Imagine the Iowa Straw Poll in its glory days. Now pretend that no one there really likes or trusts each other.
Pump up the humidity and temperature to the consistency of a bowl of soup. Finally, multiply everything you just imagined by 100.
That was the scene Wednesday as I crossed the U.S. Capitol Complex.
A highly publicized Tea Party Patriots rally, led by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and featuring former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, was organized to oppose a nuclear diplomacy deal with Iran. Off the stage, a variety of issues were on display.
Signs, T-shirts, hats and even lawn chairs offered messages regarding marriage, religious freedom, President Barack Obama, gun control, education, health care and assorted federal agencies.
By the time the chorus of REM’s “End Of the World As We Know It” rang out for Trump’s arrival, I already was feeling it.
I watched the political theater until Palin left the stage, then crossed to the congressional office buildings. Once inside, I made small talk with a GOP staffer and was surprised to learn he didn’t know the reason for the rally.
When I told him, he rolled his eyes. “Well,” he said, “that’s a waste of energy. It’s a done deal.”
The staffer was right. Demonstrators were encouraged by members of the Republican Party to protest a deal Republicans in Congress already had conceded they couldn’t stop.
It is a stark example of the party issues swirling in the GOP presidential contest, and also shows why anti-establishment candidates are rising in popularity polls.
“We are led by very, very stupid people — very, very stupid people!” Trump shouted during the rally.
Cruz made clear such assessments aren’t limited to Obama and Democrats.
“There are two men in D.C. who can defeat this deal,” he told a roaring crowd. “Their names are Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner.”
Although Cruz knew there were not enough votes to block the deal, he told the crowd that McConnell and Boehner could kill it if they’d only “enforce federal law.” But he never explained which law and, honestly, those gathered weren’t concerned with the lapse.
There is an undercurrent belief held by those gathered at the rally that if American leaders — and, specifically, Republican leaders — would just get more aggressive, they could get what they want.
The issues they elevate aren’t just mere differences of opinion, open to the give and take of compromise, but integral to existence. They believe — truly believe — that anything short of their version of what’s right means we are all doomed.
If we can’t stop illegal immigration and deport those who broke the law, the country is doomed. If we can’t reverse the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, we are all doomed. If we can’t end abortion, we are all doomed. If the Iran deal goes through, the streets will run with blood.
Perfection complexes make very good political theater — just check out the thousands of rally photos on social media. Just don’t mistake them for political advocacy.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on September 13, 2015.