What if Each Presidential Candidate Hosted a Home Poker Game?
Many of you have seen the hideously kitsch portrait of poker playing presidents.
There are two versions — one with Republicans (above), the other with Democrats (at end of column). I’ll assess them in bi-partisan fashion. Both are atrocious. They make the poker playing dogs look like The Last Supper.
The Republican poker game includes Abraham Lincoln hosting his pals — George Bush, Sr., Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. Some psychopath even painted Sarah Palin into the most current version. If I had the opportunity to stake someone in that lineup, I’d bankroll Nixon in a Watergate minute. My reasoning is simple: He’d be willing to cheat to win. That makes him an easy favorite in Republican Party politics.
The Democratic poker game is equally preposterous. Thomas Jefferson is the table captain, joined by his chums — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Lyndon B. Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman. In this field, I’d make Johnson the clear favorite, that is, unless the game was played in Vietnam. Jimmy Carter might as well be drawing dead.
Poker and politics have been intertwined ever since Truman and his buddies once hustled British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the very night before he was to deliver his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, which laid the groundwork for the Cold War stalemate that would dominate international relations for a half-century. For a terrific read, see James McManus’ whimsical recount of the little-known poker game which appeared here in The Wall Street Journal.
These begs more questions. What would it be like to get invited to the home poker games of each of the 2016 presidential candidates? Here’s my take. All candidates are listed in alphabetical order:
Jeb Bush — Jeb’s home game started out strong last summer. Everyone showed up and wanted to play. There was a waiting list just to get invited. Then Jeb opened his mouth and ruined the party. The more everyone heard Jeb talk, the less interest there was in the game. Pretty soon, poor Jeb couldn’t fill up half a table. A few weeks ago, just three people showed up, and that was because Jeb owed them some money. When Jeb mumbled something about being “proud of my brother,” everyone rolled their eyes stormed away from the table empty handed. Last week’s poker game was cancelled due to lack of interest, leading to predictions that Jeb is finished as a poker host.
Ben Carson — No doubt, Ben runs a honest poker game. But there are annoyances. For one thing, Ben doesn’t understand poker at all. He doesn’t have a clue how to play. When an opponent showed a flush in last weeks’ game, Carson stubbornly insisted his four-card straight was a better hand and deserved to win the pot. Everyone protested, telling Ben the rules of poker are very clear on this — that a flush beat a busted straight, and even a made straight. But clueless Ben wouldn’t accept the consensus and instead, lurched for the pot. Guests are also getting frustrated from hearing Ben’s brain surgeon stories again, which are getting old. “Hey, I’m pulling down eight bills a week in that soft game, but if I have to hear one more time about separating those twins, fuck it — I’m not coming back,” said one Republican, who wished to remain anonymous.
Hillary Clinton — Hillary Clinton sure knows how to throw a great poker party, and former president and hubby Bill Clinton is always on hand to liven up the action. Despite being under investigation by the FBI and Congress, Clinton’s poker games remain popular because they always include two key ingredients — babes and booze. There is one problem, however, No one in the game ever sees the host. In recent months, witnesses who took bathroom breaks claim to have seen Hillary in her back office furiously deleting old e-mails. One unsubstantiated report even asserted that Vince Foster’s dead body is packed on ice in the bathtub. Hillary’s favorite poker game is called “Benghazi.” Whoever fails to protect their hand gets dealt additional cards and is given a new stack of chips.
Chris Christie — Everyone agrees. Christie hosts the best poker game in New Jersey and there’s always plenty of junk food. Trouble is, his game doesn’t draw much of a crowd. No one can cross from neighboring states and drive to the games because the bridges are all inexplicably jammed up with a single lane of traffic.
Ted Cruz — Ted is convinced of his “divine destiny.” “It’s God’s plan that Hold’em was invented in Texas,” Cruz said. “And where does God end up sending me after feeling Cuba? To Texas! What are the odds?” Driven by his unwavering faith and a strict adherence to extreme right-wing principles, Cruz has never actually played a hand poker and refuses to buy in for any more than the bare minimum. When Cruz was dealt pocket aces once and faced an all-in bet against a bluff-prone maniac, the Texas Senator folded his hand instantly, announcing, “I’m not a gambler at all. I won’t even play pocket aces — unless they’re suited.” He’s that conservative.
Carly Fiorina — Carly’s home poker game was the talk of the country club for a while. Then, she tried to take over a neighboring game that had been doing fine, ran it into the ground, laid off half the dealers, made herself rich, jacked up the rake, and bought herself an $8 million yacht with her golden parachute severance package after being forced out of the game. Recently, a disturbed man who was armed who claimed to be from Colorado reportedly sat down in Carly’s game, and hung on every word as the amiable lady host fumed non-stop between hand about the evils of Planned Parenthood. No one’s seen the loner with a white beard since then. Guess he lost interest in the game.
