The Iowa caucuses are over, but next week, the remaining candidates have to do the whole thing over again. There will be more debates and more TV interviews. There will be awkward questions at town halls. They will not eat anything green for months. They will make a mistake and have to hear about it on cable news for hours afterward. And they will have to keep doing this, over and over again, until all 50 states have voted. Those who win the nomination will have to start all over after the primary. And a few masochistic campaign addicts will decide to do this again four years from now.
This inexorable slog begins on Groundhog Day, that strange American holiday that happens to share a name with the Bill Murray movie that also features a very sad person forced to do the same thing over and over again over the course of several lifetimes until he gets it right — a cycle that makes him sad and terribly cynical, until he manages to win.
What if the presidential candidates were subjected to something worse than an off-brand real-life reproduction of Groundhog Day? What if, after the Iowa caucus, they were forced to relive the invisible primary until they managed to eke out the Sistine Chapel ceiling of electoral campaigning? (Hillary Clinton does not need to imagine this, as it is basically her life.)
Here is an attempt to game out how each presidential hopeful would approach a Groundhog Day campaign — with the full realization that some of these candidates are not skilled enough tacticians, or are faced with too many obstructions, to ever make it through, even if given dozens of chances.
Take 2: Learn how to talk at debates without sounding like you are doing the broken voice from the Michael Caine impression-off in The Trip.
Take 3: Learn how to talk at debates. Find a way to make yourself stand out from the competition that doesn’t entail just complaining about them. Begin all debate answers by mentioning that you are only 53 years old, unlike some people. Teach Lincoln Chafee to play the snare drum.
Take 4: Learn how to talk at debates. Find a way to make yourself stand out from the competition that doesn’t entail just complaining about them. Begin all debate answers by mentioning that you are only 53 years old, unlike some people. Teach Lincoln Chafee to play the timpani. Give Jim Webb a baritone sax, and Larry Lessig a triangle. During the debate, drown out Hillary and Bernie by playing covers of Taylor Swift songs.
Take 5: Start from scratch. Realize that no one seems to care about governors in this election cycle — but that there is an interest in TV connections. Start talking about how you are only three degrees removed from Game of Thrones.
Take 53: Realize you are never going to win, and decide not to run this year, and maybe wait for 2024. Plan to take your Irish cover band on annual tours through important primary states.
Take 54: Retire from politics and write a cheesy Irish musical about that beautiful utopia Maryland. Start a public-access morning show with John Waters and David Simon.
Take 2: Take a course on foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins.
Take 3: Take the same course on foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins three times until you sort of get it. Try to explain your theory on pyramids storing grain more persuasively.
Take 4: Take the same course on foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins three times until you sort of get it. Don’t mention pyramids, but do bring up guns and Obamacare a lot.
Take 5: Take the same course on foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins three times until you sort of get it. Don’t mention pyramids. Don’t talk about Nazis and gun control. Also, don’t compare Obamacare to slavery.
Take 23: Just hire Cuba Gooding Jr. to play you at campaign events. Tell him to not mention pyramids or guns or Obamacare. Drown your campaign staff in compliments. Pack lots of clean clothes. Perform brain surgery onstage at the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
Take 2: After you do a great job at the undercard debate, promise yourself never to name-drop Bibi Netanyahu.
Take 3: After you do a great job at the undercard debate, promise never to name-drop Bibi Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin.
Take 4: Realize that there must be a reason you never win elections and get a job in the private sector, but not before you drop the mic with the weirdest campaign ad of all time — one that leaves everyone asking, “Wait, why did the faceless pelican in the amphibious UFO speak Russian with an Australian accent?”
Take 2: When you are working as solicitor general in Texas, champion the case of John McCain, who was accused of being ineligible for the presidency because he was not born in the United States. Get the legal system to officially endorse a broad definition of “natural-born citizen.”
Take 3: Get the legal system to officially endorse a broad definition of “natural-born citizen.” Hire someone to follow you around with a pizza box so you can stuff several slices in your mouth when anyone asks you about New York and say, “Sorry, can’t talk, I’m chewing freedom.”
Take 4: Get the legal system to officially endorse a broad definition of “natural-born citizen.” Once you join the Senate, hire someone to follow you around and record your trips to the Capitol. Before you cross the threshold every day, scrunch up your nose and say, “Smells like the status quo!” Release it on YouTube years later so your many super PACs can use it for ads. Hire someone to follow you around with a pizza box. When you win the Iowa caucus, tweet this video at Donald Trump.
