WASHINGTON -- A historically large number of candidates and one very loud entrance by real estate mogul Donald Trump is threatening to turn the Republican presidential race into a silly, MythBusters-style contest to see who can blow stuff up the best.
In just the last week, several GOP presidential hopefuls have engaged in stunts, questionable rhetoric and grandstanding -- even prompting a strongly worded rebuke from President Barack Obama, who on Monday suggested they were engaging in "ridiculous" antics in "an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines."
To the dismay of Republican Party leaders, Trump has continued to dominate in the polls. In the first national telephone poll since his widely denounced comments about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Trump was found topping the pack at 18 percent. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) placed second at 15 percent.
All the media surrounding the Trump show has left his rivals attention-starved. The celebrity hotelier's trip to the border on Thursday even overshadowed the presidential announcement of a more electable, experienced candidate like Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) caused quite a bit of fireworks during a rare Sunday session in the Senate, during which he claimed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lied to him and his colleagues about running an open amendment process. Because impugning a senator's character on the floor violates Senate rules, Cruz earned a reprimand from Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
"We are not here on some frolic, or to pursue personal ambitions," Hatch said. "We serve the people, not our own egos."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) made his play on Saturday, when he accused the president of marching Israelis to "the door of the oven" by dealing with Iran over its nuclear program. After condemnation from Democrats and the Jewish community, Huckabee was happy to trumpet his remarks on social media and to his supporters, whom he emailed Monday to complain Obama was "directly" attacking him.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has been reduced to torturing a copy of the U.S. tax code with a chain saw, fire and a wood chipper. Such stunts are typically characteristic of Senate races, not White House bids. For example, Joe Manchin memorably used a rifle to shoot a copy of a proposed "Cap and Trade" bill during his successful bid for the upper chamber in West Virginia. The stunt might have given Paul a photo op, but it didn't exactly spell out presidential material.
The presidential candidate who perhaps best capitalized on Trump mania was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). After Trump gave out the South Carolina senator’s personal phone number to the public, Graham went on a rampage against flip phones in a viral video produced by the website IJReview. Graham, who actually owned a flip phone, is seen putting a number of the devices through a blender, dropping them off a rooftop, and chopping them with a butcher knife.
Great media strategy or desperate ploy for attention? Probably a bit of both. As it stands right now, ten days out from the first GOP debate in Cleveland, Graham would not make the cut for a primetime television slot. His 0.3 percent support among Republican voters places him short of the top 10 criteria host Fox News has set for the debate.
The cable network has not yet announced which national polls it will use to judge which candidates will participate. But one thing’s for certain: bottom-rung contenders are likely to engage in more of such antics as the debate nears.
Watch the video above.