In her historic speech accepting the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton quoted the Broadway musical Hamilton: “Though we may not live to see the glory, let us gladly join the fight.” It was a significant occasion for fans of both politics and Broadway musicals to see them come together in such a watershed moment. But if Hamilton is the companion musical for the DNC with its celebration of diversity and unabashed patriotism, then the RNC has a perfect Broadway musical rejoinder: Little Shop of Horrors.
For those unfamiliar with the Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musical, the story is as follows. Seymour is a down-on-his-luck flower shop assistant who longs for the love of his co-worker Audrey. He is certain that Audrey will never love him for who he is—a loser with nothing to offer this beguiling beauty. But when a mysterious and remarkable plant shows up at his workplace, Mushnik’s Flower Shop, Seymour sees it as an opportunity to impress Audrey—he even names the plant Audrey Two. Unfortunately, with Seymour’s help, Audrey Two grows into a man-eating monster and devours Seymour’s dentist, his boss, Audrey, Seymour himself and everyone he knows. And at the ending of the stage version (which I vastly prefer over the film’s ending), everyone is destroyed and it looks like Audrey Two is on the verge of devouring the world. Audrey Two is Donald Trump.
But the story does not blame Audrey Two for its behavior. It’s a blood-drinking, flesh-eating monster: what else is it to do? No, the most egregious behavior in this morality tale is perpetrated by our hero: Seymour. He thinks he can train Audrey Two to only devour those he deems worthy of such an end. But the more he feeds it, the more it wants, and eventually his secret weapon becomes an uncontrollable disaster out to destroy everything Seymour holds dear. Seymour is the Republican establishment.
Back in 2008, Republicans became the down-on-their luck political party. Barack Obama was a political sensation and a rational look at demographic shifts in America suggested a huge swing towards typically Democratic constituencies. The Drudge Report blared in 72-point font that America would soon be a majority minority country—and Republicans knew that was a political disaster for them if they continued on their current track. They had a dilemma: they could either adjust their platform to prepare for this new reality or they could feed a beast that would help them win over their beloved base. To court their Audrey, they decided to feed their Audrey Two.
It began during the 2008 election in the form of some Republican voters insisting that Obama was a secret Muslim out to destroy America. Senator John McCain, much to his credit, interrupted one such voter and told her that Barack Obama was “a decent family man...that I just happen to have disagreements with.” He looked Audrey Two in the face and pruned it back. But when McCain fell behind in the polls, he had to feed the beast somehow—McCain’s offering was his running mate Governor Sarah Palin. And in his attempt to give a drop of blood to Audrey Two, he got too close to the man-eater and Sarah Palin ultimately devoured his campaign. He was Audrey Two’s first victim and as such: Senator McCain is Seymour’s dentist, Orin Scrivello D.D.S.
Two years later, The Tea Party swept congress. And while many Tea Partiers are patriotic Americans, there are some who are overtly racist in their objections to President Obama—the worst of these people are the Birthers. Birthers are people who believe President Obama was born in Kenya and as such is determined to dismantle America from the inside. This insidious line of thought has no place in American politics, but it sure did fire up parts of the Republican base. So when the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was asked if he agreed with the Birthers, he played coy and said, “It’s not up to me to tell them what to think.” It wasn’t just a drop of blood this time—now the Republican establishment was throwing the base red meat. So the monster got a little bigger. And in the fall of 2015, John Boehner eventually succumbed to his Tea Party masters and resigned from office. Audrey Two devoured him as well and so: John Boehner is Seymour’s boss, Mr. Mushnik.
For the most part, Seymour could be any member of the Republican establishment that tried to control its vile man-eater in an attempt to win favor with its beloved. But the comparison is no more apt than it is with Mitt Romney.
In 2012, Mitt Romney ran to replace President Obama, but he faced a daunting challenge: the Republican base didn’t love him at all. So he did what establishment Republicans before him had done—he turned to Audrey Two to give it a big honking piece of fresh flesh. He did this by turning to The Birther-In-Chief: Donald Trump.
Many in the Republican Establishment act like Donald Trump came out of nowhere. He was just a fringe player in Republican Party politics until he rode a wave of populism and nativism to the Republican nomination. But four years ago, Donald Trump was peddling Birtherism to the masses—even claiming he paid for investigators to travel to Hawaii to research Obama’s birth records. “They cannot believe what they are finding,” he told ABC’s The View—we are still waiting for these unbelievable findings.
And it was in the midst of that race-baiting that Mitt Romney turned to Donald Trump and gleefully accepted his endorsement. This was not a reluctant drop of blood. Mitt Romney held a press conference to stand on stage and trumpet Trump’s support. As they stood arm in arm, Mitt Romney finished the transition of turning a harmless Venus flytrap into a giant man-eating monster.
During the 2016 primary season, the Republican establishment’s Audrey Two devoured everyone this Seymour knew, until he finally sauntered in to stop it. Mitt Romney gave a press conference in an attempt to put down a beast of his own making—but it was already too late. Mushkin’s shop was destroyed. And the irony is that Audrey would have loved Seymour if he had just listened to her—he never needed Audrey Two in the fist place.
So now, the rest of the country is under threat because our national Seymours thought the best way to win over Audrey was to fatten an insatiably hungry creature. We don’t know how this ends, because Little Shop of Horrors finishes when Audrey Two eats its caretakers—or when Trump took the Republican nomination.
So what happens next? Does a fierce woman show up with a tank full of weed-killer and save everyone in town? Do the Seymours in the belly of the beast—and the uneasy townspeople—keep her from destroying the man-eater because they don’t find her “likable enough” or because she isn’t using their preferred weedicide? Do we vanquish the monster and then all gather on our respective fire escapes to sing a rousing chorus of “Suddenly Seymour”—or are we all devoured by this Mean Orange Mother from Outer Space?
The finale isn’t written yet—and we get to decide if this is an ending that will make us cheer or boo. And as President Obama says: “Don’t boo. Vote.”