Take 2: Start calling Ted Cruz “Ted Buttface” in December.
Take 3: Start calling Ted Cruz “Ted Buttface McLoserson” in November. Look up Airbnb rentals in Pizza Ranch parking lots. Move to Iowa.
Take 4: Start calling Ted Cruz “Ted Buttface McLoserson III” in October. Move to Iowa. Start drinking milk whenever you’re on camera.
Take 5: Start calling Ted Cruz “Ted Buttface McLoserson IV Place” in September. Whenever he tweets at you, respond, “I know you are but what am I?” Move to Iowa. Start drinking ethanol whenever you’re on camera.
Take 2: Listen to your mom when she goes on national TV several times and says that America has seen enough President Bushes. Promise her that you’ll come home once a week and watch The Bachelor with her. Break that promise when the Party begs you to join the race and defeat Trump. Feel like the worst son ever when your mom says she’s disappointed in you — especially after you keep bringing up the Iraq War.
Take 3: Listen to your mother. Promise her that you’ll come home once a week and watch The Bachelor with her, because the rose ceremony is the only vote that matters. Feel smug when the Party begs you to save it, but remain strong and always be the one who got away. Make plans to watch the debates at Mitt Romney’s house in Utah — he provides the TV, you bring the Paleo granola to snack on — and get really good at thinking up comebacks five minutes after Trump says something stupid. Whenever someone asks you about the Iraq War when you’re doing commentary on the 2016 race, deflect by talking about Gronk and Apple watches.
Take 2: Learn how to answer a debate question without just reciting the same stump speech over and over again.
Take 3: Learn how to debate. Take your dozens of pairs of boots to the Salvation Army. Wipe away your tears before you exit the store so the reporters don’t see.
Take 12: Learn how to debate. Take your boots to the Salvation Army. Finally come up with the perfect answer to describe your past position on immigration reform.
Take 30: Live the 2016 campaign over and over again until you become the most experienced candidate in the race. Figure out how to answer questions about credits cards and immigration reform.
Take 2: Start talking about someone besides Hillary Clinton at the debates, after realizing that this isn’t the general election yet.
Take 3: Realize that it doesn’t look great when you complain at debates about how everyone else onstage is talking about policy, and then say everyone should be stoking voters with abject fear instead. Talk about someone besides Hillary Clinton at debates.
Take 4: After the big snowstorm, go down to New Jersey with a mop. Ask Cory Booker about his Twitter concierge errands service, and use what you learn to start helping New Hampshire voters.
Take 2: Hire more staffers in Iowa with all that small-donor money.
Take 3: Hire more staffers in Iowa. Send every single one of your staffers out canvassing on the night when the DNC voter data got stolen. Ask Larry David to be your Dave, so you can do twice as many huge rallies.
Take 4: Hire more staffers in Iowa. Send every single one of your staffers out canvassing on the night when the DNC voter data got stolen. Hire Larry David. Win over undecided young voters by getting a clip-on man bun and talking about Serial.
Take 2: Perfect your eye roll, so when other candidates say something you think is stupid during the debate, voters in the back row can see. Spend the rest of your time at the debate just coming up with witty rejoinders to the stupid pandering your opponents are attempting.
Take 3: Stop debating entirely. Just stand onstage and make Vines of everyone else up there — while pausing periodically to roll your eyes. Only wear turtlenecks and sweater vests to the debate.
Take 10: Become a Vine artist. Stop trying to fit in; only talk about criminal-justice reform and civil liberties. Lose the primary — but be crowned the true heir to your father’s throne.
Take 2: Complain about how there aren’t enough debates.
Take 3: Complain about the lack of debates. Don’t procrastinate on differentiating yourself from Bernie Sanders. Remind voters that as someone who orchestrated the failed health care push in ‘93, you know what health care reforms wouldn’t work. Express skepticism that Sanders’s plans would work — but say that you plan to achieve as much of his plan as is realistically possible. Ask Obama how to make an essentially pragmatic campaign sound extra-idealistic.
Take 4: Complain about the lack of debates. Don’t procrastinate on differentiating yourself from Bernie Sanders, but don’t do it in a stupid, petty way. Ask Obama how to make an essentially pragmatic campaign sound extra-idealistic. Stop worrying that voters won’t like you if you are real with them.
Take 77: Get ready to do this election over and over again until you get it absolutely perfect — which might take a few lifetimes, as people keep finding fault with your campaign. Always drink to world peace.
Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee
Take 2: Don’t run.