Ron DeSantis laughs at GOP attendee in Iowa.

Ron DeSantis pretends a GOP attendee is hilarious in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

And They're Off: GOP Sets Bar So Low and Weird It's Underground and Babbling About Mermaids

Hoo boy. The GOP primary season got off to a bonkers start in first-in-the-nation Iowa, where smarmy Li'l Ron wowed by keeping his big-boy pants on and taking timid digs at he-who-shall-not-be-named, in absentia 'cause a non-tornado might've mussed his hair. They were joined by a ragtag band of bigots, felons, liars, crackpots, fascists and charlatans - Pastors For Trump! Missing Informants! Seductive Seducing Spirits! - who make Kesey's trippy Merry Pranksters look like Lutheran astrophysicists. Oh, democracy.

For anyone who continues to argue there's no difference between today's lunatic, deeply malevolent GOP and an admittedly flawed but largely lucid Democratic Party, look no further than the rancor, bombast, delusion and deceit on squalid display in Iowa and environs last weekend as the GOP's alleged presidential contenders and their supporters flaunted their White Christian Nationalist cred against demonic empathy. With multiple state and local elections starting - and yes, they matter - national Republican players are busy jockeying for position and issuing their positions on the most vital issues of the day. Mo Brooks is freaking out that new cars will no longer have AM radio, "one of few places you can find honest news and thought. As for me, I will not buy a new BMW, Tesla, Ford, Volkswagen, Mazda or any other AM radio-less car the rest of my life!" Matt Schlapp is ranting the scanners and credit card machines at Reagan National Airport are down and, "We need to make America work again." Gym Jordan is whining a much-touted immigration surge didn't arrive and yet Biden "vacations at his beach house while our border patrol works overtime to stop the chaos he caused at the southern border."

And poor House Oversight Chairman James Comer, hungry to uncover the nefarious wrongdoings of "the Biden crime family," has up and lost his "very credible" informants/whistleblowers - "It could happen to anyone" - though it's unclear if he's looked under his couch cushions. In a terrifyingly stupid exchange with Fox' Maria Bartiromo, she asked, "Where is that informant today?" and he said he can't find them. She, eyes wide: "Hold on a second, Congressman, did you just say the whistleblower or the informant is now missing?!" He: "Well, we're hopeful we can find the informant," helpfully adding they're "in the "spy business" and "they don't make a habit of being seen a lot." His 89-year-old cohort Chuck Grassley, trying not to panic, has demanded the DOJ hand over a 2020 document he's sure will nail Biden for his "criminal scheme"; a day later, he conceded of those "very serious allegations" that, "I wish I could say I knew it was true or untrue." Still, having "lost" most of their informants - "They're in court or in jail or we can't talk with them at this time" - Marjorie Taylor Greene remains confident "this is a very real situation (that) will bring down the president of the United States," and she'll throw in a bridge, too.

But the weekend's action focused on Iowa, where "manly pugilists" Trump and DeSantis were for the first time scheduled to face off in the same place. The expected confrontation evaporated after Trump cancelled his Des Moines rally due to tornado warnings - when a downpour quickly cleared, his campaign posted a video anyway to make him seem less wussy - so DeSantis' "War Room" getting the field and oxygen to himself prompted a frantic media presence. "And they're off!" declared Heather Digby Parton, who then observed, "We are in for some very silly coverage of this primary." Even apart from his loathsome bigotry, authoritarianism and fear-mongering, "Discount Donald" is famously unlikable: He's often portrayed as an arrogant, aloof, crude guy with a "humanoid problem" so serious he struggles to make small talk and eye contact. He's also short - reportedly a Napoleonic 5'9" - though he wears cowboy boots to camouflage it. Newly trim in jeans, hair slicked back, standing ram-rod straight, he looks more than ever like the Little Mussolini of his ugly dreams. Still, the bar keeps dropping lower: Despite the negatives - a rude puny fascist - he nonetheless got bizarrely fawning coverage. He walks! He talks! He chews gum!

