WASHINGTON—Another debate, another episode of "The Dating Game." Will the winner be contestant No. 1, 2 ... 8?
The truth is, everyone has always known who the Republican nominee will be, but we enjoy the game. For a while. By now, self-caricature has evolved into full-blown self-mockery, and the debate season has begun to wear thinner than an unmanly man's pizza crust.
Seriously. How could anyone wish to hasten the end of a campaign in which a presidential candidate declares that manliness corresponds to the number of toppings on a pizza? Or who, speaking at a Christian-themed amusement park, recalls breaking a sweat upon learning the too-foreign-sounding name of his cancer physician, Dr. Abdallah? Or whose chief of staff smokes cigarettes in campaign ads?
Herman Cain is a one-man clown car. God bless and peace be upon him.
Despite all this stuff swirling around in our heads, we've learned through the weeks of prime-time performance that each candidate, though somehow not quite right for the presidency, is quintessentially right for something else, perhaps previously unforeseen. Conventional wisdom has always held that not all candidates are seriously running for president when they run for president. To every loser goes a trophy of some sort—book sales, speaking engagements, secondary government roles. "Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching," in other words, isn't just a Herman Cain stab at China's capital city.
To their credit, every Republican candidate has brought valuable entertainment to a country tempest-tossed by despair. But what happens next? What might we expect to see in 2012 after the nominee has been selected and the remainders are left to reinvent themselves? Herewith a few suggestions:
Newt Gingrich is universally known as a man of ideas. He is also known as a man of mostly bad ideas. The rule usually is nine out of 10 are lousy, but one is fabulous. One fabulous idea a month could be helpful at a time when most politicians are jogging in mud. It is also widely believed that Gingrich can't win a general election thanks to his considerable baggage, but more specifically because he is simply out of touch with the nation's ennui. His recent remark that the Occupy Wall Street crowd should get a bath and a job—as though Americans are willfully unemployed—will be viewed as so callous as to disqualify him for employment in the Oval Office.
Therefore, Gingrich should become czar of the Office of Ideas and amuse himself down the hall from the president, appearing nightly on Cain's new late-night Fox television show.
But of course Cain should have his own show! What else for the former radio talk-show host/preacher/pizza man? He's likable, telegenic, talkative, irreverent, quick-witted and the sort of dinner-party guest who makes a good television host. If he doesn't have a contract by the end of January, he needs a new agent.
Speaking of television shows, Rick Perry has game-show host etched in his face. Adorable and silly, he's wasting his time governing the state of Texas. He needs to harness his inner giggle bunny and hit the stage. There's hardly any air between "Bring it!" and "Come on down!"
Now to the less-amusing candidates, beginning with the too-smart-for-his-own-good Jon Huntsman. The Republican nobody loves—except for Democrats and independents—Huntsman will not be the nominee. However, fluent in Mandarin Chinese, the former governor and ambassador to China is central casting's choice for secretary of state.
Ron Paul? He's our Jiminy Cricket, the nation's conscience who utters unspeakable truths. In the coming Republican administration, Paul will head the newly created Congressional Office of Reality. Every day he'll release a summary of government stupidity, called "The Daily Scowl," which will delight voters and make politicians feel virtuous. He will slam his door for tour groups, who will applaud and move along.
Rick Santorum will host a weekly Fox show called "The Gathering Storm." The un-Fareed Zakaria, he will conduct a global conversation about America's place in the world and connect the dots showing new alliances forming against the U.S. Regular features will include a "Paranoia Thermometer," a terrorist tracking map and a real-time "Conspiracy Busters" segment in which Special Forces swarm suspected terrorist meetings while viewers watch. Suggested soundtrack: the theme from "Jaws."
Which brings us finally to Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, one of whom will be the nominee and very possibly the next president. Although both candidates have perfect hair, the nominee will not be a woman.
Kathleen Parker's email address is email@example.com. (c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group