Hunter S. Thompson would have loved Tuesday’s Republican debate.
If the good doctor was still with us, he might have gobbled handfuls of pharmaceuticals, grabbed his attorney, and to avoid the TSA, would have driven the 650 miles from Colorado to Vegas.
If he was in top form, he would have made the trip in eight hours or less, nursing the quart of Wild Turkey nestled next to him in the red leather seats while he careened around big rigs and drove with such stunning disregard for consequence that grizzled, tattooed truckers would have pulled off the road to weep. There was a pre-debate party at Wayne Newton’s and you know he would have finagled an invitation.
Once he’d found the house, jumped the curb and slid to a stop on the front lawn, he might have started to get doubts and shakes as he continued to drink heavily and chat up a roomful of 60 year old starlets desperately hoping that tonight would not be the night that all that plastic surgery began to unravel. Finally Wayne bustled in and with ghoulish good cheer swept up the entourage and assigned them to waiting limos which whisked them cross-town to the Venetian, site of the 2011 Nevada Republican Party debate.
As soon as you walked in you could tell it was going to be an ugly night. CNN was already prepping the dark, somber music that had all the velvet undertone of a Living Dead movie, and Anderson Cooper was pacing nervously, arguing with someone in his ear piece. Soon enough, the lights flashed and the audience took their seats. Men in suits had to admonish Wayne’s party to maintain a sense of decorum and confiscated their flasks. The threats of full body searches were abandoned as the on air countdown began.
Things started off with introductions and the National Anthem, while unseen by the TV audience, two burly thugs in black suits dragged a tourist who had been looking for his wife by the slot machines into the hall and pushed him up to the microphone to ask the first question.
“All right. Let’s — time to begin. We’ll begin with actually a question in the hall”, Cooper stuttered.
By this time, the tourist was sweating through his suit. The piece of paper the thugs had jammed into his hand was barely readable.
“This is for all candidates. What’s your position on replacing the federal income tax with a federal sales tax?”
The candidates quickly vied with each other to attack Herman Cain and his now famous 9-9-9 tax proposal.
Texas Governor Perry, who despite the big buildup when he first entered the race has been underwhelming in the debates so far, was desperate to shake the image of a wooden man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don’t need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out. Go to New Hampshire, where they don’t have a sales tax, and you’re fixin’ to give them one.”
The Governor had obviously been studying down home, folksy and funk ever since the last debate.
Cain blinked at the big Texan like he was a dangerous meth freak from the wrong side of El Paso. Beads of sweat began to break out on the usually cheerful businessman’s brow.
“This is an example of mixing apples and oranges”, he mumbled. “The state tax is an apple. We are replacing the current tax code with oranges. So it’s not correct to mix apples and oranges.”
Soon after, it was Romney’s turn and he asked an obvious question.
“Herman, are you saying that the state sales tax will also go away?”
“No, that’s an apple”, Cain replied. “We’re replacing a bunch of oranges.”
Ron Paul started gurgling and drawing doodles of the Federal Reserve logo on his CNN notepad. Michelle Bachmann was sending secret signals to her constituents in Minnesota by blinking and using subtle hand signals. The conversation about the tax plan continued for quite a while as each candidate tried to slip a shiv into Mr. Cain, the surprise frontrunner.
Sensing that the audience was getting restless, Cooper wisely changed the subject.
“Senator Santorum, does Mitt Romney have the answers for jobs?”
This is when it started to get ugly. At first he spoke with composure, but after a few minutes, Santourum loosened his tie, moved the conversation to health care and began snarling.
“You just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are — you are — your plan was the basis for Obamacare.”
The audience gasped.
Spittle began to collect around the corners of Santorum’s mouth and his eyes took on a red hue.
“Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare. And to say that you’re going to repeal it, you just — you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that!”
The audience in the room sat up, anticipating a brawl.
Clearly rattled, Romney defended himself.
“You know, this I think is either our eighth or ninth debate. And each chance I’ve — I’ve had to talk about Obamacare, I’ve made it very clear, and also in my book. And at the time, by the way, I crafted the plan, in the last campaign, I was asked, is this something that you would have the whole nation do? And I said, no, this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.”
“That’s not what you said”! Santorum screamed from across the stage.
“You’re — you’re shaking — you’re shaking your head”, Romney replied, the fear in his eyes now apparent to all.
“Governor, no, that’s not what you said”, Santorum screamed again. “It was in your book that it should be for everybody.”
Romney was clearly stunned by the level of animosity. “That happens — to happens to be…”
Sensing blood and weakness, the Texas Governor spun around and accused: “You took it out of your book”!
