As Republicans move closer to choosing a presidential nominee, more and more Americans find themselves asking that old chestnut of a question: if I could sit down in a bar and have a beer with any of the candidates, why wouldn’t I stay home instead?
This past week saw yet another televised debate for the handful of hopefuls who remain, including: Rick Santorum, who looks like he received his share of wedgies as a boy; Mitt Romney, who looks like he delivered a few; and Ron Paul, who kind of resembles one.
In their midst, the new Man to Beat: Newt Gingrich, a politician that charisma forgot, but only after punching him in the belly and running off with his wallet and his capacity to feel. Newt stole the hearts of Republicans in South Carolina—easy for him because to judge from all visual evidence, he used to be the Hamburglar—and now he’s fixing to do the same in Florida on Jan. 31.
The challenge? Gingrich is trying to win the nomination of America’s self-proclaimed family values party despite having cheated on at least one wife and divorced two. Also, he is unpleasant.
(And there’s a Canadian angle! Gingrich has spoken fondly of our Prime Minister—but there’s an obvious conflict of interest in that both men buy their hair from the same factory.)
The latest debate left one thing beyond doubt: Newt would be the best Trivial Pursuit president ever. He’s like Wikipedia but with weird fat baby hands. While avoiding some question or other, Gingrich went off on a tangent about beet sugar versus cane sugar and how “fascinating” the rivalry is. For a fleeting moment, a fractured nation was united in sympathy for all three Mrs. Gingriches and those long decades of dinner-table conversation.
Newt: Pass the salt. Curious thing about salt: in 1635, a chemist outside Oslo found that if you tweak the chemical formulation for . . .
Wife No. 1: [Suffocates self in mashed potatoes.]
By now we’re getting to know the candidates’ idiosyncrasies. For instance, when Mitt Romney is in trouble during a debate, he reminds everyone that he ran the Salt Lake Olympics. He’s probably aiming to mine a patriotic vein but it usually comes off as dodging.
Q: Governor Romney, will you release more than two years of your income tax returns?
Still, you can see why it’s more fun for Romney to reminisce about luge than to endure another barrage of criticism for the small sin of changing every view he’s held on pretty much every issue that’s important to conservatives. It’s gotten to the point that Mitt is now skilled enough to execute a flip-flop within the confines of a single sentence. “We’re a great nation,” Romney said during the debate, “but a great nation doesn’t have so many people suffering.” Do you hear me America: we’re a great nation and also we are not a great nation! I HAVE CORNERED ALL SIDES IN THIS DEBATE!
Gingrich has his own baggage, which he forces a poor child to carry around so the kid learns the work ethic. (I’m kidding, of course. Gingrich would actually prefer that inner-city kids work as janitors in schools so they don’t grow up all lazy and welfarey.) The former Speaker’s rivals take delight in casually mentioning how long they’ve been married to their wives. Newt typically responds by shifting to the subject with which he’s most comfortable: Newt.
During a mesmerizing run during the Florida debate, Gingrich took credit for an array of accomplishments, including the election of Ronald Reagan, America’s return to prosperity in the 1980s and, if I’m not mistaken, all three good REO Speedwagon songs. The Soviet Empire grew menacing and Newt destroyed it! A deficit grew large and Newt eliminated it! A toenail grew long and Newt clipped it!
Toward the end of the debate, Gingrich explained his philosophy of attracting voters—and it was a little awkward because frankly it felt like the same thing he’d say to a pretty lady in a bar in an effort to seal the deal at 1:30 a.m. “Don’t be for me,” he said, because being “for” someone is superficial. Then he cooed: “Be with me.”
America, Newt Gingrich is trying to hook up with you. How’s he going to break it to the missus this time?