The Real Housewives of Iowa

In the Republican debates characters abound, and despite no clear leader they all provide plenty of entertainment value.

Accusations of bribery and ethics violations have been flying at the recent debates in Iowa [GALLO/GETTY]

This year we’ve seen it all. Protest movements have swept the world, as people from Cairo to Cleveland have stood up against oligarchy and its kissing cousin, venality. Osama bin Laden, the murderous mastermind of the 9/11 attack and many others like it, at last met his Waterloo.

And finally, with reality TV stars, radio-talk-show hosts and television pundits making up roughly 90 per cent of the current GOP presidential field – or those who led in polls at one time and flirted with entering the race (see Palin, Sarah and Trump, megalomaniac) – entertainment and politics in the United States have finally gone from symbiotic to simply redundant.

The latter point has been drilled home on a regular basis as we’ve entered the final sprint towards the inevitable GOP crash course with disharmony, the Iowa Caucuses on January 3. From the wackiness of what is happening up there, it would seem quite clear that the bread and circuses have made their way up among the maize, you know, without the bread part.

First there is the Santorum Surge – which I’d advise you not to try and google.

That’s right, Rick Santorum, who had to be getting anxious as the music kept stopping and he was the only one without a chair, is finally having his moment. A couple of polls show him reaching double digits in Iowa, one by CNNTime has him even passing Newt Gingrich to move into third place behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

The problem is that Santorum is being dogged by accusations that he bought the support of Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, an evangelical Christian organisation. Generally, that’s considered a no-no.

Not to be outdone, Michele Bachmann levelled a bribery charge at the Ron Paul Campaign, as Kent Sorenson (an Iowa state senator) went from being her campaign chair in the state to a Ron Paul supporter in less time than it takes for your average Gingrich marriage. Paul denies the charge, but then again, he also denies knowledge of who penned newsletters released under his name over two decades, ones which warned of race wars, encouraged militia nuts prior to Oklahoma City and gave two thumbs up to Gigli.

Ok, one of those might not be true.

Characters abound

Gingrich, meanwhile, has found himself back in a comfortable place – being accused of ethics violations. This time Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has called on the Federal Election Commission to investigate his bargain basement sale to… himself, or his campaign if you want to be technical, of names he picked up while on his simultaneous book tour. It’s not quite as glamorous as cleaning toilets at your school, but it’s not bad way to pocket $47,000.

Then there’s Rick Perry, wearing the Brokeback Mountain jacket while doing a commercial opposing gay rights, who discussed his opposition to the landmark Supreme Court case overturning Texas’ anti-sodomy laws… he just (naturally) couldn’t remember the name of this case that was so important to his philosophy.

So that is a basic flavour of Iowa so far. We haven’t really heard from Mitt Romney yet, but he’s probably busy firing someone with kids for old time’s sake. I’m sure we’ll come across some kind of silly statement, such as corporations being people or a preference for hunting varmints, from Mr Adventure sometime soon.

What will this circus yield? Will Iowa pick the eventual winner, or is Jon Huntsman right, that “Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks presidents?” (a line that, should he get the nomination somehow, I’m sure won’t come back to haunt him during the general election). I guess we’ll have to wait a few days and find out.

But with bribery in the air, gaffes galore and Ron Paul perhaps asked to share his theories on The Bell Curve, we are once again reminded of the wisdom of the great HL Mencken, who once said of campaigns in general, “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in”.

Now there’s something Rick Perry can get excited about.

Cliff Schecter is the President of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, and the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain.

Follow Cliff Schecter on Twitter: @Cliffschecter

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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