|celebrate those we still have. remember those we have lost.|
but watch and listen i did. it's possible i even learned, although the only thing i can think of that i learned are that these people are way more heedless in their thirst for violence that i might have believed and that, in between moments of making fun of them, i am legitimately scared to think that any of them could find themselves with any real power.
overall, cnn ran the sort of debate that cnn normally runs: flat, professional, acquiescent to the people on the stage. wolf blitzer kept his usual stern expression all night and did a better job of keeping everyone in line than other moderators have managed, without actually being tough on them at all. in this age of immediate access to information, there is no reason why debates shouldn't have fact checkers on the spot, working in real time and calling back candidates to earlier false statements.
so let's get to the hyper-macho meat of the matter, shall we?
the kids' table debate
lindsey graham :: the coverage of this debate should have just been the camera on him. he did a nice job of schooling the other kids on why shutting down the government was bad, which makes him stand out as the only person who may know how to play nicely with other people and also as possibly the only decent human being on stage all night. but the true gold was watching his expressions while the others were talking, which ranged from confounded disbelief to pronounced disinterest. still dead in the water, but i hope he stays around forever.
mike huckabee :: reacted to a question about bashar al-assad by saying he was a bad guy who killed lots of people, but "at least he wasn't killing americans". the single most honest moment in any republican debate, ever and no one noticed except on twitter. also said that if young people wanted free university, they should have to serve in the military, which of course would happily exclude kids whose families can afford to pay for university. yes, mike, the problem with young folks today is that they're not dead enough.
george pataki :: wants to punch putin in the face, which turned into a bit of a theme for the night. other than that, i can't remember a thing he said and neither can anyone else.
rick santorum :: seemed so tightly wound at the beginning, i was worried that someone had slipped him some uppers. stood up for the rights of people on terrorist watch lists to buy guns without even blinking. demonstrated his deep knowledge of religion by saying that islam wasn't one, but rather it was a political system, with laws built into its religious texts. evidently, he's never read the bible he's so fond of quoting. psst, santo, look at the bit near the front.
the main event
given that this was in las vegas, i really thought that this debate lacked pizzazz. would it have been so difficult to incorporate cirque du soleil somehow? i mean, there wasn't even a hint of glitter on the costumes. your game is weak, republicans.
jeb! bush :: another improvement from the man who voters forgot. of course, it did seem like he was getting questions that were just a little bit softer than everyone else, but he managed to match wits a little with the donald, which he never has before. he should have stopped short of trying to act tough, though, because it immediately made all of us of a certain vintage recall when his father got called a wimp and invaded iraq to disprove it.
showed off his foreign policy chops by conflating the arab world and islam, which won't make a difference to the republican crowd, but hillary clinton or bernie sanders will skin him alive for it.
his media bite moment seems to have been when he told donald trump that he couldn't insult his way to the presidency. probably true, jeb, but he may be able to insult his way to the republican nomination.
ben carson :: both his most articulate and his most insane debate. his assertion that one doesn't have to be loud or threatening to be strong was so extraordinary for a republican that carly fiorina didn't even wait until after the debate to copy it. then he started going on about how bombing syria was like removing a brain tumour from a child, where they hate and fear you before but come to love your afterward. then he started to say that sometimes bombing was the merciful thing to do. that's the logic used by charles cullen, the former nurse who is the most prolific serial killer in new jersey, and possibly american, history.
but don't worry about ben, because no one will remember any of that. what they'll remember is that he called republican national committee chairman reince priebus "reince pubis". way to throw up a distraction there, benji. now seriously, has anyone done any research about the patients ben carson wasn't able to save?
chris christie :: once again back is the incredible... no. not gonna disrespect the song. the "cut to the chase guy" routine worked well for him before, so he figured he'd pull it out again when ted cruz and marco rubio got too deep into a conversation about immigration bills. however, this time he seemed less like the adult in the room and more like the dumber-down in chief. who knows, with the crowd he's playing to, that might not be a bad thing.
his insatiable lust for war everywhere is the sort of thing only possible in someone who has never had to be in an armed conflict. so before we let christie have another microphone so that he can tell us about how everyone, everywhere is trying to kill all of us, all the time, and that we need to kill them first, i say we send him to northern iraq and let him get some firsthand experience.
had his own carson moment when he was talking about fort dix, but everyone in the world heard "four dicks".
ted cruz :: sure, everyone may still be talking about trump, but cnn clearly knows where things are heading. long stretches of the debate, including the most comprehensive discussions about immigration policy and foreign involvement, were taken up exclusively with cruz and rubio going mano-a-mano. however, neither was able to land a knock-out blow. i felt like cruz came off a little the worse, but not so much that he sustained any real damage.