Lindsey Graham — No one quite understands why the South Carolina Senator who despises all forms of gambling hosts a weekly poker game. But since pal, casino billionaire bully Sheldon Adelson, is willing to underwrite all the expenses, including covering everyone’s losses, Graham agrees to host his game composed entirely of desperate ex-politicians willing to do or say anything for a fast buck from Sugar Daddy. Note: In Graham’s home game, all the queens are wild.
Mike Huckabee — Everyone agrees, Huckabee is both a jolly guy and a horrible poker player, but his games are also the most boring. More like torture. Liquor is strictly prohibited. Even beer is forbidden. So is gambling. Since Huckabee believes all gambling is sinful, his game is played for matchsticks. “Let’s play for fun,” is his house rule. Prior to every hand, Huckabee leads the table in prayer, which ends up more like a sermon. A new supply of barf bags will be required prior to the start of next Tuesday’s game.
John Kasich — The Ohio governor is a very nice man, a rational voice, and an amiable poker host. He doesn’t raise his voice nor engage in personal attacks. He’s honest and insists the table discussion remain civil at all times. However, this level of sanity doesn’t go over well in Republican circles. Kasich steadfast refusal to lie, cheat, steal, and make racist comments leave him struggling to keep the game going. “He’s boring,” said just about everyone who was interviewed.
Martin O’Malley — O’Malley is third in the polls in the Democratic race for president, which is like boasting you’re in third place in the AFC South. The former Maryland governor hosts a well-run home game, but hardly anyone outside of his native state knows about it. O’Malley’s problems are made considerably worse by living in inner city Baltimore. “Are you crazy — I’m not fucking driving anywhere near that neighborhood,” one Democrat, said off the record.
Rand Paul — The Kentucky senator and libertarian-leaning Paul believes poker is the ultimate contest of survival of the fittest. House rules do not exist, since they impede on individual liberty. Cash and chips do not play — only gold bars are permitted. Smoking, drinking, gambling, guns, drug use — anything goes at the poker table. This economic Darwinism has resulted in several fistfights, robberies, shootings, and other acts of random violence, but players overlook the dangers because Paul offers the lowest rake in the city.
Marco Rubio — Marco is desperately hoping Jeb’s operation over on the next street will shut down soon, so he can inherit a few more regulars. Appalled by the huge crowds at Trump’s game across town, the Republican establishment is rallying to support Rubio’s poker nights, with special promotions, free food, and freerolls. The big problem for Rubio is, most players think he’s still too inexperienced to run the weekly game. “Marco’s game’s going to be great in 2020 or 2024,” said one player. “Most of us just don’t think he’s ready yet to be the host.”
Bernie Sanders — Bernie’s the perfect poker host. He never gets into arguments with his guests. He’s unfailingly polite. Everyone likes and respects Bernie, even though he talks a little crazy sometimes. But the rake is a killer. Bernie’s raking 50 percent off the top out of every pot. When players cash out, winners are taxed an additional 70 percent. So, none of the players with big bankrolls like to play at Bernie’s. But there’s also some good things about Bernie’s home game: The dealers are guaranteed at least $45 an hour. Guns are banned. Everything is free. Training classes are complimentary. And if anyone at the table has a heart attack and needs to be rushed to the hospital, they’re fully covered. Bernie’s favorite poker games are High-Low Split and Lowball. “In my home game, the weak and poor will always be cared for,” Sanders said.
Donald Trump — Trump constantly makes threats, mocks his competitors, and insults everyone in the game — but inexplicably, no one cares. His home poker game at the trailer park has been running 24/7 for several months now, and shows no signs of breaking. But strict rules are enforced. Trump doesn’t allow Muslims in his home game. He’s thrown out anyone who even looks to be Mexican. Women (especially successful women) are harassed and insulted. This makes him wildly popular with older, poorly-educated, White males. This marks the fifth time Trump has hosted a regular home game. His previous four “casino nights” each went bankrupt. After years of arguing, players recovered only 20 cents on the dollar for their buy-ins. But no one at Trump’s game shows the least concern their host is a narcissistic misogynist with utterly no grasp of poker, nor any concern whatsoever for its players. “Donald always says what he thinks,” said one player wearing fake Ray-Ban sunglasses and a NASCAR hat turned backwards. “He’s one of us.”
Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee — Games broke, everyone felted.