A Circus with Donkeys and Elephants

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump. These 12 — some of them very colorful characters — make up the field so far for the Republicans. Twelve. For the Democrats, surely because of the candidacy of the front runner, Hillary Clinton, there are only four: Clinton, Lincoln Chaffee, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders who runs not as an Independent but is officially running as a Democrat.

So the American election circus has begun and beside such marginal figures as Rick Santorum, Rick Perry or Mike Huckabee, this time there’s a veritable clown among them: Donald Trump. A cartoon-like billionaire buffoon who with his astonishing statements about Mexican immigrants (“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”) That would have been the topic of the week across the country had it not been for Dylann Roof murdering nine people in a black church. Even if Trump is currently running second behind Jeb Bush in an opinion poll, don’t expect the professional self-promoter to play any significant role in the U.S. election.

Ted Cruz, who also holds similar crude, nearly insane beliefs also has a foot in the door to the Republican base through his affiliation with the tea party. Trump, meanwhile, is just an inflated billionaire from the TV world with whom scarcely anyone in the general population can identify.

That Jeb Bush is now the front runner despite his relatively late entry into the fray is no surprise. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are too far outside the mainstream, Marco Rubio and George Pataki too unknown. Bush is a brand name and even if Europeans have a hard time believing that the name Bush could have positive connotations, American conservatives are in large measure convinced that the Iraq War was justified and that the Bush-Cheney administration was actually successful and in any case preferable to any Democratic alternative. Who will emerge victorious from the primaries remains anyone’s guess. Wisconsin’s popular governor Scott Walker still hasn’t declared and there have not yet been any TV debates between candidates in which a candidate is capable of suddenly putting himself out of the running with a slip of the tongue, as happened to Rick “Oops” Perry when he was unable to remember which three government agencies he intended to abolish if he became president.

A quick look at the current status of the Republican ticket shows everything relatively wide open with a sight nod toward Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive candidate for the Democrats; but many made a similar error in 2008 until a relatively unknown senator named Barack Obama unceremoniously knocked Hillary out of the race. Neither Lincoln Chaffee nor Martin O’Malley — both candidates the American public would characterize as “vanilla” (meaning predictable and boring) — have much of a chance to pull of such a surprise coup. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a different story.

Sanders’ announcement that he would run as a Democrat took many by surprise. The senator from Vermont is an Independent and clearly identifies with the liberal spectrum of U.S. politics. Many say he’s a socialist and he doesn’t object to that title. When Elizabeth Warren announced she was definitely not running, many were disappointed but resigned themselves to the fact and prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil, regardless of whom the Republicans nominated. But then Bernie Sanders took the stage: A politician who shunned the political-action committees or super PACs — and thereby also a gigantic source of money for his candidacy. A politician who promises the bankers won’t be calling the shots and who will put an end to the war on drugs in order to fund education. In short, policies to benefit the American people and against the influence of lobbies and big money. An idealist, in other words. He’s laughed at because of his accent and his unkempt hair. But “socialist” is no longer the pejorative it once was in the United States and Bernie Sanders, the candidate without money, places consistently second in the opinion polls just behind Hillary Clinton. Only Joe Biden, who is not running, occasionally finishes ahead of Sanders in some polls. Can the kook of the Democratic Party succeed in overtaking Clinton by next year? Right now it looks unlikely, but bigger surprises have happened in the past.

The election would at least be entertaining and a good thing for America if it pits a socialist (Sanders) against a libertarian (Rand Paul). Then voters would have a real choice — at least on paper. But if it turns out to be Bush vs. Clinton in 2016, that would be a sad high-point for America, of a lobby-fueled family dynasty battle between two moderate right candidates, neither of whom has any personality nor vision. That would surprise nobody. And that’s what’s so sad.

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