Republicans: I Feel Your Pain

Donald Trump wants to get behind the wheel of what Real Time's Bill Maher has wonderfully called the "Republican clown car."

Since only Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum elected to climb in the back seat for the surrealist ride-along, Trump has cancelled the trip. His stated reason: he wants to preserve the option to run himself if the last candidate standing displeases him.

Somewhere, Fox programmers weep.

Donald as political interlocutor would have made for amazing -- epic -- political spectacle; a main-tent Charlie Sheen, only without the introspection and humility.

It all leaves me wondering. How did the heart of a nation's leadership selection turn into a predictable reality show, where damaged players arrive in a limo, melt down and get voted off?

And ...

How much more of this can Republican voters take?

It's time to face facts. The primary has been hijacked by opportunists who can't win, couldn't lead, and don't particularly care.

Sarah Palin may have created the template: it doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you sell the brand. Witness her quick descent into old-news obscurity -- the exiled queen of a dwindling band of passionate Palinistas -- once it became clear that she was really, truly, no more teasing, not going to run.

A fat bank account, book deals, and speaking gigs show the template works. And she gets to keep the bus.

Palin begat Michele Bachmann as the new steely-eyed Republican hot chick. On a good day, Palin-lite. On the worst day, using an invented anecdote to cynically question life-saving vaccinations.

Could third-try libertarian/conservative Ron Paul, "the intellectual godfather" of the Tea Party movement, a man who told a nation of aging boomers that Social Security is unconstitutional, carry a national election?

Santorum was blown off the high perches of the Party by a 20-point margin five years ago -- a home-state victim of his right wing pandering and his own situational ethics. He has done nothing in the interim to make it back to the national stage, other than declare he'd like to be there.

Rick Perry swaggered on the stage and then tripped on his own platform: He wants to trim government, but can't recall exactly where. "Oops?" Nice comeback, cowboy.

Herman Cain surged to the lead on little more than an engaging style and a tax plan that would never happen. In what 24/7 media universe would multiple harassment charges and a 13-year affair not find its way into the conversation? On the bright side, he sold a lot of books.

And now: rising in the polls and stirring the hearts of conservatives is Gingrich. He comes to center stage with his personal failings and bright, shining hypocrisies trailing him like a long roll of toilet paper stuck to the heel of his well-buffed. Wingtips. That rumble on the horizon is the campaign-killing gaffe that his history says is all but sure to come.

That leaves poor Mitt Romney: the most qualified, least damaged, and possibly most serious candidate in the field. But never has a contender been so unloved. Maybe he's just not strange enough -- although his left-right pirouettes bring him closer and closer to edge with every turn of his fungible positions. Suggestion: blame what went down in Massachusetts on an evil twin.

I'm not a Republican. But if I were a Republican, I would watch in wild wonder this chorus of jesters and jugglers, and the needful bombast of a would-be kingmaker with Crazy Glued hair. And I would ask: what the hell happened here?