With the entry of former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore into the race, we now have seventeen major declared candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. FOX News decided yesterday their top ten candidates who will face off at their first main debate, with the other seven candidates relegated to the metaphorical Thanksgiving dinner kids' table for an earlier event.
Why bother? Since Citizens United and McCutcheon, we don't really have a democracy anymore. It's an oligopoly. When political wonks are seriously calling GOP fundraising from billionaire brothers "the Koch Primary" and when candidates are prostrating themselves before Sheldon Adelson for a shot at his billions, you can't really expect us to care what politicians may or may not say in a public debate. What does it matter? So long as they say the things their billionaire backers want to hear, they'll move on.
Let's dispense with the pretense that this has anything to do with policy or politics. It's a contest between unpaid competitors owned by wealthy interests seeking to maximize their brand. Like college basketball, only with older, fatter athletes.
So let's treat it that way. Instead of arbitrarily choosing which ten candidates should debate and leaving them only a few seconds to respond to any question, let's set these candidates up in a series of one-on-one debates and run it NCAA March Madness single-elimination bracket style, with call-in and text votes for the winner a la 'American Idol'. Each candidate would get a far bigger platform, voters wouldn't have to sort through ten or more at a time, and it would make for sixteen episodes of riveting television.
Here's how I see it going down:
GAME 0 (Play-In, not shown): It's a battle of the East Coast Governors, with New York's George Pataki taking on Virginia's Jim Gilmore for the dubious honor of facing tournament favorite Donald Trump in the opening round. Pataki wins by a coin flip after over 600,000 votes come in dead even as voters could discern absolutely no difference between the two very white, bland, unknown pols.
GAME 1 (#1 Trump vs. #16 Pataki): This debate was over before it began. Gov. Pataki treated the debate like a political debate, attempting to weave his resumé as an elected governor and his policy vision into a coherent and thoughtful campaign for president. Mr. Trump then called him a three-term loser who ruined New York State. Of the 22 million votes cast, Trump wins 92 percent of them.
GAME 2 (#9 Christie vs. #8 Paul): The first nail-biter of the tournament. Sen. Paul continued to alienate his longtime libertarian-leaning supporters by embracing the corporate GOP standards he thinks will win the nomination. Gov. Christie served up a lesson in "dance with them that brung ya" by sticking to his bullying, belligerent ways, at one point delivering the line of the night, "Senator Paul, you've got so many flip-flops that John Kerry has nothing left to wear to the beach." Gov. Christie wins 51 percent of the 12 million votes cast.
GAME 3 (#4 Huckabee vs. #13 Jindal): In this debate, you would have thought the two candidates were running for St. Peter's job, not the presidency. Huffington Post live-tweeted the debate and counted 88 references to God between the two of them. Gov. Huckabee wins 63 percent of the 7.5 million votes when two-out-of-three GOP voters realize that despite saying all the right things about abortion, immigrants, and guns, Gov. Jindal is actually not white.
GAME 4 (#12 Santorum vs. #5 Carson): The first big upset of the tourney, though bracketologists will tell you there's always a 12-seed that pulls an upset. Sen. Santorum played a full-court press of old time religion that Dr. Carson just couldn't break. Of 6 million votes, Dr. Carson barely got 16 percent, as his hoped-for "see, we Republicans like black people, too," vote didn't pan out.
GAME 5 (#2 Bush vs. #15 Graham): Gov. Bush comes in as the Duke University of the tournament, boasting three prior presidential election wins in the dynasty. But Sen. Graham gives him a tough fight, forcing Bush to play defense against the numerous failures of his brother's two terms as president. In the end, though, 16 million voters give Bush a 78 percent victory, as few voters could stomach the idea of a bachelor president who's never been seen with a woman.
GAME 6 (#10 Kasich vs. #7 Rubio): Sen. Rubio was actually winning this debate against Gov. Kasich when he developed an extreme case of dry mouth and, to everyone's surprise, walked off the stage to find a bottle of water. Gov. Kasich delivers the line, "What will Senator Rubio do when negotiating with the Saudis in a desert?" Four million voters give the upset to Kasich by 55 percent.
GAME 7 (#3 Walker vs. #14 Fiorina): Ms. Fiorina is outmatched from the start as Gov. Walker opens with, "I was going to bring more notes, but my Hewlett-Packard printer kept jamming -- got any troubleshooting tips, Ms. Fiorina?" Fiorina tries to lay out a compelling vision for her presidency, but Walker keeps tying her to layoffs of 30,000 employees and tanking of HP's stock under her tenure as CEO. Walker wins 72 percent of the 8 million votes.
