It’s no secret that Republican presidential candidates have handlers, a crew of people behind the scenes that feeds them lines and carefully control every move. But one candidate literally has a hand inside him. He goes by the name of Marvin E. Quasniki.
Haven’t heard of him? He’s a cuddly curmudgeon talking the same talk as the rest of the Republican field. He has ideas for reducing spending and smaller government. He suits up in a conservative blue blazer and hits influential events to meet constituents. There’s just one minor difference: he’s a puppet – a creation of the Jim Henson Company, the people behind the Muppets.
The puppet masters at the Henson Company decided to throw their hats into the presidential ring – their first foray into politics – and launch Quasniki’s bid for the White House. They’ve created, after all, the quintessential American: Quasniki is a turquoise farmer hailing from the actually-existing town of Tonopah, Nevada, a tiny hamlet nestled in the arid desert between Reno and Las Vegas. But geography is hardly of consequence to Quasniki, who rarely leaves his hometown and made his very first visit to Washington, D.C. in February for the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Standing among the nation’s most influential conservatives, Quasniki pitched his plan to improve America if he were to be elected. He spoke of his plan to hire a czar czar, which he explained as the “czar that would fire all the czars.” And in asking people about their dreams, his best recommendation was “to dream a little smaller.” Naïve? Sure. Ignorant. Absolutely. But it’s all in the name of a good laugh. “You can say anything with a puppet and people won’t take it too seriously,” Henson Company chairman Brian Henson tells TIME.
He’s not at all politically savvy, and he’s not even particularly intelligent. But he does serve up a helping of humility to the over-the-top, million-dollar campaigns being run by the Romneys and Gingriches of the world. Though Henson is clear that they’re not trying to mock the candidates at all, but instead casting light on the absurdity of the campaign process. “I think we take it too far, which is just far enough,” Henson says. And it all began with an exceedingly simply slogan, “No More Bulls—t.” While Quasniki seemed to tone down his blatant vulgarity at CPAC, his overarching message was clear. The presidential campaigning process has come to encompass unfathomable levels of rhetoric and showmanship, and Quasniki is happy to lend his voice to the chorus, with the irony bleeding from his tightly-sewn seams.
After all, his campaign’s focus is one that stretches back centuries. “Making fun of government is one of the oldest and most humbling traditions.” But it’s not a task to be taken lightly. Fortunately, Quasniki has some high-profile handlers. His head writer Jason Reich has taken home four Emmys for outstanding writing on The Daily Show. And puppeteer Paul Rugg has more than five years of experience as a puppetmaster and improvisational comedian. Rugg has been doing the voice of Quasniki for nearly two years, an act that started in the roving puppet comedy show “Stuffed and Unstrung.” They launched the campaign this year as part of a partnership with the website Nerdist to create YouTube videos, because, clearly, Quasniki is just so charming on camera.
And why is Quasniki running as a Republican? It’s simple, Henson says – the Democratic ticket is closed this year. But if things don’t go his way, he seems to have no qualms about switching parties. It’s a tactic that isn’t unheard of in politics, a la Rick Perry and Arlen Specter, to name a few, but seems rather laughable. “Laughing at the absurdities makes life more wonderful,” Henson admits. And in the tense political arena, maybe laughter is the best medicine.
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