Following their reprehensible, both-sides slide to the right, the New York Times proclaimed DeSantis "awkward but still winning the crowd" under a headline, "Impresses Voters, Trolls Trump." They called it "a big win" - he "essentially kicked sand in the former president's face" - when he made a brave, macho man, unscheduled stop in Des Moines, where Trump would have been if he'd shown up, except he didn't. In fact, DeSantis was so fearful of causing offense he literally didn't say Trump's name, resorting in a milquetoast speech to vague references to "a bold agenda" (aka fascism), the need to reject "focusing on the past" and "the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years,” and the fact that, "at the end of the day, governing is not about entertaining, building a brand or talking on social media" (but, again, fascism). Politico cited his feeble achievements: "He did an adequate job at retail politics" - shook hands, talked up as "legit" a favorite local pizza, flipped burgers long enough for a photo - got "face time (with) GOP brass" and "drew a contrast with Trump, albeit implicitly." In the end, "His message seemed to resonate"; then again, people had paid to hear him, so duh.

DeSantis did well enough in a famously quixotic state that, on the op-ed page of the Des Moines Register, local GOP leaders endorsed his "record and resolve." Still, that endorsement could prove pretty wobbly. Long touted as a more reasonable, less toxic alternative to Trump, DeSantis has reportedly lost money and support with his totalitarian moves - forced birthing, war on Disney, no books or sex or history. Also, the whole "Trump without the baggage" claim gets pretty pathetic when you remember that Trump is a twice-impeached, criminally indicted sex offender, narcissist and loser who remains under multiple investigations, so he kinda is the baggage. Responses to DeSantis' less-than-electrifying claim he offers "a positive alternative for the future of this country" ran the gamut: From "this is what leadership looks like" and "the room was electric" to "sooo boring" to "Ron DeFailure is a very small man, not just in height" to "Nazi" to "So, just ignore the past Democrats' communist subversion?" Then again, over these last pained years it seems even some Republicans have learned it could always be worse. From one attendee, "I would vote for a shoe over Trump" - a bar even DeSantis clears.

Meanwhile, in Des Moines, a small crowd of MAGA diehards got caught in "a muddy, wet nightmare" waiting in vain for their sad savior. "But everyone is saying when he comes back, it’ll be bigger and better," chirped one GOP organizer. "You know Trump." Meanwhile, the lowest of the low was safely ensconced at Mar-A-Lago, where he was again violating trademark laws - also burning eyelids, and yes we're linking to TMZ - by "dancing" to a poolside Macho Man performance by a fake Village People. Don't ask. Still, he took time out to call fans at a ReAwaken America Tour, the traveling MAGA circus and theocratic roadshow featuring convicted felon and fascist crank Mike Flynn, "an unhinged band of shofar-bleaters, conspiracy theorists and zealots" like the demon sperm lady, and usually a few Nazis unless, as in this case, Rachel Maddow outs them - astonishingly, just one of two messianic events held last weekend at his Doral resort.To ecstatic scrams from the crowd, Trump called Flynn - "He's some general, he's some man" - to promise he'll return him to the White House. Also Stephen Miller for Homeland Security! Kid Rock as Secretary of State! "You just stay wealthy," he told Flynn, "and healthy and well and everything. We're bringing you back!"

Improbably, that was tame compared to the charismatic, bellicose Pastors For Trump, which views Trump 2024 as "a gift from the Lord" at a time when “Satan (has) an entire political party in this nation doing his bidding" - they may have a point there - in "the battle between good and evil." "The removal of The Biden is coming," declared Julie Green of our observant Catholic president. “That’s what the Lord is saying.” According to "prophet" Amanda Grace, the Lord is also saying, "There's wickedness attempting to completely cover this nation in perversion and seductive seducing spirits." Grace told the rapt crowd she's "never seen more images of mermaids and water people in my life," and they are "highly technologically advanced." "We have to understand the rules of engagement in spiritual warfare," she said. "We are meant for hand-to-hand bring our cries before the throne of God to bring judgment on the rulers of darkness." In other words, they really don't seem to like the new live-action The Little Mermaid, which features, scandalously, a black Ariel. It's scheduled to open in theaters in about a week, but we're sure Benito DeSantis can ban, belittle, censor, malign, overrule, lie about or find a positive alternative to it before then.

Meme of DeSantis ordering "Obey."Ronald 'Little Mussolini' DeSantis. Twitter meme

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