GAME 8 (#11 Perry vs. #6 Cruz): The battle of Texans found each man trying to outdo the other on the immigration issue. Sen. Cruz talked about building a wall on the Mexican border, while Gov. Perry said walls weren't enough, he'd add a moat, to which Cruz said he'd fill with sharks, to which Perry added he'd equip the sharks with lasers mounted on their friggin heads. Perry surprises everyone by eeking out a 52 percent win of 5 million votes cast, which analysts attributed to Perry simply looking more attractive.
GAME 9 (#1 Trump vs. #9 Christie): This debate garners more viewers than any but the finals. It's the trash-talking New York capitalist vs. the trash-talking New Jersey governor. Trump opens by asking if a man can't count his calories, how can he count a budget? Christie replies that unlike a businessman, a politician just can't comb-over their mistakes. Trump accuses Christie of hurting commuters and hugging Obama. Christie accuses Trump of bankrupting casinos and creating Omarosa. In the end, Trump wins 57 percent of the 36 million votes.
GAME 10 (#4 Huckabee vs. #12 Santorum): There wasn't much room to see any difference between these two GOP Christian Culture Warriors. Where one would rail against gays and abortions, the other would double down. Only a non-sequitur question from the online audience -- who's your favorite bass player? -- distinguished the two, with Huckabee quickly answering "Donald 'Duck' Dunn" while Santorum stumbled by answering "Eric Clapton" -- a guitar player. Huckabee wins with 61 percent of the 7 million votes.
GAME 11 (#2 Bush vs. #10 Kasich): Gov. Kasich had a valiant debate, but just could not overcome the star power of Gov. Bush. When asked about the immigration issue, Bush actually gave a thoughtful response that he repeated in fluent Spanish, to which Kasich could only add vague platitudes. Bush may have lost some of the votes by not jumping on the hate-all-immigration bandwagon, but he still pulled 58 percent of the 12 million votes cast.
GAME 12 (#3 Walker vs. #11 Perry): The bloom finally came off the Rick Perry rose when Gov. Walker shifted the debate into discussions of actual policy. Walker touted his record of hating unions, hating immigrants, and hating the poor, while slamming Perry's record as Texas governor. Perry committed a huge gaffe as he referred to Texas as "America's largest state", causing Sarah Palin to live-tweet "We can fit two Texasses [sic] in OUR state!", which was shown on the television Twitter feed. Walker wins 62 percent of the 11 million votes cast.
GAME 13 (#1 Trump vs. #4 Huckabee): Things finally get interesting for The Donald as he's forced to confront the sole remaining Evangelical Christian in the race, Mike Huckabee. Trump feigns some respect for religion, but tries turning the tables by asking, "If you want a pastor, vote Huckabee; if you want a president, vote Trump." Huckabee tries painting Trump as a thrice-married, materialistic, whoremongering apostate, but is then followed by a TV ad for a 1,400-calorie cheeseburger being hawked by a large-breasted supermodel in a bikini, followed by a beer ad and a Cialis ad. Trump wins 66 percent of the 26 million votes.
GAME 14 (#2 Bush vs. #3 Walker): The most substantive of all the debates so far, Gov. Walker and Gov. Bush actually dig into the details of governance and lay out well-thought visions of America's future. But Walker goes historical, pointing out that we've had father/son presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) and cousin presidents (Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt), but never father/son/brother presidents. Should Bush win and win re-election, Walker explains, that would mean 20 years of Bush presidencies in a 36-year period. Walker wins 53 percent of the 20 million votes.
GAME 15 (#1 Trump vs. #3 Walker): A ratings powerhouse with more than 42 million people casting votes. Trump explains that he is the only candidate not beholden to any billionaire but himself. Walker tries explaining actual policies and positions, but Trump keeps the debate squarely in sound-bite reality-TV mode. At one point, Trump calls Walker "stupid" for trying to set up drug testing for welfare policies that have proven to be ineffective money wasters in every state it's been tried. Walker just can't match the television skills of The Donald and loses with just 28 percent of the votes.
And then in my extended political fantasy world, Trump is then destroyed by Senator Bernie Sanders in the general election, who unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination when Hillary Clinton was indicted for wrongdoing related to her time as Secretary of State.