Even Without Donald Trump, Plenty of Clowns in the 2012 GOP Field

Trump's withdrawal leaves plenty of jokers in the Republican field.

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Farewell Donald Trump. For a brief moment last month, his birther buffoonery powered him to the front of the Republican pack. What a difference a birth certificate, a death announcement, and serious treatment by the press make. Now The Donald has announced that as with his previous presidential flirtations he is not making this race. Suddenly he looks like one of the celebrity has-beens who gets fired on his television show—or worse, like a celebrity has-been who doesn't actually get onto the show at all.

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP presidential field.]

Trump peaked in mid-April when a survey from the Democratic group Public Policy Polling set him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with 26 percent of the vote. Then reality intruded. The press went from treating him like a celebrity making silly noises about running to treating him like a genuine would-be candidate, checking out who he contributed to and fact-checking his weird claims. Then Obama's long form birth certificate put an end to birtherism while Osama bin Laden's violent end reminded us that there are monsters in the real world and that the presidency is for serious people, not reality TV blowhards.

Public Policy Polling's survey last week had Trump at 8 percent, in a fifth place tie with Ron Paul.

But with Trump-mentum ended, where can we hope to find entertainment value in the GOP primary field? The answer is, where can't you? Donald Trump, entertainer-turned-pol was never going to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. But neither will the other maybes and might-want-tos. [Enjoy political cartoons about the GOP.]

Take Newt Gingrich, whose announcement video last week said we should "look reality in the face, [and] tell the truth." The truth and the reality are that Gingrich is an abrasive bomb thrower who resigned his speakership after his colleagues, and most voters, had enough of him, not the profile swing voters usually latch onto. His disapproval rating when he left office was 70 percent and was still as high as 38 percent as recently as last summer. And Gingrich, a self-styled historian, is fighting history. Only once has a former speaker of the house made the transition to the White House. That, NBC's Chuck Todd notes, was James Polk in 1844. And not since James Garfield in 1880 has a politician achieved the White House having only served in the U.S. House of Representatives. [See a photo history of Newt Gingrich's career.]

Newt is not alone with this problem, of course. Sitting Rep. Michele Bachmann seems happy to conflate her fanatical Tea Party following with actual broad-based support. But again her lack of experience in winning even a statewide office in Minnesota makes one wonder whether she's drinking tea or Kool-Aid. For sheer "what is he thinking" chutzpah, however, it's hard to beat Rick Santorum, whose last act in American politics ended when the voters of his home state of Pennsylvania fired him from the U.S. Senate. I can think of one modern politician who won the White House after losing his last previous election, and Richard Nixon is not a figure whose mantel many GOPers lay claim to these days. [See editorial cartoons about the Tea Party.]

Sure Newt, Bachmann, and Santorum are members of the GOP presidential B Team, but is the A Team much more impressive? You could have made an argument for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, before he announced this weekend that he would not run. The best that can be said of Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is that he is inoffensive (read: bland), while the worst that can be said of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is that she's . . . Sarah Palin. [See editorial cartoons about Palin.]

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commented last week that "the chances [of his beating Obama] would actually be quite good." Apparently channeling some Trump-ian bombast, he added that, "The quality and the number of people who have said they'd like to be associated is really quite awesome to me." Also awesome is the idea of someone running as a gimlet-eyed spending hawk whose previous job before governor was as George W. Bush's budget chief. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, "By themselves, in fact, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019." [Check out political cartoons about the budget and deficit.]