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This is clearly shaping up to be the best election ever, with a glut of candidates both wacky and solemn providing hours of endless entertainment. We think we’re learning all about them from the debates and news coverage. But are we really? Are we learning what makes them tick? Why they do what they do? What are their inner souls like (assuming they have inner souls)?

To find out, I undertook a very labor-intensive project. I read all their campaign autobiographies. It wasn’t easy. That Hillary Clinton is very long-winded. Her two autobiographies (not really campaign books but more apologias of her accomplishments as First Lady and Secretary of State) go on forever. I skimmed the boring parts—like 90 percent—and still feel I want that week of my life back. The other Democrat, Bernie Sanders, wrote his book back in 1997 and it’s hard to find. On Amazon it costs $65. That liberal I’m not.

So that leaves the Republicans. Fortunately, they rise to the occasion. Their literary tomes recount life stories of struggle, hard work, crazy relatives—every family has a felon—interspersed with unconvincing protestations about their faith in God and how awful government is. They do offer hope, though, and it can be summed up in three words—“vote for me.”

Let’s start with that fading star, Carly Fiorina. There is more than a touch of a Lifetime movie in her account of a lifetime full of feminine loss. She gets breast cancer. Her stepdaughter dies of a drug overdose. She blows a really good job and gets fired. She loses a Senate race—to another woman, yet. Somehow all this qualifies her to be president.

The stated theme of Carly’s book is the development of human potential. Carly feels that the way to solve America’s problems is to let everyone develop their full potential. They can’t do this at the moment because of government regulations. Eliminate those regulations and then we can all open nail salons. Nail salons? This is where she lost me. I don’t want to open a nail salon. In fact, that’s the thing I want to do least.

So Carly went back on the shelf, to be replaced by Marco Rubio. He has a tale to tell, but I’m not sure it’s the one he should be telling if he wants to be president. He comes across as either worried, nervous or depressed. Sometimes all three. Here are some random sentences, and these are all in the first chapter, when he wins the senate race against Charlie Crist: “I began to feel uneasy.” “I felt trapped.” “I got angry.” If this is his reaction to winning, what’s going to happen when he loses?

What bothered me most about Marco is his wife. She hates politics. She wants nothing to do with it, and complains constantly that he’s never home, doesn’t pay the kids any attention, etc., etc. You keep wanting to tell him, “Solve this problem or there’s going to be trouble,” but he just keeps forging ahead, running for even more important jobs while she’s back in Miami sulking.

And then there’s the fund raising. It’s pretty much how he defines his life. He describes not the thrill of political maneuvering nor the conservative principles he so strongly believes in, but rather all the fund raising he’s done. It’s like he never stops. His kids saw it so much that they invented a game they called “fund raising.” They comb the house, looking for loose change, and then they present it to him. He says it broke his heart—but it didn’t stop him. His son almost drowned because of it. Marco was supposed to be watching the kid while his wife was at the store but he became so deeply engrossed in his fund-raising phone calls that he realized he hadn’t seen him in a while. He frantically ran out to the lanai to find him face down in the pool. Fortunately the kid lived, but I was beginning to realize that Marco just wasn’t presidential material. Do you know he’s changed his religion four times? He started out as Catholic, then became a Mormon, then a Baptist, then went back to Catholic.

Anyway, I crossed Marco off my list and picked up Ben Carson. I’m with Donald Trump on this one—that story about the belt buckle just doesn’t make sense. So I moved on to Mike Huckabee. Just looking at the pictures was enough to make me put it back immediately.  I’ve never rejected a presidential candidate solely on the issue of clothes and home décor, but I do this time. 

And poor Jeb Bush.  His book is a compilations of emails he received and wrote while he was governor. He tells people how to get a fishing license. Hmmm. Maybe he is low-energy.

There was no one left but Ted Cruz. I’d been dreading this moment. I thought he was going to be the worst, but guess what? He comes across great. At last, somebody with some real substance, somebody who has done something with his life, somebody who is frighteningly intelligent.

I had no idea he is so well educated. He went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and then went on to work for the second President Bush. In fact, he was one of the masterminds who delivered the contested 2000 election to W. Shortly thereafter he became the Texas Solicitor General and was involved in all sorts of important legal cases, including many that executed violent criminals. He has said, “The simple and undeniable fact is the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats,” which may be one of the reasons he executed so many.

He’s the perfect conservative candidate. He’s against abortion, same-sex marriage, taxes, gun control—all of it. Yet at the same time he says nice things about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. True, the Republican establishment hates him, calling him a “wacko bird” (John McCain) and a “jackass” (Mitt Romney), but that only endears him to the deeply right-wing Tea Party base. If the Republicans have any sense they’ll make him their nominee.

And what about Donald Trump? As far as campaign literature goes, he’s the elephant in the bookstore. He’s written nine books and each one is a masterpiece of bragging, insults, business acumen, and—in a funny way, inspiration. He’s the new Machiavelli, removing politics from religion and moral philosophy and replacing those pious concepts with “winning.” All the core principles are there: You have to do unsavory things to rule. Morality must be dispensed with if security requires it. A great prince can never be conventionally religious but he must make his people religious. Yes, Trump understands all this, and many years from now, when the 2016 election is history and Carly and her nail salons and Jeb and his fishing licenses are long forgotten, Trump will still be someone to reckon with—at least at Barnes & Noble.