After months of campaigning, hundreds of hours of interviews, thousands of handshakes and millions of dollars, the presidential candidate for the Grand Old Party in America is still not decided. It is a race that has attracted unprecedented media coverage with hours of analysis devoted to the results of each and every primary. And while some might deride the interest shown in the spectacle, I for one welcome it. Because, for every wonderfully organised set-piece arranged by each candidate’s professional team, there is invariably some sound bite, some unfortunate snippet said in the distant past, that can be raised to embarrass candidates.
At present, the frontrunner is Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts. But, he has not yet managed to achieve a decisive knock-out blow against his opponents. At the time of writing, these include Rick Santorum (a former Pennsylvania Senator), Newt Gingrich (former speaker of the House of Representatives) and Ron Paul (a Representative from Texas). While each candidate differs in the Republican credentials, they are all united in one thing: all of them have countless and rather peculiar stories associated with them. But, before reviewing some of these outlandish tales, it seems only fair to examine one or two of the candidates that have already withdrawn from the race.
Rick Perry: The current governor of Texas, Perry withdrew from the race early after a string of poor results. Perhaps his most famous blunder on the campaign trail was his failure to remember his own policies, forgetting that he intended to abolish the Department for Energy. He is, perhaps, a candidate best forgotten.
Herman Cain: Despite an initial surge in popularity, pizza magnate Herman Cain was never destined to sit in the Oval Office. His campaign was sadly brought to an end following allegations of at least one extra-marital affair (something that has done nothing to damage the campaign of Newt Gingrich). His most notable policy was the planned ‘9–9–9’ tax plan. This concept – somewhat reminiscent of a takeaway special offer – involved a 9% tax on personal income, business income and a federal sales tax.
And now, the remaining candidates:
Ron Paul: Ron Paul is a libertarian and thus, it seems, is opposed to almost all current legislation, and probably secretly wants to return to the Articles of Confederation that preceded the US Constitution – a situation that would move the US to a state of near-anarchy. He has expressed his distrust of government and, if elected, wishes to legalise all prescribed drugs, remove banking legislation and most federal laws regarding education, energy, health (including vaccination programmes), gun control, abortion and limiting civil rights laws (not out of racism but from the belief that people will sort out problems better by themselves). He has even featured on Iranian state television denouncing US foreign policy.
Newt Gingrich: Newt Gingrich is rather a problematic figure for Republicans. He has a rather fine conservative voting record and had a distinguished career in the House of Representatives. To the delight of many Republicans, he was also one of the leading voices calling for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. But, alas, there lies a small degree of hypocrisy amongst his staunch conservative values. Gingrich has been married three times – leaving his first wife for a woman nine years his junior and, allegedly, discussing the settlement with his wife while she was in hospital for cancer treatment. Subsequently, he divorced wife number two after she refused to have “an open marriage” with him and quickly wed once more. When questioned during the Primaries about his rather tumultuous (and for many conservatives, controversial) personal life, he somehow managed to suggest that they arose out of his concerns for the state of his country: “There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” There have also been accusations made regarding his Twitter account with claims that he hired a company to inflate his number of followers with false accounts.
Rick Santorum: Santorum, currently in second place, has values that easily endear him to many of the extreme right of the Republican Party. He is staunchly anti-choice, avowedly anti-gay, extremely anti-liberalism. However, much of the commentary surrounding Santorum has focused not on his policies but rather on his fetching selection of woollen tank tops which, according to David Letterman, makes him “appear like a guy running for student council”. His staunch stance on gay rights issues has not, unsurprisingly, endeared him to the LGBT community and in fact prompted an Internet campaign to give a new definition to his surname. The winning entry (which is rather too explicit to put in print) controversially dominated the results from a Google search of his name and, despite his attempts to have it removed, remains near the top.
Mitt Romney: Romney is a somewhat controversial figure in the Republican Party, partly due to his Mormon faith, and partly because of his rather contentious finances. Romney first came to international attention after saving the Salk Lake City Winter Olympic Games from financial ruin and secured yet more fame whilst attempting to become the Republican Presidential candidate, but he eventually lost to Senator John McCain. Perhaps the most peculiar story surrounding Mitt Romney harks back to the mid-1980s when, to the horror of animal rights activists, he drove with the family dog strapped to the car roof for a journey lasting almost twelve hours. One of the most unusual features of his campaign – which is generally heavily stage-managed – is Romney’s off-the-cuff remarks when he tries to “connect” with the electorate: mentioning friends who own whole sports teams, revealing that he pays income tax of barely 15% and that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually” to a crowd of underemployed car workers. Upon actually meeting voters he frequently attempts to guess their age, the origins of their name, and their relationship to those around them. On entering a dairy shop, he started a long and protracted conversation with the owner regarding the production of milk and proceeded to calculate the yield from her cattle.
So who might win this contest? It still seems wide open, with Romney only a short way ahead of his opponents and not the outright frontrunner that many expected. What is certain is that there are likely to be many more weeks of awkward meetings with voters, strained televised debates and more outlandish statements. And the real election is still months away…