Opening question: What the hell are Bush, Carson, Fiorina, Gilmore, Graham, Huckabee, Kasich, Pataki, Paul, and Santorum still doing in this race and on those debate stages? And can we please trade Trump, Cruz, and Rubio for Perry, Walker, and Jindal and make it a fatal-four-way of governors along with Chris Christie? The fact that we're down to a final three of two senators and a Jackass underscores just how completely unserious this race and the GOP nominating electorate really is in a literally deadly serious time, and that would be the case even if Dr. C was in Trump's place. We need chief executives, not jaw-flappers and a professional buffoon.
But legendary Rams and Seahawks coach Chuck Knox used to say, "You play the hand you're dealt". Of course, Knox never won a Super Bowl, so what the frak does he know?
It will save me some keystrokes, though, as I see no reason to waste any on the performances and antics of candidates that are also-rans. There's no reason to talk about them. Heck, even in late-season NFL games between the Browns and the Bears or the Titans and the Jaguars there's the "Who's going to have the #1 pick in next spring's NFL draft?" angle. Here there isn't even that much. They simply do not belong on that stage, and should not be receiving debate invitations, period. All it really does is protect the Jackass buffoon by keeping the rest of the field divided and neutralized. Which doubtless helps explain why the press keeps extending them invitations. The RNC should really have an upward-sliding threshold for who makes the debate cut as the campaign goes on.
So screw all of you, Bush, Carson, Fiorina, Gilmore, Graham, Huckabee, Kasich, Pataki, Paul, and Santorum. Sit down, shut up, get a clue, take the hint, quit, and go home. For the love of God, just go.
DEBATE MODERATION: CNN wasn't CNBC and didn't make themselves the antagonists, so that's a plus. That we have to give them credit for not so FUBARing the debate, and even mention them at all, is another depressing manifestation of the impenetrable superficiality of American politics anymore. Still, if Hugh Hewitt hadn't been on the panel with Wolf Blitzed and Dana Bash, the moderation may have gone down the crapper again.
For a change, I'll go the "random notes in more-or-less chronological order" route.
Cruz and Trump are all about the anger; Rubio stayed to his sunny, optimistic, upbeat, Reaganesque vision and purpose. Probably explains why he was on the defensive most of the night.
Trump gave himself credit for opening up the debate, but then he gives himself credit for everything. And did you know he's ahead in (some) polls?
Trump was asked about the Muslim ban and did what he always does at these debates anymore: Walk it back while trying not to be seen as walking it back. Although he didn't walk back his proposal to deliberately target jihadists' families, which happens to be against the Geneva Convention, as well as being pointlessly extraneous, since they're already rabid murderers sky-highly motivated to kill us all. Why not just target them and if their families become collateral damage, oh well? It's like Trump is trying to jump-start the hard-left "anti-war" movement back to life before he can ever become commander-in-chief.
It was amusing to see Trump dismiss Jeb Bush's pathetic attempt at relevancy:
“Jeb doesn’t really believe I’m unhinged. He said that very simply because he has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster. Nobody cares.”
Ouch. Don't they have mercy rules in these debates?
Cruz and Rubio did a deft job of being the conservative adults in the room - and echoing me in the process - sympathizing with Trump's Muslim ban idea while explaining why it's parsecs outside the Overton Window.
Rubio got the better of Cruz on the shrinkage of the Patriot Act into the USA Freedom Act, which you could detect from Cruz getting pissed and accusing Rubio of "Alinsky tactics".
"Christie tees off on the...senators debating the minutiae of these bills, and says none of them had to 'make a tough executive decision in their lives.' Gets a huge cheer. Hard not to see that as a home run for Christie." I narrowly avoided putting a hole in my ceiling with my fist, personally.
Trump got booed when asked about his proposal to shut down part of the Internet to deny jihadists access to it. I'm sure there was more nuance to the question, but I was enjoying Trump getting booed so much that I really wasn't paying attention. Ah, spectacle. Hey, if people want American politics to be Jerry Springer, this comes in the bargain.
Cruz got pressed on his “carpet-bomb ISIS” statements, which I was hoping he would, since they were both silly hyperbole meant to distract from his not supporting reinsertion of major ground forces in-theater, and inaccurate since the advent of modern "smart" weapons has rendered "carpet-bombing" obsolete. I was disappointed, though, that he didn't get asked about the "We'll make the sand glow" part, with its nuclear weapons undertone. That could have given Trump a hook for his "Cruz is a maniac" crack, if in very different context. But Rubio did get in a good jab from the defense spending angle, saying “You can’t carpet-bomb ISIS if you don’t have planes.” Kind of reminds me of the Mythbusters' disclaimer: "Don't try anything of the things you are about to see at home. Ever."
Jeb Bush to Trump: "You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” Is he right?
Trump was asked how we can be winning if Iran is winning. Trump replied that we can’t fight Assad and ISIS at the same time, which is only true now because Obama punted Syria to the Russians when he had the chance to do just that two years ago. Christie then saw the opening and scored by saying that the biggest problem is that Obama has empowered Iran through the nuclear deal that lifted the sanctions. My ceiling narrowly avoided hole #2. How about those governors? They're highly underrated, I think.
Christie vowed on a hypothetical no-fly zone to shoot down Russian pilots who violate it, and dismissed Obama as a “feckless weakling.” Of course, the Russians have already effectively imposed a no-fly zone on us, so I'm not sure how we would get to the Big Show's scenario.
Rand Paul squeaked, “If you want World War III, you have your candidate.” Then Governor Christie sat on him.
For some reason Trump started whining about the first Fox News debate and people talking badly about him. A sudden attack of boredom laced with nostalgia, perhaps?
Rubio said he learned a lesson from the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform debacle that immigration enforcement has to come first, and laid out a step-by-step approach to immigration that still ends in at last partial amnesty. Which gets back to his being on the defensive most of the night (not that he didn't handle it as well as anybody could have). Cruz came back with a tough response that essentially lied about his own Rubio-lite immigration policy stance. This was probably Trump's best moment of the night simply by the herculean feat of keeping his mouth shut and letting his two rivals flailingly combust.
Man, Rubio knows his stuff on all aspects of national defense policy. I couldn't have explained the nuclear triad any better myself.
Trump wimped out on calling Cruz a "maniac" to his face. Cruz wimped out on his chance to call Trump on it. Guess that means in this bromance, Trump won't be sleeping on the couch tonight.
Trump said he’s “totally committed” to the Republican Party and won’t run as an independent. Which is his approximately thirty-fifth flip-flop on that question, and as irrelevant as all the ones that preceded it, because we all know he will if the RNC doesn't "treat him fairly" by rigging the primaries so he'll win.
Final score? I thought Christie "won" (I included him because he's "in the hunt" in New Hampshire), personally. That's my pro-governor bias talking, but I've always liked the Big Man, even if he is an "establishment" guy, and he pretty much nailed every answer last night. Cruz-Rubio was probably an overall draw. And Trump was totally out of his depth and in over his head, as usual, in any actual debate as opposed to pissing contest spectacle. And as usual, it won't matter for him, because his appeal is all hype and celebrity and glitz and emotional manipulation, with which substance has nothing to do.
Trump is in the top tier, in other words, precisely because he's so laughably unserious.
And if that's what even a significant chunk of the Republican electorate wants in the White House, maybe Barack Obama should just decree himself a third term and save us all the trouble of these endless elephant parades.