GOP Debate: Animal Planet or Wizard of Oz

Today is the day when columnists in our capital compare the GOP presidential candidates to nonhumans and liken the experience of observing them vie for the nomination to watching some other production altogether.

Here’s Politico columnist Roger Simon:

The Republican race has turned into The Wizard of Oz. Rick Perry wants a brain. Mitt Romney wants a heart. And any number of candidates are Dorothy, realizing there is no place like home and they should have stayed there.

Simon goes on to mention “the lions and tigers and bears,” Santorum, Huntsman and Bachmann (the last of whom Simon also dares the reader to “go ahead and call…the Wicked Witch of the West,” something Simon isn’t going to “risk” lest someone “try to throw a bucket of water on her.”)

Well, what about Toto?

That’s where Roger Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist, comes in:

I watch the Republican presidential debates as I do Animal Planet. By that I do not mean that the various candidates are dogs, only that I have to bear in mind that as a non-right-wing Republican — the audience that really matters — I am the somewhat-puzzled outsider and what I think is happening may not actually be the case.

No, Cohen does not mean that the various candidates are dogs, only that he doesn’t understand their barking or why they’re always hugging humans’ legs.

More from Cohen:

[Cain is] smart and glib and shallow — a true American provincial who wears his ignorance of foreign affairs as an attribute. But, once again, I have to understand that this is a political Animal Planet show and others might find his simplicity attractive.

Cohen (from whom I’m by now getting a clear “cat person” vibe) continues:

Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — I saw nothing I had not seen before. But I cannot catch the right-wing scents, the lift of the tail, the dropping of the head — all the signs that can suddenly turn a nonentity into an alpha candidate. It seemed to me that Mitt Romney was that person, but what do I know? Every dog has his day.

Cohen’s column might have been improved had he compared the debates and the whole competing for the presidency thing to a specific show on the Animal Planet cable channel; there are many, and not all are canine-centric (“My Cat from Hell,” “Hillbilly Handfishin”). Like, perhaps, “Puppies vs. Babies,” which will debut this Saturday night and is promoted as follows:

From cute and cuddly to adorable, hilarious and outrageous, newborns and zooborns are the most fussed over subjects on the Internet, and America just can’t get enough of them! But the question remains: who is the best? Puppies vs. Babies finds out through three rounds of playful competition. We’re taking the vote to the masses and settling this showdown once and for all!

Now that’s a “political Animal Planet show.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.