Joe Klein has the Time cover story this week—a smart if very Joe Klein-y take on the ideological posturing of the current GOP primary field. Summary: sane candidates, like Romney, lurching to the right may alienate an electorate scared of losing its safety net.

There are some nice lines among the week-in-review-type look at the GOP primary, like this summary of where the field stands:

When Newt Gingrich is the voice of reason on a Republican stage, the rightward lurch of the party has become a dangerous, inbred, self-destructive thing.

And on the predicament in which moderate candidates like Pawlenty and Romney find themselves:

And so they are forced to endure implausible ideological purification rituals—Pawlenty’s recent, silly tax-lowering scheme, for example—or empretzel themselves in order to explain past bouts of political sanity.

Though Klein’s use of the term “Teasies” for Tea Party types is just off-putting.

But the story is notable less for its deft blend of horse race and shoe-horned, revisionist policy positions than it is for the cover illustration that accompanies it: a literal basketball bracket-style map of the GOP primary. And, yes, Time is asking you to send your brackets in to the office—via snail mail—and says it will report the results in the issue available July 8.











This is what politics has become.

Here is Klein making his case for the primary-as-bracket analogy/metaphor that feels about as forced as the last verse of Bette Middler’s The Rose.

It will look more like the NCAA basketball tournament, only with two instead of four brackets: the Iowa bracket, which will feature the social-conservative and populist candidates like Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum—and perhaps Sarah Palin and Texas Governor Rick Perry; and the New Hampshire bracket, which will feature more-moderate candidates like Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, focused on the economy. Some, like former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, will try to finesse the brackets and play in both, but they are likely to be pulled gravitationally toward one or the other vision of how to win the nomination—Iowa or New Hampshire, populist pitchforkery or center-right plausibility.

Bonus points to any readers who can work a GOP primary analogy into the following formats….

The “Barackedmy Awards.”










And the “Fortune Telephant.” (Not great, I know.)










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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.