Even though there are still a half-dozen Republican debates left (sweet Lord kill me now), the candidates are getting restless. Since the last debate, the field has been trimmed from nine to seven. Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul have been yanked from the main stage and forced sit at the kiddie table where no one can hear Rand yell about the Gold Standard. The low-polling candidates know that if they don’t get any traction in Iowa, they’ll soon be hanging out with Lindsay Graham at a D.C. Chili’s bragging to the waitress that they could have beaten ISIS if they just had access to the red button as they sob into their blooming onion.
Last night, the candidates were desperate, so desperate they made the contestants on The Bachelor look restrained and dignified. To explain to you who looked the most desperate we’re going to use action movies as a way to talk about who gave it all they had even if they knew it wasn’t good enough.
Action Counterpart: The Rock
Though Trump likes to talk about everything he learned in the business world, his time in professional wrestling is what really prepared him for the political arena.
While appearing in professional wrestling matches and on reality television, Trump learned that what is actually happening is secondary to what you pretend is happening. Despite being booed numerous times last night, Trump pressed on, like another billionaire we know and love.
As always, Trump rebuffed every attack that came at him with ease. When asked about his immigration policy, he said, “I have many great Muslim friends, and some of them have called and said thank you very much.” When caught in a lie by the New York Times, he said, “It’s the New York Times. It’s always wrong.”
No matter what happens, Trump keeps his cool under pressure. He knows that the trick to keeping the confidence of his base is never looking stressed, never appearing worried, never admitting he’s wrong. Much like another wrestling star who switched careers, Trump knows that looking cool under pressure will get him pretty far.
6. John Kasich
Action Counterpart: Cop on his last day before retirement
When you’ve got nothing to lose, it’s pretty easy to stay chill. This is the lesson John Kasich taught us last night, in addition to his usual aimless ramblings about the intricacies of foreign policy. Like a police officer two days from retirement, Kasich was more concerned with giving unsolicited advice (“You have to knock off the funding of radical clerics.”) and telling stories about his family (“So many people in my family worked in steel mills.”) than actually trying to win this thing.
Just like the old cop staring at a picture of his daughter, talking about how he’s going to move the family down south and relax once he gets off the beat, Kasich knows its only a matter of time before he takes one in the back, so he’s just enjoying the ride.
5. Ben Carson
Action Counterpart: Leonard in Memento, Jane in Blindspot
Stories like Momento and Blindspot aren’t about a character trying to do anything in particular, but instead they are about a character trying to figure out what they’re doing there in the first place. This has also been the entire strategy of Ben Carson’s campaign. Like these fictional characters who wake up and have no idea where they are, during debates Carson periodically rouses from his semi-permanent nap to say something that makes no sense whatsoever. Carson runs his campaign like some one who is having a dream about running for President. Here are some of the highlights from last night:
“We have a war on virtually everything.”
“[The Obama Administration] is not going to bomb a tanker just because their might be people in them.”
“I ask you to join me in truth.”
Not even Ben Carson knows what Ben Carson is talking about.
4. Marco Rubio
Action Counterpart: Young Hero In Over His Head
Whether you’re watching a Western, a war movie, or a gritty thriller, there’s probably a young character in over his (or her) head who’s going to learn some things the hard way. They’ve been trained by the book, but when it comes to the real world, they are going to get crushed. It happened to Ethan in Training Day. It happened to Emily in Sicario. Now, it’s happening to Marco.
Rubio manages to say some things that appeal to the conservative base. With his square-jaw and tough talk, he looks presidential. Hell, “The second amendment is not an option.” and “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being Commander-in-Chief of the United States.” are the kind of lines you like to hear if you’re an angry voter shouting from your La-Z-boy between Cash 4 Gold commercials.
The problem is that Rubio is optimistically believes two things that are fundamental to his campaign.
1. The conservative base will tolerate moderates on immigration (Rubio co-authored a bill that Cruz calls an “amnesty bill”)
2. that conservatives will ever allow you to agree with President Obama. (Rubio supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership).
Though Rubio appears to be the only electable candidate on the right, he has to get out of the primary without getting got before he can actually have a chance to get elected.
3. Ted Cruz
Action Counterpart: Bond Villain
Ted Cruz is the Blofeld or Goldfinger of the GOP field. He wants to take over the world, and you start to think maybe he could do it, but then he says something so crazy that let’s you know you can rest easy. This guy may not even be able to take over reading of Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor. This evil mastermind is never going to get anywhere near the White House, no matter how many videos he produces with the guys from Duck Dynasty.
It seemed like he was holding his own on tax policy, and then he said he would abolish the IRS and “allow you to fill out your taxes on a postcard.” He was defending himself against personal attacks and then he went off on “New York Values.” He had some people on his side toward the end of the debate, but then devoted his closing statement to the Michael Bay Benghazi movie.
Just like everyone but the villain can always see exactly how James Bond will escape, everyone but Tea Partiers can see how Cruz’s policies, from a flat tax to banning immigrants from “bad” countries, aren’t going to work.
2. Chris Christie
Action Counterpart: Overzealous Jerk Who is Definitely Going to Die
Bluster has always been Chris Christie’s secret weapon, even though his secret weapon has never gotten him above 3% or so in the polls. Pretty much every war movie and Western likes to set the scene by giving you a brash jerk who dies quickly. Billy Zane made an entire career out of this kind of character: professional asshole. His dialogue is designed to annoy everyone. He picks on the hero. He swaggers around. And you know he never has a chance.
Chris Christie is a real-life professional asshole. Last night, he literally said, “I don’t think the Founders dropped all the amendments into a hat and picked them out of a hat.”
Here’s some footage we found of his campaign once the votes come in from Iowa.
1. Jeb Bush
Action Counterpart: Innocent Bystander
Despite all of his money, Jeb Bush hasn’t done shit.
We were tempted to assign him an actual action character: maybe the overbearing officer who doesn’t listen until its too late, or the hapless fool who things he can run with the big boys. But, even these character types were too much for Jeb Bush, who hasn’t been in this race for a second.
Bush has done his best to act like he really has a chance at this thing, but we all know the truth: he doesn’t. Even when he believes he’s fighting back, he does it in the dumbest way possible. Most of his talking time during the debate came when he got mired in an argument about Chinese tractor tariffs. What a way to win hearts and minds Jeb!
He made the worst joke of the night when he said that because of Benghazi, “Hillary might be going back and forth between the White House and the court house.” Zing!
He tweeted this today.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 14, 2016
Come on, man!
Despite the weak insults he tossed at Trump, and his flop-sweating performance so that he can tell his family he gave it a shot, this guy doesn’t even want to be in the game.