…Not even close.

Primaries are the tribal councils of this metaphorical Survivor season. That’s because opinion polls and voting are not the same thing, at least not this far ahead of the general election.

It goes like this: You might tell someone on the telephone that you like Trump or Carson. But now it’s months later; you’re in the voting booth with your one vote and you’re wondering what in hell you were thinking before.

Neither of those two could possibly win the actual presidential election! Somewhere in your heart you know that, no matter how much you want to see the status quo toppled. So you pull the lever instead for the candidate who you think might actually win.

And if you’re a Republican voting for president these days, your fall-back guy loses too.

Ted Cruz, at least, has won an actual election, even if only in Texas. He’s a scary fall-back guy, but it may be time for the Tea Party and its ilk to take an actual shot in a national election. Look at how well the Republicans have been doing with so-called establishment candidates.

The bottom line of all this talk? The immediate future—the Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada primaries—isn’t that immediate. There’s lots of time for multiple reshuffles of this fat deck of jokers. For now, just enjoy the show.

One post-debate commentator had it just right, asserting that people would not begin serious thinking about the election until their 2016 New Year’s hangovers lifted.

If primaries are the tribal councils in the Survivor context, then debates might be those silly sports contests where you discover how strong certain individuals are and who exactly is dragging your team down. Also, that you may be a team in name only.

Following those contests, but before the tribal councils, come behind-the-bushes meetings shared by some contestants—but not all. This is where alliances are made, and later betrayed.

Contestants can be figuratively voted off the island at these meetings. For our metaphor, I compare them to the nasty news cycles that follow debates, waiting only for a primary drubbing or sugar daddy defunding to make the impending demise real.

For example, Jeb!’s candidacy has been declared dead so resoundingly, and by everyone but him, that I think he now belongs not on our show, but on The Walking Dead.

The debates featured performances both angry and lackluster, and the Republican field ought to be narrowing in response. But no—and it’s not even clear why these 14 would-be presidents think their side even has a chance to win next year. Most blowhards, er, pundits on both sides of the culture war think it’ll be Madam President come hell or high water. And no, Carly, she’s not you.

Both debates (the early one that I call the Cat’s Table, between the 4 lowest candidates, and the main one with everybody else) featured many of the usual reliable talking points—for example, the many ways that Obama has ruined the country or how voodoo economics will restore it.

These sacred cows offer a different perspective on the term Holy Shit.

Plenty of controversy swirled around the debate. Reporters for the hardly left-wing CNBC asked cogent and economics-focused questions for the first debate, but somehow lost it for the second, for example asking Donald Trump if his was a cartoon candidacy.


In response, the Republican National Committee cancelled a February debate on CNBC’s parent network, NBC. It’s like the outraged reaction to Obama’s 2008 “They cling to their guns and religion” comment: some people just hate public accusations of being who they really are.

…Except for Chris Christie, who rolled with the mood saying, “Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is considered rude.” Unfortunately for Christie, that was the only thing he said worth remembering.

The same thing happened to several of the other candidates as well. Rand Paul tried to stand for Libertarianism and ended merely standing. Carly Fiorina replayed her “I’m competent” pitch, minus the fiery denunciation of Planned Parenthood, and had no impact.

According to some, Lindsay Graham won the Cat’s Table debate. According to me, he did so by counterbalancing his trademark boots-on-the-ground approach with some surprising common sense: “Let’s stop making fantasy promises; we can’t cut the corporate tax, but we can lower it.”

Later, Graham offered to give up some of his own excellent retirement benefits to help others who have none. He’d even ask young people to pitch in, to help destitute seniors get by. Yikes, isn’t that that socialism? After hearing Graham push those ideas so passionately, I can only imagine him sinking below the zero percent that he currently holds in the polls. But it was refreshing nonetheless.

Mike Huckabee worked the same idea more adroitly, speaking of our commitment to seniors—who are, in fact, one of the more reliable voting blocks in the U.S. It was sensible and maybe even sensitive.

But then he went off the rails by twice explaining how we could fix Medicare’s soon-to-explode costs—just cure the diseases that tax Medicare the most, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

I get it. Near the end of my “Truthiness” column, I mentioned Huckabee’s past association with a cancer cure that relied on dietary supplements and prayer. He’s right, supplements are seriously cheaper than a hospital visit, and prayer is free! Who knew?

George Pataki started off with sensible talk about climate change being real and at least partly caused by human activity. He continued, insisting that vaccines really do work, and urging us to support research and development tax credits for innovation. Auditioning for the Democrats’ VP slot, perhaps?

But then he waded straight into quicksand by assuring us that fracking has reduced pollution. Apparently, he’s never seen this video of tap water catching fire. Or the many others.

Rick Santorum was as unrealistically populist as ever, pledging to take back those manufacturing jobs (from China) when there is no way Americans will perform them as cheaply. Nor can we, with our regulations such as “No lead in the paint on kids toys.”

China doesn’t hang those silly constraints on its industries, and we still buy their products. So there you go, the Market has spoken.

Bobby Jindal, whose parents personify the successful immigrant story, could cite himself as the American Dream in the flesh. No. He’s middle-aged and brown, but no one tries harder to sound old and white: get a better budget deal, cut all taxes and most especially corporate ones, shrink the government! Oh, and put a halt to offshoring.

But how exactly? He never says. Instead, he brags about the many wonderful things he did in Louisiana, ignoring the state’s $1.6 billion shortfall—and that’s just this year’s bad news. Bobby keeps telling us that it’s all good. No.

The only candidate who could (and of course did) brag about something demonstrably true was, of all people, Donald Trump. He had publicly threatened to boycott any debate longer than two hours. And guess what, that was the length of this one.

“It was always going to be two hours,” huffed commentator John Harwood. Uh huh.

Republicans have been steadily picking up the sword again, hanging the dreaded military weakness label on Democrats. But this article explains why any president from either party is unlikely to deviate far from Obama’s approach, despite all the condemnation and promises to assert America’s global strength again.

The article sums up this issue—in fact, most issues—beautifully with a trenchant statement: “The reality is that… campaigning is about telling people what they want to hear; governing is about what they eventually get.”

We the electorate rediscover that sad truth every four years, and yet continue to believe the promises. We just don’t know any better, even while saying that we do.

♦   ♦   ♦

Political Survivor # 24

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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