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2016 campaign has been a circus, and we can’t look away

A young fan showed her phone to Republican candidate Donald Trump.
A young fan showed her phone to Republican candidate Donald Trump. Jim Bourg/Reuters

DES MOINES — In the throes of a rollicking election season, hijacked daily by Twitter warfare and seesawing polls, a wider view can be taken: The politically outlandish has become normal, against all evidence of normalcy.

Every election is different, unruly, strange. This one is just much more so.

“Professional wrestling is more organized, more reality-based,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who exited the Republican presidential ring in December.

“Kind of a circus,” said Senator Ted Cruz, something of a circus master himself who has united Washington — in hatred of himself.

And yet, America cannot look away.

Why would it? It has in the past rubbernecked at a parade of women accusing Bill Clinton of philandering. It taught itself the nuances of a hanging chad in the election that saw George W. Bush gain office through a court ruling. Just four years ago, there was a flirtation with a telegenic pizza man whose policy proposal was the repetition of the word “nine.”

Now, it seems, the marriage of entertainment and politics has been fully consummated — producing a hail of yo-momma jokes, boot bashing, birtherism, illicit peeks at voter data, cellphone destruction (in a blender), and campaign messaging communicated via YouTube comedy clip.


Monty Python video

A few nights ago, Cruz, a Texas Republican and Princeton grad, walked into the lobby of a hotel here, whipped out his iPhone, and previewed a future Twitter post: a Monty Python video that he used to mock the cowardice of his chief rival.

That would be Donald Trump, a fact-indifferent, vulgarity-spouting, tie-hawking, Democratic-donating billionaire and former reality-TV star.

Hours earlier, Trump had withdrawn from a Republican debate on Fox News to protest the presence of a moderator, Megyn Kelly, whom he might or might not have accused of menstruating during their first debate run-in.

All the while, the onetime Trump slayer, Carly Fiorina, has slipped into polling oblivion, dashing Republican dreams of a businesswoman with Clinton-esque gravity and none of the political headaches.


In recent weeks, she has by turns rooted against her alma mater in the Rose Bowl (because it was playing the University of Iowa), pledged $2 million to charity if Trump agreed to debate her, and quipped that she actually enjoyed spending time with her husband, “unlike another woman in this race.”

Serialized Clinton e-mails

Hillary Clinton, that other woman, had promised to put the soap-operatic and self-immolating tendencies of her last campaign behind her, and was once considered the surest nonincumbent bet for a nomination in modern times.

Instead, Senator Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian socialist senator from Vermont and a native Brooklynite who speaks of revolution and only recently warmed to using combs, is threatening the coronation of the former first lady and secretary of state.

In addition to Sanders, Clinton has had to fend off an FBI investigation into the highly avoidable use of a private server, and the serialized disclosure of 55,000 pages of oddly intimate e-mails.

In her e-mails, Cllinton is found foisting the exertions of modern living (“Pls print?”) onto aides and dispensing motherly advice to old friends. (“Please wear socks to bed,” she advised John Podesta, now 67, “to keep your feet warm.”)

Iowa voters joined in

Iowans, seemingly overwhelmed by the zaniness, decided to embrace it.

A cartoonist rendered Sanders as a wild-haired, bucktoothed professor and Trump as an effete emperor with an oversize tumbleweed mane (“yuge,” as he would say). Not to be outdone, a Des Moines eatery reduced the entire presidential field to hamburgers.


At least one American has identified a possible remedy for the chaos: a second New York billionaire — a Republican-turned-independent who is pledging to bring order to a political world gone mad. Best of luck, Michael R. Bloomberg.