Let’s be honest: national leadership is a cakewalk when you’ve already got a government and infrastructure in place. As long as you don’t interfere with the integrity of an established system for determining succession or base your entire mission statement on stopping anything from getting done, you can’t screw up too badly. (Personal note to the Republican party: Whoops!)
The true test of a leader is starting from nothing, with a hungry and frightened population and shaky food resources. Can you set up a viable system of government? Does your population have access to clean water and shelter? And most importantly, Do you get eaten?
Let’s crash-land some planes.
1. Donald Trump is eaten first in every conceivable scenario.
It doesn’t matter if all the candidates are on the same plane and break off into tribes or if they each get their own plane and island. It doesn’t matter if the passengers are representative of the general population or entirely composed of die-hard Trump fans. It doesn’t matter if the plane is a standard passenger jet or a cargo plane full of nutritious canned food, medical supplies, and radio equipment. Trump gets eaten first.
This holds true even in alternate universes. People have functional wings? Trump gets eaten first. Humans are able to photosynthesize their own food? Trump gets eaten first. Everyone’s a llama? Trump gets eaten first.
Trump not only always gets eaten first, he gets eaten so quickly that rescue has to come no later than three hours and twenty-seven minutes into the ordeal to ensure that he doesn’t get salted down “just in case.”
The reason for this is that though Trump talks a big game about all the things he’s going to do, he has never in his life actually had to do a thing. And he certainly hasn’t had to do a thing when someone hasn’t spotted him a million dollars in seed money and the infrastructure of New York. Trump likes to talk about himself as a builder, but the crucial difference between builder and developer comes into sharp focus with remarkable speed when people are so busy talking about how at least the horsefly bites distract you from the sunstroke that they don’t notice the approaching monsoon clouds.
The non-island Trump also relies on seed money and infrastructure to get away with his hectoring. He gets to make that smug frogface and call people losers because he can lean on the power and prestige that comes with his bankroll, which loses all value about a second and a half after that third engine goes out. The cool kids on the island just became the woman who can climb straight up a coconut tree, that older couple who bored everyone in the departure lounge talking about their spearfishing vacations, and the anthropologist who knows how to chip stones into Clovis points.
Trump is also a bit of a three-trick pony (bragging, insulting people, and whatever that Beat poetry free-verse thing he does is when someone asks him a policy question), and all of those things depend rather heavily on a national news media that is too busy basking in the afterglow of ratings orgasms to stop featuring him.
But once he’s stuck on an island, he’s going to have to follow up his outrageous boasting by actually using the exquisite little dollops of buttercream he calls hands to make good on the boast. And it’s not like he’s really been a construction foreman. Yelling at people to build a 100-foot wall out of sand isn’t going to get much done, even if Trump tries his patented “Yelling louder, with meaner things” technique.
Trump’s followers are information-resistant people, yes, but the more important factor has always been that they’re people who feel threatened. Fox News has spent years drilling in the notion that non-whites are trying to hurt them or take their stuff. And they know damn well on their own that they need to somehow get rich or they’re the weak guys who get screwed by the actual rich. They like Trump because they need to feel like they’re on the team of a tough guy who’s going to bulldoze a path for them, whether that path is moral or ethical or not. They need to feel like they’re on the team that’s definitely going to win so they don’t get taken.
We already know that Trump can’t fight. When it becomes clear that he can’t find food, can’t make anything, and can’t get people to do what he wants when his net worth has dropped to a lint-covered half-roll of Certs, he’s going to get swatted out of the way by literally anyone stronger. Especially if everyone looks one island to the left and sees Bernie Sanders pitching in to Jimmy Carter up some houses.
(Speaking of Jimmy Carter, we should note that he has hands-on experience with growing food, building shelters from scratch, leading a government, and leading religious congregations. Carter might shoot straight past Leader of the Island to god-king.)
2. Kasich gets eaten second at some point, but nobody notices.
The problem with political parties is that they facilitate the election of people who could not be elected without political parties. Case in point: Governor Kasich, whose strategy for the current presidential contest is to actively avoid leading. He stepped back during the debates to let the others tear out each other’s alimentary canals, and now he’s coasting around the country waiting for Trump and Cruz to be so odious that the GOP risks immolating the party and picks someone else. The third phase of Kasich’s strategy seems to involve standing around at the convention and clearing his throat so that it occurs to someone to pick him for the nomination instead of Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan.
He also seems to think that being a stealth dick is the way to go. Cruz is open about his rank homophobia; Kasich talks a big game about how he went to a gay wedding that one time and very compassionately managed to not start cursing and vomiting like The Exorcist, but he’s less open about how he tried to stop gay marriage in his home state. Kasich is exactly as rabid an anti-choice and anti-Planned Parenthood warrior as Cruz, but he hides his gag orders for rape crisis centers in budget bills. And he’s at least as racist as Trump — Remember when he gave rural white Ohio counties food stamp extensions, but not predominantly urban black counties? — but again, seems to try to quietly aw-shucks his way through it.
So Kasich has exactly every wrongheaded notion that his competitors nurture, but lacks the courage of conviction to actually mention them. Aces. He’s going to spend his time on the island hanging back, maybe snacking on a little Trump roast that someone else prepared, and waiting to make his move. He may quietly try to ban non-existent island health clinics or stop unions from forming among the people who are busy trying to get some huts built over here, John, but mostly he’s going to sit around and wait for his chance while other people who have the stones to make public decisions in public take the reins.
