In Arthur Miller’s dramatic play, The Crucible, the losers of a highly publicized trial are burned at the stake, the permanent result of a campaign of rumors, innuendo, and outright lies. It pits one person’s word against another, and a jury of peers must determine who is telling the truth and who is lying. In a few weeks, the quadrennial primary crucible in New Hampshire will result in the presidential aspirations of several candidates being incinerated at the ballot box. There will be spectacular flames and intense heat, and the stench will drift across the entire nation. I don’t know who will win, but I can say with certainty that a crowd will gather to watch.
In the weeks after, by sifting through the ash heap of the first-in-the-nation primary we can find clues as to the events that provided sufficient accelerant for the various funeral pyres. Often times in the past the candidates themselves provided the match and we discovered that their character was dry kindling ready to ignite.
In 1972, it was Edmund Muskie’s single tear that legend says combusted his candidacy. In 1988, it was Bob Dole whose brittle character was exposed in his angry outburst, “Stop lying about my record!” Al Gore reportedly took credit for inventing the Internet in New Hampshire, and almost allowed Bill Bradley a way forward.
As I write this today, the New England electoral crucible is still 3 weeks away. Before long, the votes will have been cast, counted, and the outcome known. The political post-mortem will be in full swing and pundits will be warming their hands over the fires. At the risk of being spectacularly wrong, I would like to offer for the historical record what could have occurred in the New Hampshire primary 2012. My predictions are based on available polling and a vivid imagination (the twin ‘smack’ of the Political Junkie).
Rick Perry, in a desperation move, scheduled a rally on the day before the primary to pray for a blizzard on Election Day, thereby decreasing turnout and increasing his long-shot odds of victory. “They tell me that I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning, so we thought we’d pray for snowballs,” Perry was quoted as drawling. Unfortunately for the Texas governor, the only flakes in New Hampshire on Election Day were on the ballot. Perry finished last, behind write-in votes for Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Alex Rodriguez.
Ron Paul did not compete in New Hampshire after he learned that the state motto was “Live Free or Die”. He thought campaigning there might kill him.
A week before the vote, Rick Santorum was drafted as an infantryman in the War on Christmas, and he currently being held as a prisoner of that war. He received no votes in the primary, but concerned voters signaled their support by mailing him pre-paid calling cards, used books, and leftover Halloween candy.
Jon Huntsman, in a fit of frustration, blurted out at a campaign stop that he “never even wears underwear”, and torpedoed what little chance he still had to win. The day before his outburst, the Romney campaign leaked that Huntsman was actually a regular Sears catalog underwear model in the 1980s before starting his political career. While the resemblance to the models in the catalog was hard to deny, it was never proven. Huntsman withdrew before the polls opened.
Michele Bachmann was gaffe-free and surging in the tracking polls when a series of mental ‘lapses’ pushed her back into obscurity. First, she kept referring to New Hampshire as the “Grand State” during appearances instead of the Granite State. In a final indignity, two days before the primary, she compared herself to Harry Truman who once won a big election against the conventional wisdom. She said she would be vindicated just as Truman was when he held up the headline, “Dewey Wins”. She should have stopped there, because she went on to add, “Had Americans not gone to the polls that day and listened to the pundits, we might have had Scrooge McDuck’s young nephew as President and we would never have known that great leadership slogan that Truman made famous, “The Duck Stops Here.” Bachmann was escorted to the state line, and quickly announced a new position as a Fox News contributing editor.
Mitt Romney froze in place for 10 minutes during an outdoor rally in Nashua. Many believed that a cold driving sleet that day was to blame for his paralysis, but major media outlets reported that one voter near the stage heard the candidate mouth ever so softly, “Oil can” before a staffer quickly applied the life-saving petroleum. Newt began taunting the mechanical Mitt with ads recorded to the tune of If I Only Had a Heart, and Romney couldn’t squeak out the victory. He lost by 10 points.
Newt Gingrich’s actual political history and his written positions on the issues were handed out to voters one week in advance of the vote. New Hampshire voters thought it was a prank engineered by Comedy Central, and dismissed the truth about his past and his real plans for America. He won the state by 2 points over Undecided, but the victory was voided when it was revealed that his name on the ballot as submitted by his campaign read “Newt Grinch” instead of “Newt Gingrich”. The former speaker blamed a radical Islamist secularist agenda, and vowed to stay positive in the face of this “organized, well-funded systematic plot against him and the very foundations of liberty, the scope of which is unparalleled in the history of mankind.” The final allocation of delegates is still pending.
One thing is for certain. There will be (was) a spark that ignited a massive flame out for most candidates, and an acquittal by the voters of another candidate. Even in Miller’s play, someone survived. Whether or not a real witch capable of black magic snuck through the process, we won’t know until the summer.
Come November, the story of the GOP campaign may parallel another Arthur Miller classic: Death of a Salesman.