage equality precisely because that would settle the issue, and the various flavors of gay rights would cease to be a wedge issue that drove swing voters and moderates away from the Republicans. Instead, every single announced candidate, as well as the other folks most people assume are still prepping to jump in, amped up their anti-gay rhetoric—in many cases to such levels that the statements sound like they’re fake headlines from the Onion rather than serious reactions from politicians who hope to be elected President.
Those same conventional-wisdom types had also hoped the Supreme Court would uphold Obamacare, again, to take the issue off the table. While there remains a hardcore opposed to it, it is definitely a minority, and more nuanced polling indicate that even most of that opposition is knee-jerk: the same voters are in favor of nearly every specific portion of the actual program, they just don’t understand or believe that those things are part of the program. There’s also a significant number who think they have been harmed by Obamacare, but what has actually happened is that their state government has opted out of Obamacare, and the problems they are attributing to Obamacare is really the fault of the anti-Obamacare forces.
As an economic reality, the party strategists know that they don’t have a replacement for Obamacare that will keep the people currently covered insured, and repealing it would cause a gigantic, expensive mess. So they don’t want to be saddled with replacing it or facing the consequences of removing it, nor do they want the majority who are in favor of it to vote against their candidates in the general election. But the clowns refuse to get with the program, and keep appealing to the minority while offending the majority.
And then there’s Trump. A man who claims to be a multi-billionaire (serious objective measures of his net worth place him at barely a billionaire, but even that has a caveat), has been divorced three times with numerous high-profile affairs, and whose businesses depend on thousands of immigrant workers, has come with the most racists campaign rhetoric, made sweeping anti-gay comments, and economic proposals that sound crazy even to the most arch neo-cons.
And those caveats about his wealth aren’t minor. He portrays himself as self-made, hoping audiences won’t know that his father was a multi-millionaire that left a trust fund that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He also doesn’t want you to know that even with that beginning, his first several business ventures failed so spectacularly, that he had to go to his siblings and get them to agree to raid the principle of their joint trust fund to “loan” him twelve million dollars over and above his income from the trust in order to cover his debts, and a mere two years later he had to talk them into pulling another twenty million out to do it again. He has since developed a rather sweet scam for his subsequent deals: he found investors to put in hundreds of millions of dollars into deals that were structured so intricately that the investors were seldom aware that Trump was putting in next to zero into the deals. They were also structured so that before the projects had completed, a date would come round where Trump would be “bought out” by the other investors and walk away. Frequently, what happened was that the limited corporation paid Trump with borrowed money, and when the construction completed or not long after the business opened, it became clear that the income would never, even be able to cover the payments on the loans taking out to buy Trump out.
There are still a number of lawsuits from investors (and other parties he screwed over) pending against Trump, that if, collectively, they go against him, could easily add up to him being required to pay more than his actual net worth. So not only is he not as rich as he claims, but his wealth was amassed in, if not an illegal manner, certainly an unethical one.
The really sad part is that the more insanely racist his speeches become, the more popular he is among likely republican primary voters. As one person observed, he’s so popular with them because he is as loud-mouthed a racist as the hardcore tea-baggers are. Or, as another person put it, he says out loud the things the tea-baggers’ kids keep asking them to stop saying in public.
A perfect fit for the Republican clown car!