It’s impossible to calculate what specifically happens to Kasich, whether a coconut tree falls on him or if he’s standing in the back line of the wrong coup attempt at the wrong time. It’s more that everyone looks around at some point and realizes that that one guy who liked to get all folksy sometimes hasn’t been around in a while. People may have a brief debate over whether he got eaten during the luau for Ron and Kirby’s wedding or when Jennifer and the flight attendants seized power, but after that they’re going to shrug and get back to trying to make generators out of bamboo. At least the protein-fueling of someone’s muscles will mean that Kasich technically did something.
3. Bernie Sanders is eaten third and for the next several decades.
There’s no question that Bernie Sanders is going to inspire his islanders. He spurs them to action and eventually sets up an education-rich, lightly socialist utopia based on shared labor, sexual freedom, and fair access to cassava melons. It’s doubtless where people from Hillary’s tribe will set up educational exchanges and go to vacation, even as Bernie’s disciples quietly paddle over to Capitol Hillary to trade goods and set up mutual funds.
One day, after the resources are fairly allocated and the libraries have been built and are gradually filling with books, after the free university is established and the national health care system — mostly coconut plasma and tea tree oil for now, but we’re working on it — is cranking to life, after the People have flexed their muscle to push through some meaningful spear-control laws and the Bernie Bros have been relocated to an atoll and redirected into arguing about which television shows were truly important and which music you should have been listening to, Bernie will look around himself and decide that he has really, finally done enough.
He will give one last, magnificently inspiring speech to keep everything going and then collapse right where he’s standing, not giving a single fuck about how he looks right up to the end.
As he has specified, Bernie’s corpse will be buried without undue ceremony underneath a breadfruit tree, which, as his careful research indicated, will provide both a nutritious staple food and latex sap that is useful in caulking boats. His memory will live on in the traditional Island greeting, “Namasanders,” which translates roughly as “I salute the Bernie within you.”
4. Hillary is eaten fourth, but only partially.
While Bernie Sanders works to establish an egalitarian Nerds of Paradise sanctuary, Hillary Clinton, after beating back no fewer than 15 immediate proto-coups and nearly laughing herself to death at the multiple failed attempts from the Republican splinter islands to float over anti-Clinton propaganda in tiny airplane alcohol bottles, Hillary Clinton finally has what she’s wanted for decades: A clear path to finally get shit done.
Capitol Hillary is soon a bustling bamboo metropolis with a humming economy and a national health plan that works well because Clinton has been tweaking it since the 19-frigging-90s. The other islands have a persistent rumor that those noises one can hear over Capitol Hillary late at night are cargo planes, arriving full and leaving full, but somehow none of the islanders seem to be leaving. Though there do seem to be several mysteriously new faces.
Hillary does establish a democratic system for succession — when she is damned good and ready and not one second before — and it is one of publicly-financed elections. “Campaign season” consists entirely of each candidate publishing a detailed written summary of his or her policy positions. Once a week, written policy questions are submitted by the press and public, to which the candidates respond with thorough written answers. It is nowhere in Capitol Hillary’s laws, but it is informally understood that if anyone on the island calls another islander “shrill,” the insulted party has the right to punch that person dead in the face. As do bystanders.
Per Hillary’s orders, the winner of the election eats her heart to confirm the transfer of power.
5. Nobody eats Ted Cruz.
This is not to suggest that Cruz is in any way a successful leader. He is not. His only leadership skills coming into the plane crash are 1) his legendary habit of attending meetings to which he has not been invited, 2) spiking the legislation of his supposed allies to make himself look good, 3) seeming to be the Most Jesusy in the right circles and 4) not being Donald Trump.
And, as we have established, not being Trump loses its inherent value three hours and twenty-eight minutes after the crash.
Cruz has no valuable island survival skills and is such a freaking wuss that he faked the ice bucket challenge. In Texas in August. He is also so overwhelmingly annoying that if you hook trained Tibetan monks up to electroencephalography machines and ask them to start deep meditation, you will see that the muscles used for punching begin to twitch involuntarily as soon as Cruz gets within 30 feet of them.
You would think that in such desperate straits, a useless wad of protein would be a prime candidate for the stew pot. But even after several days in a row of chewing on palm fronds and seat belts, asking someone to force down a chunk of Cruz is a bit much. No, thanks; I’ll just see what I can do with these poison tree frogs.
And, while many have and always will comment on the remarkably, almost Platonically punchable face of Ted Cruz, let’s remember that these stranded islanders will likely be in close quarters, and punching a man does not shut him up. In fact, we can be almost certain in Cruz’s case that it will inspire him to talk more. And the islanders will quickly realize that risking death by trying to float away on crude rafts will not stop Ted from swimming after them.
The most likely scenario is that Ted gets chained up on the far end of the island in a Prometheus-like situation, only instead of getting his liver eaten every morning, someone stops by to put some food within his reach and give him the finger.
Though Cruz is forced to watch Capitol Hillary and the Sanders team grow and thrive, somehow even as they defy all laws of decency and physics and tax the rich, he does stay alive, mostly through sheer cussedness. And, as the years go by, Ted gets older and crankier, and new generations of children are raised on scary campfire tales and forced to bring bananas to the Filibustering Siren when they’ve been bad, Cruz finally achieves the legendary status he’s wanted all along.
But nobody — nobody — is going to eat him.