questioned about his policy of carpet bombing the middle east until the sand glows in the dark, cruz clarified that he meant a sort of precision carpet bombing. area rug bombing, if you will. but he made it clear that he doesn't want anything to do with the whole cleaning up the mess he left in the wake of his carnage. i can only imagine the godawful things his mother had to deal with when trying to get him to put away his toys.
for someone who has risen steadily in the polls, to the point where he is tied with trump [or even leading] in iowa, cruz is attracting very little criticism from his peers. in fact, he seems to be bringing them [trump especially] on side, isolating rubio as he does so. ted cruz, i think you are a very shrewd man and i mean that both in the sense that you are running a smart campaign and that you look like a shrew.
carly fiorina :: had to fight to get a word in edgewise, and, without donald trump criticizing her for doing so, came off as being petulant, just like kasich in the last debate and jim webb for the democrats. did her usual spiel of factoids that normally make her sound knowledgeable, but it didn't seem to hit home as well, possibly because people have dedicated a lot of time to exposing how wrong she has it on just about everything. she made a lot of her private sector experience and how that would fix everything. i think she's planning to defeat isis by sending them a whole lot of hp printers. not the worst idea i've heard from this bunch.
john kasich :: congratulations on being the only person to mention the paris climate change agreement. of course, you said that you couldn't believe that leaders were meeting about that and not about terrorism, but at least you know it happened, which no one else, including blitzer et al seemed to. i have to be honest, though: i found that out on twitter, because i think i zoned out for those few moments when you actually spoke. to me, you were just the guy who wore the blue tie instead of a red one.
rand paul :: kudos to his supporters for making sure that they were positioned right next to the microphones, so they sounded louder and more numerous. unfortunately, while paul made some of the night's more cogent arguments [not setting the bar that high], he came off chiefly as ted cruz's wing man, the guy who could talk more intelligently than anyone about the dangers of becoming overly involved in foreign conflicts. he was the only person who even hinted that there was more to terrorism than just "bad people with guns", albeit in his closing remarks. it doesn't matter. he's so far behind the pack that donald trump didn't even bother to make fun of him.
marco rubio :: finally had to talk about immigration and his points didn't completely bomb with the crowd [we'll see how voters judge him in the next few days, when more polls start to roll in]. he seems to have become the candidate of moderate republicans, which would sound crazy, except that it's hard for anything to sound crazy in this race anymore. still reads as sincere, passionate and articulate, but also as boring. really boring. tell some jokes, dude. learn to juggle. you see what jeb! bush looks like on that stage? is that what you want to turn into? he's probably the best debater among the group, but we've seen that now, time to change things up a little.
donald trump :: whose house? trump's house! no candidate is more at home in las vegas than the donald. and no candidate is less comfortable in a debate. he lobbed a few insults, made the requisite funny faces, got cutesy with carson and cruz [see, marco rubio? learn from that shit] gave some shit to the moderators [fun fact: he's 100% right about it being ridiculous that the early debate asked questions about things he'd said when he wasn't even there] and he even introduced a new level of weird: chewing out the audience.
he showed a lack of knowledge about the internet and communications unseen since the days of ted "series of tubes" stevens, and was predictably out of his depth on most policy issues, but that might make him seem closer to his odious base. he stood by his policy of banning all muslims from entering the country, at least temporarily, which should surprise no one. nor should it be a surprise that that statement cast a shadow over everything, and forced the other candidates to either lean towards or away from him. if the conspiracy theories are correct and this is some sort of plot to undermine the whole party, this may be his most cunning move yet. of course, if it is a plot, i think he might be a little creeped out at how popular his obnoxiousness has become. if he is, as he keeps insisting, the real deal, then the rest of us need to be creeped out, because i'm way more scared of president trump than i am of terrorists.
truthfully, this was trump's best debate performance, but who cares? these aren't his thing. he knows it, we know it and the polls tell the story: republicans could not give a shit if donald trump ever turns in a decent debate performance as long as he keeps saying the ignorant, racist things they want to hear. [hey, wasn't he demanding cnn pay him to show up for this thing? and didn't he and ben carson team up to force the media to limit the debate time to two hours including commercial breaks?]
so there you have it. the last debate before the iowa caucus, the caucus that gave us the rick santorum juggernaut last cycle. imagine what could happen this time around. or don't, because you might want to sleep again.
i'm not certain of the origin of the image above, but i scraped it from pax on both houses.