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CNN, GOP Spend A Night On Tea Party Tiger

Tom Dotan |
September 12, 2011 | 9:26 p.m. PDT



Wolf Blitzer, Courtesy Creative Commons
Wolf Blitzer, Courtesy Creative Commons
There was an overlap between the start of the Tea-fueled Republican debate and the last set of the U.S. Open final.

For a time, eight GOP candidates with straightened hair, spray-on tans and varying levels of physical fitness (Hermain Cain and Newt Gingrich squatting on the slothful end, though Rick Santorum looks like he could muster a mean 5K) were counter-programming to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

CNN's debate intro, which was hilariously over-the-top, tried to make the case that the true athletic competition was happening not in Flushing Meadows but in Tampa. Pay no heed to the glistening foreigners grunting over on CBS, there's rhetoric to be parsed here!

The pitch, then, was some kind of free-for-all wrestling match. A sudorific Wolf Blitzer affected a hysterical snarl as he roared the Republican's names while they waved at a hollering crowd and settled behind the podium.

That was the pitch, at least. The result--featuring handmade signs, pre-programmed insults and shameless pandering to an esoteric audience--was less World Wrestling and more Battle Bots.

If the genres and execution sound confused, blame the venue and sponsor.

CNN and the Tea Party are unwilling bedfellows and no matter how hard the cable news network tries, it cannot, nor will it ever, be on great terms with the suspicion-mongering populists. CNN even planned the debate on 9/12, the absolute favorite number of uber-Tea Partier Glenn Beck. If any goodwill was created between the two, it's a drop in the ocean of distrust. It’s a wonder Anderson Cooper, anchoring the post-game show, didn’t don one of those teabag-dangling hats while playing the fife (Glenn Beck’s favorite instrument).

But alright there was as debate going on here, or at least for those who didn't click over the Monday Night Football 30-minutes in. Rick Perry, fresh off being the Texas-sized piñata inside the Ronald Reagan Library, was still a front-runner and still a target.

Wolf was hoping for blood from the first question in and pressured Perry about his now infamous declaration that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme.”

Perry knew it was coming, and when Mitt Romney, who knows a few things about sporting events, pressed him on the topic, he was ready.

“The people who are on Social Security today need to understand something,” said the Southern Galileo. “Slam-dunk guaranteed, that program is going to be there in place for those people.”

They talked over each other for a bit, pressing on the specifics of their plans while CNN producers no doubt gave each other high fives quickly followed by a few squirts of hand sanitizer.

If this could have been any candidate’s home court, it was Michele Bachmann. She got rudely kicked off the Tea Party tiger once Perry stepped in and she badly needed a strong showing.

To an extent, she may have gotten it. Wearing a red sweater and tasteful jewelry, Bachmann alternated smoothly between firm conviction and righteous indignation, the latter coming when Perry’s executive order about the country's most famous herpes vaccine was trudged up again.

“Was this about life or was it about million of dollars and potential billions for a drug company?” she asked.

Perry looked flustered and gave a stammering response that seemed to say, if you wanted to buy him off, you’d need a lot more money.

“Don't we know it,” muttered the oil executives.

Ron Paul, in many ways the OG of the Tea Party had a CNN-like relationship with the audience.  He willingly threw red-meat to the crowd, talking about government overreach in healthcare, taxation, and federal regulations. But his isolationist beliefs on world affairs, including a nuanced take on Al-Qaeda that explains their actions beyond "they hate our freedom" drew a smattering of boos.

It's a strange dichotomy that the Tea Party currently experiences. While they try to dissociate themselves from the established party system, there are still the steel girders (or perhaps infiltration) of neocon militarism and big business absolutism.

Then there's the still-unachieved equilibrium between policy ideals and dinner table compassion. When Blitzer asked Paul whether he thought a hospital patient who doesn't have medical care should just be allowed to die, some members in the audience screamed out "yeah!" CNN producers began lowering themselves into industrial vats of sanitizer.

This is the reason that, polling be damned, no one candidate can truly claim the Tea Party as their own, and also why sports competitions are best left to the professionals.

Say, how'd the Pats-Dolphins game turn out?

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