Jan. 28’s performance was the best and worst debate of the 2016 Republican Primary so far.
Even with Donald Trump notably absent, there were far too many candidates on stage. If you tuned in to hear discussion of issues and actual ideas expressed, Thursday night’s FOX News debate was a good one. If you are one of the millions of Trump supporters who tune in to see the next episode in “The Apprentice 2: Republican Primary Edition” you were left very disappointed.
Thursday night we were reminded of what people enjoy about Trump in the debate format. He brings a spontaneity that makes other candidates uncomfortable.
Ted Cruz was the de facto frontrunner Thursday since the real frontrunner played hooky. He tried to make a few Trump jokes, but they were so scripted and forced that they fell flat.
“Let me say I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon,” Cruz said. The transcript at that point politely inserts a (laughter) break, however that laughter was muffled and uncomfortable like that offered to struggling stand-up comedians.
Like Cruz’s shtick, most of the candidates’ answers were over produced square pegs from campaign literature forced into round hole questions with the help of hot buttons and religious overtones. Iowa is getting ready to vote, after all.
I liked Reagan, but I don’t worship him. I worship God and I like Him. But I have been known to talk for two hours without ever mentioning either one. If you are a Republican candidate on the brink of an Iowa caucus, you must to include God or Reagan in every answer or you are tackled by security and removed from the stage. You even get bonus points if your answer mentions “Jesus” or “the pearly gates.” If Marco Rubio loses the election, he has certainly earned points as Congressional Chaplain.
Another fact that Cruz and Rubio were clearly aware of is that if you mention ISIS without a including the words carpet bomb or destroy in the same sentence, they send a GOP drone to taze your children. If you don’t have children, they will spay or neuter your pet.
It was nice to have a debate without Trump talking about his magical unicorn of a wall built across the Mexican border – funded by Mexico of course. But if you want an example of how deep the candidates were able to go into policy matters without Trump’s insults and bravado, Cruz took time to talk about a wall of his own. He was clear that he is no fan of the EPA’s “blend wall” that mandates how much ethanol can be mixed into gasoline. Cruz has been sideways with Iowa voters because he doesn’t like ethanol subsidies for the state’s corn farmers. But removing the blend wall would let companies add all the “corn sqeezins” they would like to our fuel.
While the debate was addressing real issues, Trump was across town talking about how great he and his friends are and raising money for veterans groups to be named later.
Trump even had a couple of the junior varsity debaters at his party after they finished talking to themselves during an undercard debate.
Nothing adds credibility to your event like bringing in Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Both candidates have meetings every day where staff members leave in disbelief that they are still drawing a paycheck for this.
Trump may have had a strange party across town, but Ben Carson had it much worse on the main debate stage.
Carson was the target of one strange comment, one strange question and answer and the strangest closing statement possible.
By means of introduction early in the event Chris Wallace said of Carson, “Governor Kasich likes to say he knows how to land the plane. You’ve landed a lot of planes in the O.R. But what about the idea of running for president with no experience in government at all?” I’m not sure that landing a plane in the operating room is a great idea.
Late in the debate, Wallace again came to Carson. This time he wanted to basically ask what Carson would do if a NATO member were attacked by Vladmir Putin. Carson rambled a bit as he is prone to do and then he gave Saturday Night Live a great line on which to base this week’s cold open.
“I think we ought to fight them on the economic basis because Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy,” Carson said with obvious derision for all people who are also countries with less than two horses.
But Carson truly saved the best for last. No one loves the U.S. Constitution more than Republicans and proving that – like most fifth graders – he can memorize the preamble, Carson scored major points with the debate crowd. “Enough said,” Carson said just before he dropped the microphone and smirked.
The Twitter response wasn’t quite as impressed with the final statement stunt that was devoid of any actual content. It didn’t take the nerds long to find the obvious parallels between Carson’s final statement and Captain Kirk reciting the same portion of the constitution to fur vest wearing aliens in the Star Trek episode Omega Glory. Others found themselves wishing Carson hadn’t spoken the words, but had broken into song like the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon that taught us 1970s kids about our government through clever songs.
It was a strange night for everyone. Cruz and Rubio seemed to try too hard and came off a little stilted and insincere.
Rand Paul and Chris Christie had another debate that was mostly without incident while landing a few good punches.
Kasich hit a few high notes but was far from exciting. Jeb Bush had his best showing yet without Trump bullying him and stealing his lunch money all night.
For so long, pundits debated how Trump could ever be the candidate for the GOP. But after Thursday’s debate, it was hard to see which one of the other candidates could ever overtake him.