CARL DIGGLER’S PIZZA PRIMARY: Why a Candidate’s Eating Habits Tell You Everything

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John Kasich bit into a hot slice of controversy when he was filmed eating pizza with a knife and fork. He’s not the first politician to make this goof — Donald Trump was caught doing it five years ago — and he won’t be the last.

“Forkgate” scandals seem to hit hapless pols every election cycle, especially in pizza-obsessed big cities like New York and Chicago. The fact is, eating a pizza with a knife and fork makes a candidate look elitist, out-of-touch, and afraid to get their hands dirty (or oily!). Everyone knows that Real New Yawkers enjoy their pizza pie with their hands.

With the pivotal Empire State primary just weeks away, the presidential candidates can’t afford any more food gaffes like this. Trump and Kasich have already stumbled, and it’s probable that Ted Cruz, someone who has decried “extremely semitic New York values,” will intentionally buy a large pizza with extra toppings and throw it on the sidewalk to make some kind of mean-spirited point when he visits NYC.

On the Dem side, Hillary Clinton definitely knows how to eat a slice by now. She learned it in a trial by fire when she moved to New York to run for the Senate in 2000. New Yorkers still view her as one of their own, thanks to her hard work and willingness to say relatable things like “Eyy, how about them Yankees” and “Gabbagool.” But they’ve probably cooled on prodigal son Bernie Sanders, who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn but abandoned Kings County to pursue a life of indolence and brocialism in Vermont. I doubt voters in the five boroughs will take kindly to the sight of Bernie drenching his pizza slices in maple syrup and screaming at waitresses because of their gender.

It’s probably for the best that the Dig isn’t a politician, because I have my own particular way of eating a slice that wouldn’t go over too well with most voters. Because my dad Col. Dig Sr. was often not around, I ate a lot of pizzas growing up, and being a kid I came up with some weird ways of chowing down. Through experimentation I happened upon the most efficient and, in my view, correct way to eat a slice:

First liberally douse the slice with margarine. Dairy on dairy, nothing beats that! Then, suck all the cheese + toppings off. It helps if the pizza is extremely hot, or of a low quality. Now you’re going to want to bring the slice close to your face and carefully lap up all the remaining tomato sauce. It’s important to lick that slice dry. What you’re left with is a nice doughy bread triangle, which you can smush into a ball and enjoy as a post-cheese, post-sauce dinner roll. Rinse and repeat for the other seven slices.

I’ve done this every time I’ve eaten pizza since I was 7, and if you hang around a few Park Slope pizza joints long enough, maybe you’ll catch the Dig Method in action.

But pizza protocol isn’t the only eating test that has tripped up candidates over the years. Here are some of the biggest Presidential food flubs in the past few cycles:

Jeb Bush’s Iowa Fair Fumble

Early last year, it looked like Jeb had things more or less wrapped up, and the primary was merely academic. Obviously things didn’t turn out like that, and we probably should have guessed he was in for a rough ride in August when he flubbed badly at the Iowa State Fair. The fair is supposed to be a great spotlight for candidates like Jeb. In theory, they can enjoy barely-edible deep fried horrors that the cornfed human cattle of the Midwestern enclave shorten their lifespans with while charming crowds. What happened was symbolic of Jeb’s campaign: Jeb ordered a fried Snickers bar, but not before inquiring if it was a “profiterole-type uh, dessert….contraption.” The slack-jawed opiate addict manning the booth just stared at the former governor, who then proceeded to explain French desserts for five excruciatingly awkward minutes. Things went from uncomfortable to calamitous when Bush choked on some of the confection’s powdered sugar and unleashed a string of coughs that all sounded like racial slurs. A red-faced Jeb was described as stumbling around and begging for water, alternatively guzzling from a bottle to clear his throat and explain “no way brother, absolutely not, I do not say that word, I’ve never even wanted to, absolutely, I mean—hell no!” That was Jeb: kind, considerate, but doomed to a life of increasingly comedic mishaps.

John Kerry’s Philly Cheese-Stink

As Republicans tried to paint the 2004 Democratic nominee as an elitist, John Kerry did himself no favors when he bungled his order at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia. With his press gaggle in tow, the Massachusetts Senator marched up to the counter and requested a cheesesteak… with Swiss! As every Pennsylvanian knows, a true Philly cheesesteak comes with Cheez Whiz, a viscous chemical dairy product. And if you want to win Pennsylvania, you don’t mess with the cheesesteak. Philadelphians are obsessed with this grease-laden questionable meat hoagie that always tastes like the cook coughed pneumonic fluid into it. These people have nothing else going for them but their reverence for an awful sandwich. If you’re a candidate, you have to eat it, and you can’t complain about how awful it is. You have to sit there and eat the whole thing, and you’re not allowed to throw up or anything. Acknowledging his blunder in a pivotal swing state, Kerry returned to Pat’s the next day and ordered a conventional cheesesteak, which he glumly ate while Philadelphian voters huddled around his table watching and jeering as the uptight Boston Brahmin struggled through every bite. The several days of diarrhea Kerry suffered paid off when he won Pennsylvania by a convincing margin, but the time spent off the trail may have cost him the election overall.

George H.W. Bush Blows Chunks

People forget it now, but before there was China, there was Japan. The trade war and the ensuing economic anxiety between America and Japan was a big deal in the 1980s and 90s, and no one was more sensitive to that than President George H.W. Bush. Unfortunately, his strategies were often too aggressive. The January 1992 “Vomit Banquet” is a classic example of this. Earlier that day, Bush had lulled Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa into a false sense of security by purposefully losing a doubles tennis match to him. However, he had a plan up his sleeves. Ever the strategic actor who had once commanded the CIA, Bush had gotten a 24 hour flu bug injected intravenously to strike at just the right moment. Sure enough, Bush ralphed up a veritable smorgasbord of shumai, sushi, and tempura on the lap of Miyazawa that night at the state banquet. The problem was, it didn’t have its intended effect. The erudite New Englander’s vomit was supposed to shock and terrify the Japanese. They were supposed to have seen Bush as a monster who could vomit on command, spreading pestilence and disease wherever he saw fit. High level administration officials had planned it for months, with Brent Scowcroft referring to it as “the trade balancing yak.” Instead, Bush was seen as a bumbling, sickly old man, an image that endured through his loss for reelection in November. In fact, he was the inspiration for a popular manga, Byōkininaru Orokana Shachō, or “Foolish President Who Becomes Sick.”

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at carl@cafe.com or Tweet to @carl_diggler.

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