Some people go to the circus to see the elephants. Others go for the clowns. This year, they can do both just by watching the Republican Presidential Carnival and sweepstakes.

The undisputed leader of the clown wing is Donald Trump. In a self-promotional joke gone awry, the Donald surged to the front of the pack of presidential wannabes on the strength (?) of overtly racist attacks on Latinos, dismissive attacks on other candidates, and unprecedented, not to mention unpresidential, self-aggrandizement. If you were lucky enough to have missed his recent antics, let me welcome you back from your trip to Pluto and update you: In a meandering candidacy announcement, Trump said, in essence, "some of my best friends are Mexican," while accusing the Mexican government of exporting its "problems," namely drug dealers and their worst sorts of rapists — mother-rapists, father-rapists, you name it. Trump's business ventures took an immediate hit. NBC, Macy's, Serta and Univision dropped their dealings with him faster than a hot tamale; not satisfied with offending an important voting bloc, he repeated his charge in several other interviews, adding that "there's not a racist bone in my body." Others were not so sure of his claim.

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After pouring oil on the flames he lit, Trump took on one of his party's most respected figures, John McCain. After McCain took exception to Trump's xenophobic racism, the Donald dropped a throwaway line that McCain is not a war hero. The backlash from that remark brought another imbecilic (and false) claim that "he's done nothing to help the vets." While McCain has been late to the party for assisting veterans, he has not been absent. Also, while McCain was being tortured in Vietnam, Trump was sipping Scotch in clubs like Studio 54 and dealing real estate for his tycoon father's company. Will the real patriot please stand up? Oh, never mind. We know who's who.

One of McCain's senatorial allies, Lindsey Graham, had just about enough of Trump's hyperinflated ego, calling him a "jackass." Not to be out-insulted, Trump called Graham an "idiot," gave out Graham's private cellphone number, and asked people to call. Graham may have gotten the last laugh in this exchange: Desperate for attention, his YouTube video, featuring the candidate destroying some cellphones, got more than a million hits.

But Trump has competition for leadership, not of the Republican Party, but of its clown contingent. It takes a rare combination of ego and recklessness to try to outdo his brand of lunacy, but there was Ted Cruz, hurling insults from the Senate floor. Recently, on "Meet the Press," he said, "I'm not interested in Republican-on-Republican violence," referring to Trump's Mexican insults. But there he was, calling fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a bald-faced liar. And what burning issue raised Cruz's ire? Was it some issue of national importance, like Iran or facial hair on baseball players? No, it was a bank that helps American businesses find export markets. Perhaps Cruz sees himself as Trump's running mate. Who knows?

But if Cruz wants to be Trump's best friend, he has competition from another certified clown candidate, Mike Huckabee. Last Saturday, he appeared on Fox News to say that Trump's position was essentially indistinguishable from his own on several key points, and if only the press had inflated his balloon to the same extent as they'd done for Trump's, he too would be a front-runner instead of a fringe candidate; he doesn't see that his fringy policy is weighing down his campaign.

But Huckabee might have a point. Network news pays attention to the weird, the sensational, the outrageous. And no one in American politics comes close to Trump's outsized persona, his instinct for grabbing center stage, or his stubborn refusal to clean up his obvious mistakes. The people who like him do so because they confuse his bluntness for straight talk, his stubbornness for sticking to principles (never mind that Trump's only principle is to enrich Donald Trump), and his offensiveness for candor. Trump, Cruz, and Huckabee are shameless bottom feeders. The Republican Party and indeed, the country deserve better, but until we demand better, we're stuck with these unfunny clowns.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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