The GOP Primary is Starting to Look Like an Article in "The Onion"

Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town hall-style campaign event at Hampton Academ
Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a town hall-style campaign event at Hampton Academy, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Hampton, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Income inequality. Terrorism. These are not things to laugh at. But gosh, the GOP candidates are making it incredibly difficult. In their unrelenting quest to take back the White House, the Republican candidates for president are increasingly inducing headlines that may seem more fit to appear in The Onion than the New York Times.

Okay, let's be fair: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are just as conducive to an SNL bit as Donald Trump. But what's different is that when you're laughing at Trump, or Bush, or Christie, you're actually laughing at them, uncovering something deeply flawed about their bid to be the leader of the free world.

To illustrate the point, let's play a round of "Real Headline or Onion Headline?" If you haven't played before, the rules are simple: For each question, one headline is from the satirical news site The Onion and the other is real. Choose the one you think is real.

1. Which Chris Christie headline is real?
a) "Chris Christie: I May Be Old and Smelly, but at Least I'm Not Ted Cruz"
b) "Report: Chris Christie Spent $300K From Expense Account On Food, Drinks"

This one is tough, because if you're an American with a clear picture of who Chris Christie is and what he looks like, you know neither of these are far off. But if you also pay close attention to Christie's campaign events, you know he actually, in real life, told a retirement community in Bow, New Hampshire, that voters ought to take a close look at him despite his ghastly persona. That's right: Chris Christie 2016, Disgusting but Not Ted Cruz. Indeed, this line of attack makes sense: Not only is the Republican field so void of good options, but also Christie's brand of politics is so infamously crass and unappealing that his greatest selling point may be who he's not.

2. Which Ted Cruz headline is real?
a) "Report: Students Had To Attend Ted Cruz Rally Or Face Fine"
b) "Ted Cruz, in New List of Endorsements, Includes Lawmaker Who Didn't Endorse Him"

This one should be a little easier, because after reading a) you may have thought: Who the heck is so brutal that he or she would force kids to listen to Ted Cruz? Well, you're right, which leaves Cruz's conundrum in broad daylight: He is way, way, way too crazy to garner the support needed to be a serious contender for president. So yes, he added to a list of his endorsements a member of Congress who clearly stated he "could not support" Cruz, but that the candidate could print "narrow praise" from the Representative. The episode brought to mind a recent report in the New York Times that found striking discrepancies between the moderate position Cruz is presenting to donors and the radical one he is offering voters. Taken together, we can confirm what we knew about Cruz but has been shielded by his relentlessness: Even he doesn't really believe in his own ideology.

3. Which Marco Rubio headline is real?
a) "Campaign Advisers Secretly Enjoying Totally Destroying Marco Rubio During Practice Debates"
b) "Marco Rubio Defends His Repetition of Talking Point by Repeating Talking Point"

Poor Marco Rubio. If you were to graph the excitement surrounding his campaign, it might look something like a heart rate monitor: Spiking at his campaign announcement, flattening as voters snubbed him, spiking again after his surprise third place finish in Iowa, and then flattening once again at the last GOP debate, when Rubio seemed to spit nothing out other than the same line over, and over, and over again, and again the next day when he tried to defend himself. B) is not only the answer, but it is an insight into the painful irony of Rubio's campaign: that he's only appealing when he's appealing to nobody, when he's not worth any scrutiny. Once the spotlight turns to Rubio, everything--his record on immigration, his lack of a record on anything else, his thin talking points--comes crashing back down on him.

4. Which Jeb Bush headline is real?
a) "Jeb Bush Asks Crowd to 'Please Clap' During Speech"
b) "Advisors Hopeful Jeb Bush Finally Has Momentum To End Campaign"

This one should be easy too, because seasoned 2016ers know two things about Jeb Bush: 1) He is completely unable to spark any buzz and 2) no matter how clear it is that he will not be the Republican nominee, he apparently finds ways to justify staying in the race. So yes, as he delivered a line to his New Hampshire crowd about creating a more peaceful world and the crowd went silent, Jeb asked the audience to "please clap." You can cringe, you can dig your nails into your arm, but you might as well enjoy: In all likelihood, Jeb and his polite awkwardness are not going anywhere soon.

How'd you do?