Matt Epler is probably one of my favorite conceptualists at the moment. In a kind of art-meets-social-criticism business venture, Epler created a set of butt plugs (The Grand Ole Party) based on the voter approval curves of the GOP presidential primary candidates. The set, which omits Herman Cain but includes Bachmann and Perry, used Gallup poll data showing the approval rating of each candidate since the beginning of the primary campaign season. The length of the plug is based on the time spent in the race, and the width of the plug is based on their approval rating percentage out of 100. The result is a lewd (or funny, depending) and provocative set of anal stoppers.
Epler’s project got me thinking, however, about the nature of politics and presidential primary politics in particular. On one hand, a presidential primary is a contest of party ideology, with each candidate striving to consolidate the party’s base beneath their platform. Ron Paul, who is more Libertarian than traditional Republican, maintained a long candidacy but only ever held a small (but steady) base of conservative libertarian voters. This is, in large part, because Ron Paul has not changed his platform to suit a broader swath of conservative voters. Evangelicals, for instance, did not support Paul because the he would not support government intervention on social conservative issues.
On the other end of the spectrum is now-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney maintained a relatively strong base of support throughout the nomination, and this was largely thanks to his willingness to pander to a wide range within the conservative base. This primary season was particularly volatile because the conservative base is spread across a wide range of issues and ideologies. Romney was forced to abandon his more moderate record in favor of a fairly radical conservative agenda in order to reach the far side of his constituency and build his voter approval. In a way, one might say, Romney bent over for his base and his party leadership, and took it. Of course, “taking it” over the course of his primary campaign, and from such a wide swath of his party, would naturally grow accustomed to such anal discomfort. As a result, a fairly substantial butt plug would be necessary.
You can see the distinction here for Epler’s butt plugs; the greater the public approval, the higher the likelihood that the candidate (metaphorically speaking) had to bend over the party’s leadership and let them use him or her like a puppet. With that kind of use (or abuse), only a plug of considerable size would be adequate. Epler may not have intended this, but the connection is easy enough to make, particularly when you look at Romney’s campaign as compared to “The Romney.”