03/08/2012 09:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Greatest Show on Earth: How the GOP Primaries Became a 3-Ring Circus

Nick is a teen participant in the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political organization for high school students.

It is not uncommon for presidential primary elections to be chaotic, messy, and often all-around unpleasant affairs. When candidates with similar ideological views are competing for the same politically homogenous electorate, it is not surprising that the contests quickly become personal and personality-driven. But this year's primary season is one for the history books -- and, of course -- the late-night comedians.

The embarrassingly comedic turn this election has taken is due, in large part, to the cast of characters and larger-than-life personalities that have dominated the race. From Donald Trump's high-profile flirt with a presidential bid to the dramatic derailing of the Cain Train, from Bachmann's "gay-fixing" husband to Newt Gingrich's moon colony, the group of Republicans that have left their mark on the 2012 primary season bear an uncanny resemblance to the quirky gaggle of dinner guests in Dinner for Schmucks. In fact, Rick Santorum -- who opposes birth control, favors making homosexuality illegal and constantly claims to see the devil at work in the Obama administration -- may actually make Steve Carell's eccentric, rodent taxidermist character seem like a perfectly normal human being. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, a brilliant political chameleon whose views always seem to coincidentally match those of his electorate, no matter which end of the political spectrum his electorate falls on, has been hard at work creating potential campaign commercials for President Obama, providing the President with such gems as "I'm not worried about the very poor" and "I like firing people." And speaking of campaign commercials, who can forget Rick Perry's 30-second homophobic rant in which he is dressed like Heath Ledger's character from Brokeback Mountain? To quote the Governor himself: "oops." Even Ron Paul, the race's most under-reported candidate, found ways to contribute to the spectacle. Late last year, as Hurricane Irene barreled along the East Coast, Ron Paul opined that we abolish FEMA, calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency "the real disaster."

While the personalities, egos and gaffes of the presidential contenders have done a lot to add to the circus-like atmosphere of the race, they are not the only factors making this presidential primary the most chaotic in modern history. A share of the credit must go to the Tea Party movement, which has succeeded in shifting the GOP further to the right than it has ever been.
Equally complicit is the shift in focus to social issues, with conservative hard-liners giddily offering up 16th century solutions to 21st century problems. At a time when the vast majority of Americans are focused on the economy, social conservatives have chosen to take a very high profile stand against women's healthcare, with a prominent Santorum supporter suggesting "aspirin between the knees" as a cost-effective alternative to oral contraceptives. Conservative talk radio host and Viagra poster-child Rush Limbaugh recently made headlines for calling a young woman who testified before Congress in favor of contraceptive insurance coverage a "slut." These distractions, while embarrassing for the country, have become fodder for comedians and Democrats alike. And of course, no political circus would be complete without a boisterous and rancorous audience. In many of the GOP debates the most talked-about moments came not from the candidates themselves but from the live audiences that cheered for executions, shouted "let him die" in response to a question about an uninsured man with a health condition, and booed a gay soldier.

Americans who have watched this unprecedentedly shocking primary season unfold like the plot of a reality TV show should be horrified by the prospect that one of its characters will go on to be a major party candidate for the most powerful job in the world. While we should give the Republican presidential contenders credit for putting on a very amusing show, we should also recognize what is at stake in November. The United Sates presidency is not a laughing matter and the White House is certainly no place for a circus.