(Weekly Column)

The Republican Party has always had loopy extremists, but traditionally they were never given a serious shot at wining the Party’s presidential nomination. Cantankerous screwballs like Jesse Helms (R-NC) were kept in their dank, musty cellars and only trotted out to help realistic candidates win in the South, but never to serve as actual contenders.

After more than thirty years of pandering to and then being hijacked by the Religious Right, the core of the GOP has rotted. The only way one can win the nomination is to be crazy or fake it. This has led to a bizarre nominating contest, where the candidates are tripping over themselves to exude ridiculousness and radicalism.

So far, here are the Top Ten greatest wing nut moments of the race:

10) Mitt Romney’s Pander: Mitt Romney is infamous for flip-flopping and pandering. But he may have hit a new low when he told the rabid crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was “severely conservative.” I guess “archconservative” is too namby-pamby for this race.

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9) HPV Vaccine: Gov. Rick Perry was pummeled by his opponents for his executive order mandating the HPV vaccine be given to schoolgirls in Texas. Ignoring the science, Rep. Michele Bachmann blasted Perry for giving “government injections” of a “potentially dangerous drug.” She then told a bizarre story about a person she had met on the campaign trail: “I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.”

8) The Choice: On ABC’s The View, Herman Cain was asked if he thought being gay was a choice. “Well, you show me the science that it’s not and I’ll be persuaded,” Cain replied. “Right now it’s my opinion against the opinions of others who feel differently. That’s just a difference of opinions.”

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7) Booing a Soldier: The crowd at a Republican debate booed Stephen Hill, an openly gay Army Captain serving in Iraq. None of the allegedly patriotic candidates onstage defended the soldier or upbraided the audience for their disrespectful behavior.

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6) Brokeback Perry: Rick Perry’s “war on religion” ad turned into a major farce that became a parody magnet. In the ad, Perry whines that gays could serve openly in the military, while children could not openly celebrate Christmas. It backfired when it was noted that Perry wore a coat that looked identical to one worn by one of the gay characters in the movie Brokeback Mountain. The video scored the most “dislikes” ever for a YouTube video.

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5) Racist Rock: Who can forget Gov. Rick Perry’s racist rock. According to the Washington Post: “In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance. ‘Niggerhead,’” it read.

4) Let them die: At one debate Dr. Ron Paul seemed to suggest that a person without health insurance should be left for dead. “What he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not before…That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks,” Paul said, as the audience cheered.

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3) Fiscal Lunacy: In an early debate the moderator said: “I’m going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage. Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10-to-1, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases…. Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you’d walk away on the 10-to-1 deal?” All eight candidates raised their hands, showing an alarming level of economic extremism.

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2) Bachmann Investigation: Rep. Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, denied that his clinic practiced “ex-gay” therapy. But a Truth Wins Out undercover investigation revealed that he was not telling the truth. This helped stall Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s momentum and made it difficult for the campaign to portray her as mainstream.

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1) Santorum Campaign: It is impossible to pick one incident from Rick Santorum, so we will pick the entire campaign. From his words on women combat troops, to his ties to Opus Dei, to his recent comments on JFK’s speech making him want to “throw up,” to his calling Obama a snob for wanting a college education available for Americans, to his stance on birth control, to his comments about Satan. It is not news when Santorum is extreme – only when he sounds reasonable.

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That silver lining you thought you glimpsed? It was a just a toxic bit of mercury seeping out of the cave where these GOP contenders live. While the race continues to be entertaining, the mood will turn quite dour and serious if any of these characters are actually elected president.