“You took it out of your book”, Santorum repeated.
Cowering now, Romney pathetically appealed to Cooper for help.
“Hey, his turn. His turn, OK, and mine. I’ll tell you what? Why don’t you let me speak? Rick, you had your chance. Let me speak.”
Santorum dismissed him.
“You’re out of time. You’re out of time.”
Cooper was smirking on the side of the stage.
“He ate into your time.”
Romney was suddenly the underdog, and had been bloodied. The audience didn’t like it, and began to boo.
Soon, Cooper turned the debate over to Gingrich. The former speaker tried to cool things down.
“OK, let’s just focus. “The Boston Herald” today reported that the state of Massachusetts is fining a local small business $3,000 because their $750-a-month insurance plan is inadequate, according to the bureaucrats in Boston. And candidly, Mitt, your plan ultimately, philosophically, it’s not Obamacare, and that’s not a fair charge. But your plan essentially is one more big government, bureaucratic, high-cost system”
Romney, buoyed by the surprising support from the crowd, turned on Gingrich.”Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you.”
Newt was surprised. “That’s not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.”
Romney pressed the point. “Yes, we got it from you, and you got it from the Heritage Foundation and from you.”
“Wait a second. What you just said is not true,” Gingrich exclaimed, now annoyed with Romney’s attack and wounded that his attempt to return to civility had been rebuffed.
The debate on Obamacare continued, and eventually Cooper turned back to Perry.
“Governor Perry, in the last debate, Governor Romney pointed out that Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country, over one million kids. You did not get an opportunity to respond to that. What do you say? How do you explain that?”
Perry started off by saying that “We’ve got one of the finest health care systems in the world in Texas,” and went on to extol his states’s medical system, but then shifted the conversation to illegal immigration.
“We have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico, and the fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country… they’re coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs. And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalised. And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
The audience laughed at him.
Romney sensed that the audience was now on his side, and went back on Perry
“Rick, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I’m afraid — I’m looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn’t…”
“Well, I’ll tell you what the facts are”, Perry interrupted.
“Rick, again — Rick, I’m speaking,” Romney said in amazement.
“You had the — your newspaper — the newspaper –”, Perry sputtered.
“I’m speaking. I’m speaking. I’m speaking,” Romney whined. “You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here, is that I get 60 seconds and then you get 30 second to respond. Right? Anderson?”
Perry wasn’t to be denied his chance.
“And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working at your –”
Romney was clearly exasperated.
“Would you please wait? Are you just going to keep talking?”
“Yes, sir,” Perry replied.
“Would you let me finish with what I have to say?” Romney asked the Lone Star Governor. “This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that. And so you’re going to get testy. But let’s let — I’ll tell you what, let me take my time, and then you can take your time. All right?”
With that, Romney put his hand on Perry’s shoulder, and smiled like a cadaver, showing teeth that suddenly seemed unnaturally long and sharp.
Perry had had enough, and punched the former Massachusetts governor solidly in the face with a fast right. The crack of Romney’s nose breaking could be heard throughout the hall as blood spurted from his once handsome face. Women in the audience began to shriek, and fistfights broke out between Romney and Perry supporters in the aisles. In the back of the hall, men with cowboy hats could be seen pummelling the Mexican waitstaff. Wayne Newton covered his head with his jacket, sat on the floor and began guzzling from a pint of Wild Turkey that had escaped the security men. Some of the Ron Paul supporters began setting small fires under the seats.
On stage, Perry had moved in to finish Romney off, but Mitt took him down with a surprise wrestling move and sank his teeth into the Texan’s neck, drawing blood. While the two rolled around on the floor scratching and biting, Santorum threw a beer can at the TV cameras and then ran over and started kicking both men, aiming especially for Romney’s head. Michelle Bachmann screamed and ran off stage where she was assaulted and dragged off by Wolf Blitzer. Anderson Cooper fainted, while Ron Paul continued work on what appeared to be an advanced level Sudoku book he’d smuggled in earlier.
Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were literally the last men standing, and tried to salvage things by debating Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, but began bickering as police swept the stage and the paramedics were called in. Finally, a CNN producer in New York had the sense to switch to a re-run of Piers Morgan interviewing Suzanne Summers.
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All of this is true and none of it is true. The quotes are real, the action exaggerated.
Hunter Thompson once described a character in his 1972 book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail as someone who “thought politics was some kind of game played by old people, like bridge.”
It’s not like bridge any more, if it ever was. It’s blood sport.
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