Carnival of Egos Buoys GOP Mess

By Heather Wilhelm Published on February 18, 2016

Hey, America: Remember when Rick Perry was still in the presidential race? Given the various traumas this primary season has heaped upon the national psyche, it might seem like that was eons ago, clouded by mental cobwebs, abandoned campaign pizza boxes, and the shards of various broken dreams. But if you do think back, you might remember one of the former Texas governor’s favorite lines, oft repeated in stump speeches: A Perry presidency, he promised, would “make the federal government as inconsequential in peoples’ lives as possible.”

Fast-forward to today, nearly six months after Perry’s departure, and this campaign promise — one I found delightful at the time — seems downright quaint. Among other things, we’ve seen the incredible surge of an enthusiastic socialist — a disheveled old codger who thinks the federal government should be the solution to all of our problems — on the Democratic side of the aisle. Poor Hillary Clinton, no slouch in her love for government power, has had to struggle to keep up.

Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone: The Democrats have peddled socialism, in multiple derivations, for years. What’s truly stunning, however, is the Republican side, where the ostensible party of “limited government” has a front-runner who might rival Bernie Sanders in his enthusiasm for government power. Donald Trump, after all, is a man who seems to think that the government can serve as a terrific solution to our problems, if only a man named Donald Trump is running that government like a well-oiled casino. Not like Trump’s actual casinos, though. Those tend to run into bankruptcy problems.

So, here we are — and in certain circles, the hobgoblin of panic lurks behind a particularly flimsy mental door. I suspect that people are starting to overthink Mr. Trump, particularly as his popularity refuses to ebb. Here’s the simple truth: The current state of politics is, in many ways, a farce. Too many politicians are inept, dishonest or purveyors of the pseudo-sophisticated nonsense the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia memorably labeled “pure applesauce.” Trump supporters know this, and their candidate knows it, and he highlights this fact in a unique, entertaining and sometimes dead-on way.

Is Trump really more outlandish than a kooky Bernie Sanders or a shady, power-hungry and occasionally confused Hillary Clinton? Of course not — and yet, miraculously, in a campaign that should have been a Republican cakewalk, no one can seem to get out of anyone else’s way. It’s a veritable carnival of egos, paving the way for the biggest ego of them all.

Where do we begin? How about Jeb Bush, who seems like a very nice person, and who did a decent job as the governor of Florida, and whose entire presidential campaign can be compared to a long, forced, awkward smile in front of a malfunctioning camera that steadfastly refuses to take a picture? This is a man who came in sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, despite a $100 million pro-Bush super PAC that spent almost $15 million in Iowa alone. This is also a man who is polling at 1 percent in Nevada — that’s one point above zero — according to the latest CNN/Opinion Research Poll.

Governor Bush has had his moments — most of them involve valiant yet failed attempts to best Mr. Trump — but he’s had many more that involve attacking more viable competitors. This week, Bush knocked one of his favorite targets, Marco Rubio, saying Rubio’s years as a senator fail to “match up to my capabilities of understanding how the world works.” Here’s how the world works, Jeb: The more you fracture and distract the GOP field, the likelier a Trump nomination becomes.

Then there’s John Kasich, another straggler who recently referred to himself as “the Prince of Light and Hope,” sucking all available ego out of the surrounding universe for at least five terrifying minutes. There’s Dr. Ben Carson, whose Maryland house, featured in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper last fall, is decorated with lots of pictures of the good doctor himself, which might explain his refusal to drop out of the race. One of the more subtle portraits in the collection, by the way, features Dr. Carson posing with an approving Jesus.

Speaking of an approving Jesus, media personality Glenn Beck has taken to speaking at Ted Cruz rallies and implying that the Texas senator is chosen by God, which seems presumptuous, theologically questionable at best, and yet perfectly fitting for this ego-driven campaign. And let’s not forget the Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio slugfest, which loses charm by the day, which is quite sad, because it never had any charm to begin with.

It’s still early, of course: South Carolina has yet to cast its votes. We have a long way to go. But it’s helpful to think back to Rick Perry’s line about the government, way back in the mists of past campaign time. It was humble, in a way; it acknowledged that America was more than a one-man show. As we march towards the convention, let’s hope some of the candidates on the GOP side of the aisle catch on to this one important fact: This election isn’t all about them.


Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on February 11, 2016, and is reprinted with permission.

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