Mitt Romney's greatest accomplishment is that -- right until the very end of his third bumbled run for the presidency -- he has always been a bigger joke than his religion.
As the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to win a major party's presidential nomination, Romney risked offering up his faith for ridicule. Thankfully, Mitt's Mormonism never became more than a mild curiosity compared to Mitt's dog, Mitt's awkward attempts to relate to human beings and Mitt's secret contempt for about 150 million Americans.
Suspicion of Mormons has festered in the religious right for generations. But when Billy Graham endorsed the Romney/Ryan ticket and backed off his long-held belief that the religion started by Joseph Smith in "ancient upstate New York" is a "cult," tolerance in the name of a shared hatred of Barack Obama had won.
Jokes about Mitt's religion probably fell flat because it was the most likable thing about him. It was the only possible way he could be considered a minority. And his commitment to his church pointed to a massive generosity that he, for some reason, never wanted to document completely by releasing his full tax returns.
Decent people should mock cruelty, not difference. Mitt's goofy religion was no more laughable than any of our goofy religions.
The former governor of Massachusetts -- who ran for president on the premise that his one great policy innovation was about to destroy the nation -- deserved to be laughed at for lots of things, especially proposing to fight income inequality with the exact policies that created it. But despite his best efforts, Mitt actually did a lot to help poor people. For instance, he lost in 2012.
Now that I've been able to get the last few drips out of my strategic Mitt Romney joke reserve, it's time to to take a look at a few quips that risk aging faster than Haley Joel Osment, Crash's Best Picture Oscar, and a Jib-Jab video combined.
The more hilarious you are, the easier it is to break rules. So maybe you can find a fresh way to recycle these spoiled goods. But for the rest of us who aren't any funnier than your average Republican candidate for president, here are some comedy mountains that have already had their tops blasted off.
1. Chris Christie is fat.
Here's a guy who enjoys creating traffic, robbing workers' retirement funds and living it up in Sheldon Adelson's luxury planes. His struggles with his weight are the only relatable thing about him. Sure, he makes it tough. But we should applaud him for trimming down and remind him that he should not trust his own medical advice. Leave his weight alone and investigate his many other failings.
2. Calling Bobby Jindal "Piyush."
This is America: the land where Jews write the greatest Christmas carols; a Shining City on a Hill where someone with the middle name "Hussein" can be elected president twice. For six years, conservatives have gotten their jollies calling President Obama "Barry," the Americanized name he went by until decided to use his given name. That's apparently funny to them -- and Maureen Dowd -- because being born with an African name in a country that only decided during your lifetime that African-Americans deserve equal rights is apparently very easy... for white people. Bobby Jindal went the other way -- and he hates the idea of "hyphenated" Americans. Who cares? If Bobby feels he's a "Bobby," fine. We should offer him the respect he surely doesn't offer to gays, lesbians and transgender people. Compared to his Sharia Law fan fiction, participating in exorcisms, and making it easier for Louisiana's children to learn about the Loch Ness Monster in biology class, it's the least of our worries.
3. Going birther on Ted Cruz.
Birtherism is racism. We know this because birthers only targeted the 2008 presidential candidate who was actually born in the United States (John McCain was born in Panama). Pointing out that Cruz was born in Canada is fun, because it annoys Canadians. But this is a man who is eligible and should be encouraged to run for president. In fact, I insist that Republicans prove they are not racist by nominating Ted Cruz every four years for the rest of his life. If they don't, they are cowards who clearly hate America and love Obamacare sexually.
4. Calling Ben Carson "this year's Herman Cain."
More than every other candidate who will be onstage during the 2016 GOP debates, Dr. Ben Carson has done some good with his life. With the help of the social programs he hopes to dismantle, he rose from poverty to become the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins. His life story is inspirational, and he's clearly an inspiration to any Fox News viewer who believes that you can qualify for the presidency by memorizing email forwards. Suggesting that he's only being championed because Republicans need an African-American to insult Obama in order to insulate themselves from charges of racism is demeaning -- even if his entire campaign for president is built on the premise that he cannot lose because he's guaranteed to increase the GOP's share of the black vote. Diversity is good and we should expect more of it from both parties. It's easy to accuse someone of tokenism, especially when that someone embraces insulting conservative critiques of the civil rights movement. But unless people are willing to take criticism to break boundaries, nothing will ever change. Besides, no one called Herman Cain "this year's Alan Keyes." But that was mostly because no one remembers Alan Keyes.
5. Marco Rubio is thirsty.
I get it. It was funny when it happened. But he dealt with it and went on to destroy his career by being fooled into thinking Republicans were serious about immigration reform. Until it happens again or you find some new angle in this parched topic, let it go.
6. Scott Walker didn't go to college.
This is a tough one. A properly serrated joke actually gets at some truth. Mitt really was an odd fortunate son who could only live on the minimum wage if he had a yacht named "The Minimum Wage." Scott Walker really does seem to have a deep hatred for public education, which he has cut again and again while creating huge deficits with tax breaks for those who don't need them. He quit college to run for office and became a career politician because he -- unlike Mitt -- has actually won more than one election. (Okay, I had to get two more Mitt digs in. I'm going to miss that guy.) But mocking someone for not finishing college comes off as elitist, especially in an economy where trickle-down economics has made life brutal for those who don't have a four-year degree. The problem isn't that Walker didn't graduate. The problem is that he doesn't care if your kid does. And what's really elitist is pretending college doesn't matter for those trying to get into -- or stay in -- the middle class.
And here's a joke I hope Republicans do make:
Hillary is old!
Get it? She's lived a long life, much of it in public service! She's almost as old as Mitt Romney! She's only slightly younger than John McCain and Ronald Reagan were when they first became their party's nominees! She's old enough to be an average Fox News viewer! Old! Age is such a serious issue for Republicans that three of their last six nominees for president were older than Mrs. Clinton will be in 2016. But given that Republicans' political power relies almost entirely on senior citizens, it would be terrible if they alienated the most important voting bloc in America with jokes that suggest chauvinistic disdain for a new grandmother in her sixties.
Rand Paul and Chris Christie suddenly becoming pro-measles reminds us that we have no idea what we'll be laughing at this time next year. The candidates the GOP is fielding this year may be the "strongest group of candidates since 1980," but they're still Republicans.
Their biggest problem, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky explains, isn't their own abilities. It's who they're wooing.
"Let me put it this way," he wrote. "The greatest cardiologist in the world could move to town. But if everybody wants to eat chili-cheese fries all day and nobody wants to have bypass surgery, there's still going to be a lot of heart disease."
The voters that make up the Republican base don't just want chili-cheese fries... they want to feast on the ground, raw, red meat of anyone who disagrees with them, while claiming that America is a Christian nation. That's the kind of diet we should make fun of.
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