Ron Paul Trump
Credit: Jim Cole/AP Images; David Becker/Getty Images

Every presidential campaign is a made-for-TV special. Some years it’s a romantic comedy, filled with “bimbo eruptions” (like Bill Clinton’s in 1992) or yachts named “Monkey Business” (Gary Hart’s in 1988). Other years, it plays out more like a crime drama, with hotel break-ins and slush funds and other dirty tricks (Nixon in 1972). Still others (say, Obama’s in 2008) unfold like a thrilling superhero adventure.

And the 2012 campaign? So far, like everything else on TV these days, it’s a reality show.

For the past couple of months, we’ve been deep into the American Idol-style audition rounds. We’ve been meeting all sorts of wacky potential contenders. There’s the pizza mogul-turned-Tea Party activist, Herman Cain, who sort of won the first Republican debate in South Carolina last week (at least according to Frank Luntz’s focus group on Fox News). There’s former New York gubernatorial candidate and first-time presidential aspirant Jimmy McMillian (founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party). There’s Fred Karger, a gay Republican consultant in California who, back in the 1980s, as a commercial actor, got his face lathered in a Edge Shaving Cream TV spot. And, yes, there’s also Donald Trump, who hasn’t had much to say lately but for all we know is still calling for an investigation into President Obama’s high school SAT scores.

But this week we headed into the Hollywood Round, the part of the show when the crackpots are separated from the wingbats and the field starts to get whittled down to only serious, officially declared candidates. This morning, Ron Paul, the libertarian who favors the legalization of prostitution and recreational drugs — and who has been winning many conservative staw polls — went on Good Morning America to officially declare his candidacy. Yesterday, Newt Gingrich, the family values beacon who has been divorced twice, made his official entry into the race (via Twitter, proving how young and hip he is). Next week Trump is expected to make a big speech on the finale of Celebrity Apprentice — he’ll be revealing the exact date upon which he’ll announce whether or not he’s running for president (after the whipping he took earlier this month at the Correspondents Dinner, we’re guessing the answer is not). In coming months, we also expect to hear from a slew of other potential contenders, some more serious than others — Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, to name a few.

I don’t know about you, Pop Watchers, but I’m on pins and needles trying to guess who else will make it to this show’s next rounds. After all, the season finale is a mere 17 months away! You can keep Lauren, Haley, and Scotty. For me, it’s all about Sarah, Mitt, and Tim. Anybody else out there with me?