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GOP Clown Car Runs Into Ditch

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The Republican Party's clown car has become a clown van.

With nearly two dozen possible presidential candidates, the GOP is having a seriousness deficit. There can't possibly be that many people who are real candidates.

But they can ride in the clown car from event to event, and nobody can stop them.

At the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, two dozen speakers ground through 10 hours of speeches in front of more than 1,000 far-right Republicans.

As it turned out, clown car candidates are not necessarily funny. Because they have nothing to lose, they can attack their fellow Republicans with abandon.

Usually, they attack from the right, which can force the eventual nominee further to the right than the nominee wants to go. This risks losing moderate voters in the general election.

This was not a concern at the Iowa Freedom Summit, however. The further to the right the better.

It was a classic cattle call, with speaker after speaker pandering to the crowd. Sometimes, however, pandering was not enough.

In the circus, the worse thing clowns lob is confetti. In the political circus, the clowns lob grenades. Verbal, to be sure, but they still can be deadly.

Bill O'Brien, a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, told the crowd: "I don't know what is worse, nominating someone because he has been nominated once before (i.e., Mitt Romney) or someone who endorses Common Core (i.e., Jeb Bush). Are we going to nominate one of them?"

The audience bellowed: "No-o-o-o-o-."

"The media tells us to nominate a moderate, and moderates lose because they have no courage of their convictions or have no convictions," O'Brien said.

Neither Bush nor Romney bothered to show up at the summit, so they missed a day of attacks.

Donald Trump, who definitely rides in the clown car — or maybe the clown limo — strongly indicated he might actually run for president. What mattered, however, were his grenades.

"It can't be Mitt," Trump said, the bright overhead stage lighting, not favoring, his elaborate comb-over. "Mitt ran and failed!"

Applause from the crowd.

"Like him, dislike him, that 47 percent (remark) is not going away," Trump said. "Romneycare is not going away. He choked. He had it won, and something happened. I see that all the time. And I think this election is going to be harder than beating a failed president."

Then Trump moved on to his next target.

"You can't have Bush," he said.

Huge applause from the audience.

"The last thing we need is another Bush," Trump said.

"I was the one who said that first! He's very, very weak on immigration. He said, 'They are coming for love.' What? Half of them are criminals!"

More applause.

"Jeb and Mitt you can't have!" Trump yelled. "It's over!"

Shouts and hoots of approval.

Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, did the same attacks, though without using any names, on Jeb Bush for supporting Common Core, a nationwide educational initiative, and on Romney for his health plan as governor of Massachusetts.

But then Gilmore added another enemy of the GOP right wing.

"Do we want a nominee who wrapped his arms around Barack Obama?" Gilmore said.

The clear reference to Chris Christie brought bellows and barks of approval from the crowd.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, will probably run for the Republican nomination. He will almost certainly lose, even though he is very conservative. America was ready for an African-American president in 2008, but I doubt the Republican Party is ready for an African-American nominee in 2016.

"I am pro-life," Carson said in his speech, which attacked no individuals. "If I spend so many hours saving people's lives, why would I be in favor of obliterating lives?"

And he added: "If they want to act like third-graders and call us names, let 'em!"

He got a standing ovation. Unfortunately, the day was filled with Republicans acting like third-graders.

Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, told the crowd: "Don't worry about being called mean. Let's talk about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the second-most influential person in her own household. I would say Hillary Clinton has the wrong vision for America, but I don't know what it is."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn decided to rebrand some major TV networks:

"ABC: All 'Bout Clinton network.

"NBC: Nothing But Clinton.

"CNN: Clinton News Network.

"CBS — just think about it!" Translation: Clinton BS.

Kinda funny. But kinda third-grade.

Sarah Palin, who has been teasing the press with hints she might actually run for president, appeared to end much hope of that Saturday by delivering a 33-minute speech of such incoherence that even veteran Palin-watchers were puzzled.

Some sample lines from Palin:

"Screw the left and Hollywood!"

"Coronation, rinse, repeat."

Obama "is so over it. America, he's just not that into you."

"The man can only ride you when your back is bent."

I would provide some context, but there wasn't any. It is possible she was improperly inflated.

In the clown car, you have to check for that regularly.

Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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