The past two weeks on the campaign trail have been plumped up by goings on at two consecutive debates, and while those were contentious, they seemed ordered. Cain had edged up to the top tier, so it made sense that the field would go after his "9-9-9 Plan." Romney and Perry sport the deepest pockets and the best shots at longevity, so it made sense that the two would get heated with each other. In the ensuing days, the media marveled at the fireworks that they had helped to stage, wrapping up the state of the race in a neat little bow -- Romney as unwanted frontrunner, Cain as the incomplete contender, Perry as the pending comeback, and Obama as the real target of all.
But this week? Man, this is the week that everyone just went crazy!
It's possible that Ron Paul was the only guy who saw this week coming -- he was the one who was urging more substance and fewer discussions about who was tending Mitt Romney's lawn many years ago. All we can say is that this week, everyone went in a different direction than Paul suggested. The field was no longer staging some sort of contest about the economy and who could produce a better jobs record than Obama. (Rick Perry, the one guy who tried, somehow managed to promise in an advertisement that he'd be less effective at creating jobs than the incumbent he'll be running against.) Instead, the candidates dealt with all manner of internal desperation and strayed way off message in many interparty disputes, while the media spent whole days fascinated by the sight of this one dude smoking a cigarette.
The Bachmann camp, which hasn't managed to do much in the past month, lost an entire operation in New Hampshire and had to learn about it in a radio interview. Rick Perry decided to retest the theory that a sinking ship can be righted if you only reshuffle the deck chairs hard enough. The world learned that Herman Cain's staff lives in a constant state of chaos and unfriendliness, where people are directed to not speak to the candidate unless directed to do so by Cain himself. Cain probably has food-tasters and eunuchs who sing the popular songs of the courtiers to him! (We're guessing "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People.) A New York Times article on the subject made readers painfully aware of how desperately Cain's staffers must cherish their smoke breaks.
Meanwhile, what was going on with Rick Perry? Was this really the week to start allying himself with Donald Trump's clown-faced birther nonsense and telling people that he was going to just skip the debates instead of working to master them? Did Rick Santorum go over the top in making as big a deal of Herman Cain's confused brain-fugue over abortion? Why is Michele Bachmann accusing Rick Perry of stealing her tax plan when she hasn't actually released one yet? And how did Mitt Romney manage to forget that he supported Ohio Governor John Kasich's union-busting bill when he was in Ohio, getting asked about it? That earned Romney a prompt pile-on and the opportunity to notch another historic flip-flop.
Newt Gingrich has, for a long while, castigated the media for seeking to get the candidates all at each other's throats when all the candidates wanted to do was mount an attack against Obama (who spent his week, by the way, losing his 2008 donors in droves). But with the field giddily tearing each other to shreds, Gingrich's complaint isn't really applicable anymore. (It won't stop him from making it, over and over again, though -- it's the best schtick he's got.)
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, there were things that made more sense. Jon Huntsman demonstrated that he might be just unfunny enough to kill the "Colbert bump." Ron Paul showed once again that his devotees can gin up a pile of dollars at the drop of a hat. Herman Cain found that his sudden success had earned him some powerful detractors. Gary Johnson nearly missed an important deadline. A "tea party leader" had some dire words for Michele Bachmann. President Obama found the least appropriate lobbyist in the world and hired him for his campaign. And just how much are people going to pay for the privilege of seeing Newt Gingrich spew balloon juice? For all of this and more, please enter the Speculatron for the week of October 28, 2011.