Last night's fourth Republican presidential debate installment on Fox Business News was short on pugilism, personalities and pissing matches and long on policy and philosophy and substance. It was all FBN and no WWE. Which means for the vast majority of viewers who tuned in to see the "professional wrestling in suits and ties," to which they have grown accustomed and come to expect, they were bored out of their tits and probably tuned right out again in search of a Jerry Springer rerun. It will probably be by far the lowest rated GOP debate so far.
Don't believe me? Look who loved it:
I love Double-H (even if he was a huge Romney mark); he's one of the pillars of the conservative talk radio pantheon, in his own tediously wonky way. But if a dork of Hewitt's magnitude (Let's just say he should be doing guest shots on Big Bang Theory as Leonard's uncle) loved last night's event, it most likely put the entire rest of the country to sleep, including those who weren't watching it.
Depending upon what the RNC actually wants from these debates, it's FBN that may be on the chopping block long before CNBC. Unless, that is, they can find a way to make substance and entertainment less than entirely antonymical. To the degree that anybody has ever been able to conceive, you can have one or the other, but not both.
As for the individual participants themselves, here comes the recap (h/t HA).
WINNERS: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Both were articulate, both knew their stuff regardless of topic, both have a conservative vision for the country and the presidency that would fulfill it, and Cruz sustained his streak of compartmentalizing the anti-GOP fratricide of his senate job from the kid-gloves treatment he continues to render to his rivals in his presidential campaign.
Which isn't to say that both men didn't kick ass last night - Rubio frog-splashed Rand Paul (whose continued presence in this race I can only attribute to stubbornness and a willingness to sleep on park benches) on national security and Cruz squashed John Kasich on bank bailouts (hint: the latter defended them, so stupidly, stridently, and stubbornly that Rubio tagged in to make it a handicap squash match). But they kept it on the high road and didn't get personal - which is a helluva lot more than Governor Kasich can say. Tell me why he was on the main stage last night and Chris Christie wasn't?
HOLDER: Ben Carson. He's the frontrunner and he didn't hurt himself, in an "entertainment value" sense. The media soap opera of the past week didn't trip him up, and indeed was the source of his best answers. When the questions tacked toward policy substance, Dr. C was his usual vague, shallow, out-of-his-depth self. Which one would think would be damaging to him if this debate were truly about substance, until we remember that a complete greenhorn who has no idea what he's doing - okay, let me be more specific: a conservative complete greenhorn who has no idea what he's doing - is what most Republican voters want this cycle.
LOSER: Donald Trump. We always knew that if there was ever an issue substance-focused debate and not a WWE Raw/Smackdown Supershow, Trump would be more lost than a fart in a hurricane. His campaign from day one has been about entertainment, about glitz, about bombast; it's been a comedy tour with the headliner a bizarre amalgam of Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, and Triumph The Insult Comic Dog. It took off on the strength of Tea Party anger over illegal immigration, which Trump exploited to the hilt to rocket to the head of the gargantuan GOP pack, where he remained all summer and into the fall. But recently Trump's constituency has moved significantly leftward, probably in concert with Tea Partiers waking up from their Trumpster hangovers and moderates trying to tune in to Celebrity Apprentice this fall and not finding it, or Trump, until they surfed by the CNBC debate. At the rate this transition appears to be unfolding, Trump may be on the Donk stage with Mrs. Clinton and Weekend Bernie by Hanukkah.
Last night almost all he could manage was to get pissed off at times, piss off the audience (which twice booed him), and repeat "Make America Great Again" over and over like a parakeet. If, again, last night's encounter was about substance, and substance is what voters are looking for, Trump should start freefalling like a trap door was opened beneath him. Does anybody think that's going to happen?
IRRELEVANT: Everybody else on that stage, the preliminary stage, and no stage at all. Although it should be noted, in all fairness, that Jeb Bush, defying all expectations, didn't go nuclear on Marco Rubio and try another Gillberg takedown.....
....which means he went back to being invisible. Which was actually an improvement.
UPDATE: Don't think Trump doesn't know how much his immigration hawk mojo is fading - though he still doesn't have any substance to back up his "deportation force" bluster....
UPDATE II: Wages are too high? He actually said that last night, with no proximate context. On stage. In front of whatever portion of the audience was still awake, or staying up to see him give Jeb Bush a wedgie. Is he (1) that sure of his invincibility, (2) that flustered and confused at his long downhill slide having commenced, or (3) is he just giving up, since he can't boast about being in the lead anymore?
Sounds like something Mitt Romney might have said, actually.