Simon says the straw poll offers a ticket to oblivion.
The Grim Reaper is sharpening its scythe. With each rasp of the political whetstone, another Republican presidential candidate will be reduced to dust.
True, the first caucuses and primaries are still a year away. But there are far too many Republicans dipping their toes into the water. There are at least two dozen, which means at least 240 toes.
There is also no way political reporters can remember 24 names. Political reporters are lucky if they can remember where they left their rental cars.There is no way the media have the money to cover 24 candidates. Times are tough. The 2016 presidential campaign may be the first one that has more candidates running than profitable media companies covering them.
And then there are the debates. How do you fit 24 candidates on stage? And how much time would each debate take? There are introductions, opening remarks, attacks, rebuttals, closing remarks and time for Rick Perry to try to remember his name. Each debate could take longer than the Academy Awards and with a lot fewer (intentional) jokes.
No, the media will not allow it.
A little over three weeks ago, about a thousand Republicans gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, at a political cattle call. A cattle call is like a straw vote but without the vote. Candidates prefer them, because there is no final tally to humiliate them. Instead, the candidates can only humiliate themselves.
Which is what happened in Des Moines, where 24 candidates pounded out 10 hours of speeches without a rest break for the audience. Ten hours! And what purpose did it serve?
It got rid of Sarah Palin. On the Friday night before the event, she told a reporter she was “seriously interested” in running for president.
But the next day, she gave a speech of such rambling incoherence and such disjointed babbling that it sounded like she was being simultaneously translated into a language from another galaxy.
Even her supporters were baffled. Their favorite theories about what had happened: Somebody had slipped Thorazine into her morning Froot Loops. Her body had been taken over by a Nexus-6 model replicant. She had taken seriously the advice of aides who told her: “Just be yourself, Sarah. What could go wrong?”
In any case, she has now gone from a hopeless candidate to a laughably hopeless candidate. The media will never take her seriously again. The Grim Reaper has done its job.
But the big bloodletting will come this summer in Iowa, where its famous straw poll will be held.
The term “straw poll” comes from the British scholar and polymath John Selden (1584-1654), who wrote, “Take a straw and throw it up into the Air — you may see by that which way the Wind is.”
The current governor of Iowa, a Republican, wanted to end the straw poll this year, ostensibly because it takes attention away from Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. But the real reason is probably that the candidates are tired of wasting money on the straw poll.
That’s because the Iowa straw poll is a delightful fraud, in which candidates spend millions of dollars buying up blocks of tickets and then handing them out to hapless Iowans who are unlucky enough to cross their paths.
These ticket holders then find themselves stuffed onto buses and shipped to the straw poll site where they are expected to vote for the candidate who brung them.
Hundred of reporters cover the event, even though they inevitably whine about how “meaningless” it is because the winner of the straw poll almost never becomes president. (The only straw poll winner to get to the White House was George W. Bush, who won the straw poll in 1999 with 31 percent of the vote.)
What the media fail to appreciate, however, is that the straw poll is important because it creates losers, not winners. It is the Republican Angel of Death. It can be a one-way ticket to oblivion.
After the last straw poll in 2011, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty came in third and found that so humiliating he dropped out of the race the next day.
In 2007, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson came in sixth and dropped out.
And then there was 1999, when Pat Buchanan wandered around beforehand talking to reporters and saying ebulliently of the straw poll, “I think it’s going to kill off several people!”
It did. Including Pat Buchanan, who came in fifth and was so furious that he resigned not only from the race, but the Republican Party.
And I ask you, how can you desire anything more from an event than getting rid of Pat Buchanan?
Fortunately, the Iowa Republican Party has overruled the wishes of the governor and recently announced it is going ahead with the straw poll this year.
The Democrats? Democrats forbid straw polls as being beneath their dignity.
And when you are beneath the dignity of a Democrat, you are really in trouble.
~Roger Simon is POLITICO’s chief political columnist.