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Matthew Norman

Matthew Norman: What world are the Republicans living in?

There isn't space to catalogue the recent hilarities provided by GOP presidential wannabes

In honour of yesterday's 48th anniversary of JFK's assassination, the Republican Party continued its work on refining his most revered soundbite. "Ask not what your country can do for you", runs the GOP message to an impoverished electorate. "Ask what you can do for your country's billionaires."

The congressional "super-committee" of 12, six from each party and established to find a bipartisan solution to American debt, announced its failure to do so, with potentially horrendous results. Argument will rage over apportioning the blame for this latest deadlock. But in the real world from which the Republican establishment has been driven into exile by the coalition of plutocrat-manipulated stooges known for brevity as the Tea Party, the answer is plain.

The Republicans simply would not countenance any reversal of George W Bush's tax cuts – the ones which, along with those two splendid wars, account for almost every cent of the $15tn national debt – for the very rich, the obscenely rich and the richer-than-Croesus-the-day-he-landed-that-nine-chariot-accumulator-at-Corinth-Park.

As ever, the Democrats tried to compromise. As ever, the Republicans chose to inch their country and the world that crucial bit closer to the economic abyss. And, as ever, you gaze across the ocean wondering how they came to be here at all, these visitors from a parallel universe in which their President is variously a Communist, a Nazi, and an Islamist sleeper; where nothing damages the sick like treating their sickness; and where worsening the poverty of the penniless to protect the Gulfstreamocracy makes perfect moral and economic sense.

To their credit, the GOP presidential wannabes do their unwitting best to leaven the gloom. Sadly, there isn't space to catalogue recent hilarities from TV debates, interviews and transparently mendacious campaign ads. Readers with a taste for the surreal-macabre are directed to the "Speculatron", Jason Linkins's indecently funny weekly round up of their activities in the Huffington Post.

Suffice it for now to report that the latest threat to Mitt Romney's inevitability confirms how inevitable his victory is. Sharing the lead with Romney in national polls is Newt Gingrich. Yes, that one. The one who, as Speaker in 1995, shut down the federal government in umbrage after Bill Clinton seated him at the back of Airforce One. Wouldn't you kill to be next to him on a Ryanair flight to Magaluf?

The thrice-wed Gingrich, who left one wife when she was stricken with cancer, was an adviser to the hated mortgage giant Freddie Mac. He claims to have been paid $300,000 to act as its "historian", though Bloomberg cites the amount as $1.6m-$1.8m, which seems generous for a historical appraisal. Newt roused a debate audience, by the way, by lacerating politicians who took money from Freddie Mac. No wonder Romney seems relaxed about this challenge.

Gingrich is at least extremely clever, which gives him an edge over predecessors in the Anyone But Mitt role. First came Michelle Bachmann, who believes that the people of Iraq should pay huge reparations to the US for being invaded against their will and deprived of such luxuries as running water and electricity. Then came Donald Trump, whose aggressive birtherism gave him the lead before the production of Obama's birth certificate allowed reality a rare intrusion into the Republican alternate universe. Next up was Rick Perry, who undermined the nostalgic presidential appeal of a folksy, good ol' boy Texas governor with his celebrated "oops" brain freeze... one Mr Cain quickly and cunningly impersonated when vainly trawling his head for talking points on Libya.

And so, barring a miracle, the nomination belongs to Romney, a man so mistrusted by Republicans that he remains marooned at about 25 per cent despite facing the electric shock therapy-scrambled half of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest's supporting cast. Here, the GOP base shows signs of belonging to the real world, because this must be the slimiest, phoniest opportunist to run for president since... well, ever.

Currently parading as a feel-yer-pain conservative hardliner, this erstwhile liberal Republican with the $250m private fortune has never met an issue on which he is unhappy to take two, and, where applicable, three sides. Not content with a flip and a flop, he occasionally lobs in a flup. He kinda disowns the health care plan he introduced as Massachussetts's governor – what brand of arrogant monster wouldn't beg forgivness for saving poor people's lives? – and sorta claims it was intrinsically different from the Obama version so closely modelled upon it. That'll stand him in spiffing stead in the general election. That, and defending his Mormon beliefs, which frankly tend towards the outré. That, and having once driven to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof rack. And he's the reassuringly normal one.

On reflection, that latter masterstroke contained the kernel of a fine idea, albeit decades ahead of its time. Looking at the GOP today, many Americans may think that JFK line needs even more tweaking. Ask not what your country can do for you, or what you can do for your country's billionaires. Ask what the quickest route to the northern border is, and what the requirements for Canadian citizenship might be.