Rex weighs in on the U.S. primaries.

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U.S. Primaries

Thursday, January 26, 2011

For a brief moment – and thank god for its brevity – some of our politicians were toying with the notion of imitating the Americans in this business of staging primaries.

Stay away from that my friends – that way madness lies and a ruin of souls.

For the better part of a whole year it’s been a strange and wearisome war among the Republicans – as that maddeningly incoherent and scattered party has attempted to put one of their own in a position to take on Obama. And what a marathon of strange and wonderful sights that primary has been.

Out of the multitude running, it seems, with one possible exception, everyone has been granted a moment at the top of the primary ferris wheel.

Herman Cain, the pizza magnate, a smooth-talking, smile-a-minute-salesman, for a while was the Republicans’ front runner. There are used car lots all over America pining for Herman Cain.

It’s difficult to apprehend how silly that proposition is or was, from the pizza parlor to the presidency. It was bad reality TV, and when reality TV is bad, then even badness is ashamed.

Then there is Ron Paul, who looks to be a total anachronism, a man from a whole other era of politics, but who holds on to an intense core of supporters whatever he does, or more to the point, whatever he says.

Naturally, as the wheel spun, it was inevitable that Newt Gingrich, who on strict neuron-count alone is far ahead of the rest of them – that Newt has smarts and guile – that should get his turn at the apex. I see Newt as Skipper and Romney as Gilligan.

Newt – as is he so euphoniously known – smacked down a couple of debate moderators, in particular poor John King of CNN, made mashed potatoes out of him in the first five minutes of one debate and as a result Gingrich soared ahead of poor, bland, my-battery-is-always-running-low Mitt Romney.

Even a bitter volley from one of Gingrich's ex-wives, and he has a surplus in the ex-spouse department, didn't derail Newt. So now it’s just the two of them. After a year this is where the contest stands and according to the strange rules of U.S. primaries, now either Newt must (metaphorically you understand) disembowel Mitt, or Mitt must disembowel Newt.

So, Obama stated his campaign Tuesday night with the State of the Union, which was really his, how-I-hope-to-be-elected-again speech. Obama this time round hasn’t got to go through this messy degrading primary ritual. But he has an equally formidable and perhaps impossible task: he’s got to persuade the Americans that his stalled economy, his failed stimulus, his high unemployment figures, are somehow grounds for re-electing him.

And persuade them while Newt or Mitt – and I hope it’s Newt for the vigor he’ll bring to the job – tears up one side of him and down the other with as much relish as if Obama were a fellow Republican.

The U.S. primaries, I am convinced, are the invention of a minor devil. We should not copy them.

For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.